Back in the 70’s Dayton had the good fortune of being introduced to Annie-Mae DeBresson, a French woman whose mother was a countess in France. She lived in an immense French Renaissance-style house above the gourmet ghetto of Berkeley and gave cooking lessons in her home. The classes were always small and intimate and Dayton remembers being impressed by the huge mirror over her stove that was used when she was teaching so that her students could easily observe everything that was happpening during the course of instruction. He took several classes from her and was thrilled to be able, on one occasion, to assist her with a lesson on making mincemeat at home for Bon Appetit magazine. He always lingered following the completion of each class, helping her wash the pots and pans and clean up the kitchen. On one of those occasions he mentioned to her that he was never pleased with his homemade creme fraiche, which he made using sour cream, the resulting product not having enough body to suit him… and she shared with him her secret for a rich, thick and tangy creme fraiche, namely the use of yogurt Kefir cheese. He’s been making it that way ever since and we use it as often as possible in both sweet and savory preparations.
Creme fraiche has numerous advantages over sour cream. First and foremost, in our opinion, is that you can cook with it and it won’t separate or curdle like sour cream will do if the preparation is too hot. This makes preparing dishes such as stroganoffs or cream sauces a snap. Besides, creme fraiche is absolutely delicious! It is rich and luxurious, possessing a tanginess that adds a dimension of flavor that sour cream alone cannot. Secondly, creme fraiche, unlike sour cream, can be whipped into a fluffy white cloud. Add a touch of sugar and you have a marvelous topping for any dessert that calls for a dollop of whipped cream.
Creme fraiche purchased in the market is extremely expensive, so why purchase a small costly container when a voluminous amount can be made at home relatively inexpensively? We always have a crock on hand in our fridge and use it as often as possible to enhance a variety of dishes. Most recipes I have read for homemade creme fraiche call for buttermilk. In my opinion the final result is still too thin. This preparation using yogurt Kefir cheese is gloriously thick and glossy. It takes 2 to 3 days to make, so plan your culinary creations accordingly. The beauty is that it contains only two ingredients and calls simply for a warm place in which to allow the probiotics to work their delicious magic!
1 8-0z container yogurt Kefir cheese
1 1/2 C heavy cream (we suggest manufacturer’s cream if available in your market)
Chef’s Note: Yogurt Kefir cheese is also available in 16-0z containers so you can easily double the amount, depending on how often you use creme fraiche. We’ve used a ratio of 1 part yogurt Kefir cheese to 1 part heavy cream in the past but have begun using half again as much cream with extremely fine results. The final product continues to be thick and glossy… besides, the yield is MORE creme fraiche to use and enjoy!
Whisk the two ingredients together in a medium saucepan over low heat. Slowly heat the mixture to body temp… so a finger test feels no coolness or greater warmth. Too much heat will kill the organisms necessary in the fermentation process. Place in a small crock or jar and leave sitting at room temp uncovered for two days in a warm place. Stir the mixture after the first 24 hours and then, on the 2nd day, check the consistency. We prefer our creme fraiche to be thick and rich and two days always seems to do the trick unless the kitchen temp is on the cool side, particularly during the winter months. We then check it, stir again if not thick enough and let it rest for an additional 24 hours. Refrigerate it, then use with culinary creativity… Bon Appetit!
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