All About Crème Fraîche

Here’s everything you should know about this buttery cultured cream and why it's worth seeking out.

Crème fraîche is harder to find and more expensive than sour cream. So it’s natural to wonder if you can just sub in sour cream when a recipe calls for it. While both products function in similar ways, adding tanginess and richness to food, the higher fat content of crème fraîche makes it far more versatile. Here’s everything you should know about this buttery cultured cream and why it's worth seeking out.

What it is: Crème fraîche is made by adding cultures to heavy cream with as much as 45 percent butterfat and fermenting it until it has a lush yet fluid consistency with subtle tang and complex, nutty notes. (In France, traditionally the bacteria present in unpasteurized cream naturally thicken and ferment the dairy.)

How sour cream is different: Sour cream is made with lighter dairy that has just 15 to 20 percent butterfat, which means it breaks at high temperatures.

How to make crème fraîche at home: This cultured dairy is expensive to buy but economical (and easy) to make yourself. Stir together 1 cup pasteurized heavy cream (avoid ultra-pasteurized) and 2 tablespoons buttermilk. Cover and place in warm location (75 to 80 degrees is ideal; lower temperatures will lengthen fermentation time) until thickened but still pourable, 12 to 24 hours.

Favorite ways to use it—and use it up: Crème fraîche’s high fat content means that, unlike sour cream, it won’t curdle when exposed to high temperatures. You can substitute it in a 1:1 ratio in almost any application calling for heavy cream. We use it to boost creaminess in soups, pasta, pan sauces, scrambled eggs—even risotto. We also love it whipped into a lofty topping (it holds air as well as whipped cream) or dolloped directly on fruits and desserts.

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