I hope I never lose my sense of wonder. If that makes me naive, then so be it.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

miscellany: crème fraîche

I've seen this referenced in quite a few recipes, so wanted some when I made the last tarte tatin. Because that's my one of my stringent criteria for trying new food (right up there with, 'hey, this sounds weird...'). Problem was, my little local grocery store didn't have it, and from the sounds of things it was pretty pricey anyway.

What is it? Crème fraîche is a cultured cream: cream and bacterial culture. It's tangy, but not so much as sour cream. That's really about it. Texture may vary, and the labeling is regulated in Europe and several types acknowledged in France.

Thanks to this video and several articles, I figured tackling it on my own would be no problem. It is as simple as promised. And there's something about making this that feels ancient, homestead-ish, and basically awesome, cooking-wise.

Before: It looks like ...well, cream.
One cup of heavy (whipping) cream and one tablespoon of buttermilk, stirred in a cup. While different sources altered the proportions slightly, there's not much more to it. The trick, though, is in the magic that happens over the time it sits on the counter.

That's right, this all-dairy product sat on my counter. For about two days in the summer. This was my biggest barrier: overcoming years of the "put it in the fridge or it WILL SPOIL and you will GET BOTULISM and NOT THE NICE BOTOX KIND" mentality to give the bacteria in the buttermilk a chance to warm up, hang out, and do their thing. Hooray for fermentation! 

The first day, no noticeable change and it still looked like heavy cream. Over the course of the second day, though, it had thickened into a consistency like a sour cream or Greek yogurt. Instead of spoiling or curdling, it had melded together into something new and delicious.

After: Thickened and ready to use.
To say it tastes like sour cream isn't right. Its texture reminded me of Devonshire cream, smooth and thick, but it had a gentle tang to it (hence the common substitution of sour cream that's often suggested) combined with the sweetness that comes from real, honest-to-goodness cream. I quickly stashed it in the fridge before the first spoonful turned into a second, and a third, and so on. According to my sources, it keeps in the fridge for about 10 days.

As for making subsequent batches, one site suggested using the last bit of the crème fraîche as a starter and adding new cream, to let the flavour mature much like a sourdough starter. Oh, how much I have to learn. Apparrently the taste is even better with raw milk which, until I start raising cows and milking my own, is very hard to come by around here. Thanks, Big Brother! (sarcastic? who, me?)

Now to use this stuff. So far I've seen:
- used to enrich eggs Florentine, from Gordon Ramsay's Fast Food cookbook, will be trying that one soon!
- stirred into hot pasta with herbs for a creamy sauce
- on potatoes instead of the usual sour cream
- sweetened slightly, topping fruit or a tarte tatin
- a dollop stirred into a cream soup
- used to thicken sauces, since it doesn't curdle over heat
- ... and I will have to find more. I'm thinking it will be nice on tea biscuits to nicely contrast the sweetness of jam.

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