Crème Fraîche (literally, "Fresh Cream") is a heavy cream that has been thickened with a bacterial culture. Crème Fraîche is popularly used as an accoutrement to caviar and a topping to fresh strawberries along with brown sugar. It is also lovely dolloped onto soups and whisked into dressing for added creaminess. The best thing about it is that, unlike it's American cousin, sour cream, it will not break (aka separate) when used at high temperatures for things like pasta sauce, gratins, and braises.
The other day I was reading Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food, and was delighted to find her extremely accessible recipe for making your own crème fraîche. The live enzyme found in buttermilk can easily be used to sour heavy cream, creating the crème fraîche. The part that freaked me out was method-related. After adding 1 tablespoon of buttermilk to 1 cup of heavy cream, you are supposed to cover it and let it sit out on your kitchen counter top for about 24 hours, until the cream thickens. Sounds like a pretty awesome science experiment, right?
Everything I know about diary goes against this advice; leave dairy out...unrefrigerated...for over 24 hours? How can that be right? I followed the directions, not actually believing that it would work. I was convinced that I would come home from work to find the most rancid, sour smelling cream on my counter but alas....it worked. I removed the lid to find super thick, smooth, and absolutely beautiful crème fraîche . I put it in the fridge and chilled it down before tasting it.
It was so delicious. Quite possibly the best crème fraîche I've ever had. I just can't help but completely nerd-out over how cool I think this is.
Once made, you can refrigerate it for up to 10 days and if needed, thin it out with milk or water.