Crème Fraîche

This post was originally published May 22, 2010.  I’m re-posting it today for those who attended my session at Eat Alberta 2017.

 

A spoonful of crème fraîcheCrème fraîche is similar to sour cream. In fact, they are made by the same process: inoculating dairy with a bacterial culture that converts lactose to lactic acid, which in turn coagulates the proteins in the dairy and thickens the mixture.

The major difference between crème fraîche and sour cream is fat content. Crème fraîche is cultured whole cream, so it’s about 30% fat.  Sour cream is made from leaner dairy products, and is usually around 15% fat. The added fat in crème fraîche gives it two advantages over sour cream. First, it has a more luxurious texture. Second, the fat tempers the acidity, making for a subtler and more rounded flavour.

Making Crème Fraîche at Home

Fresh dairy naturally contains the bacteria that would, over time, turn cream into crème fraîche. The traditional method of production would be to simply incubate that bacteria, and let nature take care of the rest. In the age of pasteurization, we must reintroduce this bacterial strain to the cream. There are several supermarket products that contain this strain. Buttermilk is one.

To make
crème fraîche at home, you need only stir one tablespoon of buttermilk into one cup of cream. Cover the mixture and leave it at room temperature for two days.  Then refrigerate.  At this point the crème fraîche will become quite thick, but as soon as you stir it it will become runny, like double cream.  Somehow it develops a nutty flavour, almost like brown butter.

Crème fraîche is perfect for finishing cream soups, as it adds a very mild, pleasing acidity to cut the richness. It being the end of May, with Edgar Farms enjoying its brief few weeks at the Strathcona market, cream of asparagus soup seemed appropriate.

Cream of asparagus soup with crème fraîche

Irish Cream

Homemade Irish creamThere are two drinks that we go through in unholy quantities this time of year.  The first without question is rum, as it is used in all kinds of preserves, baking, and cocktails.  The second is Irish cream, consumed on its own, or diluted with a bit of milk or coffee.

For years my standby has been Bailey’s, but this year I decided to make my own.

Irish cream is comprised of cream, sugar, and Irish whiskey, usually but not always flavoured with coffee.  It is around 20% alcohol by volume, and has a rich, viscous mouthfeel.  It’s basically an Irish coffee with the ingredients in different proportions.

If you plan on consuming Irish cream in coffee, there’s probably not much point in flavouring it with coffee.  I’m after a drink to be enjoyed on its own, so I’ve included strong coffee in my recipe.

I’ve come across some recipes online that use condensed milk to approximate the thickness of commercial brands.  The truth is that it’s not the thickness of condensed milk that gives the final drink a rich mouthfeel, it’s the sugar content.  Sugary liquids have a high specific gravity and give the impression of viscosity on the palate.  Granulated sugar and cream therefore work just as well as condensed milk.

The following recipe is a reasonable facsimile of commercial brands, though with a more distinct coffee flavour.  Obviously you can adjust the whiskey content to suit your taste.

Irish Cream

Ingredients

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 70 g granulated sugar
  • 1 pinch kosher salt
  • 70 mL strong, high quality coffee, chilled
  • 70 mL heavy cream
  • 140 mL Irish whiskey, preferably Jameson
  • 1.25 mL vanilla extract

Procedure

  1. Whisk the sugar and salt into the egg yolks.
  2. Whisk in the remaining ingredients.  Let stand in the fridge overnight.

Posset

…I have drugg’d their possets
That death and nature do contend about them
Whether they live or die.

-Lady MacBeth, in the Scottish play (fitting, no?)

 

Dark shortbread cookie and rich eating-posset

Posset is an old British drink of cream curdled with sack (fortified wine) or ale.  Nowadays the term usually refers to sweetened cream curdled so that it sets like a custard.

During the years in which liquid posset was declining in popularity and solid posset was rising, the term “posset” on its own was ambiguous. Qualifiers were added for clarity, resulting in terms like “rich eating posset.”

Anyways, this is one of the simplest desserts to make.  I often serve it at Burns Suppers with shortbread cookies. The idea is to dip the cookies in the smooth, set cream à la Dunkaroos.

 

Lemon Posset
from Bon Appétit Magazine, May 2007

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp fresh lime juice

Procedure

  1. Combine the sugar and cream in a saucepan and place over medium heat. Simmer for three minutes.
  2. Stir in the lemon and lime juice, then pour the mixture in the serving vessels. Leave to set in the fridge overnight.
  3. Though it is in no way traditional, the surface can be torched in the style of burnt cream or crème brûlée, to make what I call a burnt posset.

Burnt posset and shortbread

 

Leftovers: Whipped Posset

Posset is a bit like crème fraîche: it sets up in a custard-like network, but once stirred it reverts to a viscous fluid.

You can whip this viscous fluid as if it were heavy cream.  And it’s amazing: Cool Whip on steroids.  It makes the best berries and cream.

Berries and Cream: saskatoons, raspberries, whipped posset, basil and thyme tips.

"Berries and Cream": saskatoons, raspberries, whipped posset, basil, thyme

Mascarpone, Queso Blanco, Lemon Ricotta

Today was devoted to playing with the simple formula (dairy) + (heat) + (acid) = (fresh cheese), that is, changing the dairy, acid, and amount of heat to manipulate the taste and texture of the finished cheese.

