Créme Fraîche: What It Is and How to Use It, According to Our Food Editors
Senior food editor Lauryn Tyrell has a secret: She's swapped out the yogurt in her breakfast bowl for something far more decadent—crème fraîche, made of heavy cream and low-fat buttermilk. It all started with a tub from Cowgirl Creamery, the award-winning Northern California cheesemaker. While Lauryn had worked with crème fraîche many times before, this version was extra luscious and custardy. She stirred in some of her favorite jam (blackberry-walnut from another California maker, We Love Jam), added fresh berries and a sprinkling of wheat germ, and her new favorite breakfast was born.
The rest of the 42 Burners team sampled the crème fraîche straight out of the tub, which spurred a conversation on how each would incorporate it into a dish of their own. Fruit is a natural partner for the almost mousse-like dairy product, which explains why deputy food editor Greg Lofts loves crème fraîche with strawberries and confectioners' sugar. He also recommends whisking it into whipped cream as an accompaniment for chocolate cake or olive-oil cake. Test kitchen supervisor Kavita Thirupuvanam likes to serve a dollop with roasted or grilled fruit and toasted almonds–creating a hot-meets-cold option that dazzles the senses.
Lauryn prefers savory uses for crème fraîche, such as a topping for a puréed vegetable soup or a meaty stew. Greg is also partial to whipping up a salad dressing with crème fraîche: "It can replace the acid and the oil because it's fatty and rich but also tangy," he says. "It pairs especially well with shaved vegetables." It also makes a great base for a dip with crudités and goes nicely with baked potatoes.
A tub of crème fraîche is a weeknight saving grace for former assistant editor Lindsay Strand. Inspired by a test-kitchen visit from Portland chef Gabriel Rucker last year, she tosses crème fraîche with pasta water to make a simple sauce for spaghetti, then finishes the dish with lemon zest, grated horseradish, fresh herbs, or trout roe–sometimes all four. Crème fraîche is also a critical component in one of her favorite special-occasion appetizers. She serves it alongside potato chips and caviar (sustainable American to make it easier on the wallet). "It's the best high-low combination," says Lindsay. "I go for crème fraîche over sour cream because I love the silky texture here, and it's richer but not heavier."
However, not everyone in the test kitchen is a crème-fraiche fan; food editor at large Shira Bocar is a stalwart sour-cream supporter. "Crème fraîche just isn't my dairy," she says. "It has a sweet tang that I don't care for." The only thing Shira likes using crème fraîche for is caramel, a trick she picked up from cookbook author and former Gramercy Tavern pastry chef Claudia Fleming. Since crème fraîche is thicker and fattier than sour cream, it doesn't curdle and adds a nice velvety texture. Trust us, the chocolate tarts the caramel is poured into is reason enough to pick up some crème fraîche of your own.