 

Mascarpone

Spooning rich, thick mascarponeMascarpone, the most mispronounced of all Italian cheeses, is made from whole cream, and is usually curdled with lemon juice or straight citric acid. My recipe from the Culinary Institute of America’s Garde Manger, Third Edition,called for tartaric acid (available at brewing supply stores), the taste of which took a distant backseat to the rich, buttery flavour of the cream.

  • 1.92L heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp tartaric acid

Here are some brusque instructions. Heat cream to 80°C. Stir to prevent burning. Remove pot from heat and add acid. Once cream has formed curd, pour mixture into colander lined with cheesecloth. Refrigerate and let strain for twenty four hours.


Queso Blanco

Queso blanco, is another fresh cheese curdled with acid, cider vinegar in this case. While the pure citric and tartaric acids in the previous cheeses were almost undetectable, the cider vinegar makes its presence known. It has a crumbly texture, similar to ricotta.

  • 1.92L whole milk
  • 1 fl. oz cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp kosher salt

Heat milk to 85°C. Stir to prevent burning. Slowly add vinegar and salt while stirring. Once milk has formed curd, remove pot from heat. Pour mixture into colander lined with cheesecloth. Refrigerate and let strain for one to three hours.


Lemon Ricotta

A cucumber salad dressed with lemon ricottaThe queso blanco produced a large quantity of fairly clear whey, and the mascarpone left a small amount of relatively thick, opaque whey. I combined the two to make a third batch of cheese, something approaching a traditional ricotta.

Loosely following a procedure for lemon cheese (intended for use with whole milk and cream, not whey…) I heated the whey mixture to 38°C, then slowly added lemon juice, stirring gently, until curds formed. I removed the pot from the heat, and let it sit at room temperature for a few hours. Then I strained the mixture for several hours to remove the whey.

I think the reason for the lower temperature in the recipe is this: since we want the lemon flavour to be fairly dominant, there will be lots of acid in the cheese, and therefore less heat is required to coagulate the proteins. With other cheeses like mascarpone, we don’t want lots of acidity in the finished product, so we need more heat to help coagulate the proteins.

The lemon ricotta had very fine, moist grains, and (obviously…) a strong lemon flavour. I added a bit of lemon zest and salt after straining, and mixed it with sliced cucumbers, red onions, and a few cracks of black pepper for a simple salad.

Butter and Buttermilk

I think as children most of us were taken to historical sites like Fort Edmonton to learn how the settlers made wool and horseshoes and butter. Even so, I’ll start at the beginning.

You make butter by agitating cream.

It works like this. The fat in cream is in tiny globs, each covered with a membrane that prevents the fat globs from joining together. When you agitate cream, you break these coverings, releasing the fat globs, which all rush out to join their fatty brethren and form a solid mass of butter.

To commence butter-production, fill your container half way with heavy cream. Add a pinch of salt, secure the lid, and start shaking. You don’t have to strain yourself, just use a gentle shake that you can sustain for maybe ten minutes. After a while the cream will thicken: the contents will be noticeably less fluid, and there will be less sloshing. At this point you’ve simply made whipped cream:

The cream, thickened by agitation
Once whipped cream has formed, it’s a little more difficult to keep the cream moving in the jar. Perform a couple minutes of aggressive shaking, which will separate the butterfat and buttermilk:

The separated butterfat and buttermilk


Buttermilk: A Digression

While the resulting liquid is technically buttermilk, it does not have the tanginess that we usually associate with buttermilk. Why do we think of buttermilk as sour?

An old-timey counter-top butter churn.When my mom was growing up in northern Ontario, they kept dairy cows.  They had a butter churn. Not the tall wooden ones you see at historical villages, but a large glass jar with a crank that spun paddles within.  Once the day’s cream had turned sour, they would pour it in the jar.  Once the jar was full they would make butter.

Whoa. Hold on. “Once the day’s cream was sour?”

I know.  In the age of pasteurization “sour milk” means “spoiled milk,” ie. a putrid mess of mold and coaguluum.  But before milk is pasteurized it contains a community of friendly bacteria called lactobacillus that are able to get a strong foothold on the milk before any other microbe. In my mother’s day sour milk was exactly that: sour. It wasn’t harmful, but if incubated too long could be too strong tasting.  This is what they used to make butter.  Both the butter and the buttermilk would have had the tangy taste of culture milk.

These days commercial buttermilk is made from pasteurized whole or partly-skimmed milk that has been inoculated with lactobacillus and incubated.

 

Back to the Butter…

The butterfat that has clumped together must now be worked to remove small pockets of buttermilk that remain within. When making such a small amount of butter, you can just use your hands. Knead the butter. You should see droplets of buttermilk come out.

At this point the butter is usually pressed into a mold to form the familiar bricks. Or in my case, hockey pucks:

The finished butter in a round ramekin

My finished butter was made with store-bought cream, so it has little to distinguish itself from store-bought butter, besides a slightly richer dairy flavour. It’s very good, but the benefits aren’t great enough to convince me to start churning cream for my daily supply of butter. (Maybe once I have my own cow…) It’s still a good experiment to try once, if only for general knowledge and appreciation of this rich but humble staple.