They are not the same. Yes, you can substitute one for the other, but you pay a price in culinary consequences. You can make faux crème fraîche, but it’s faux, and you really should journey to your store.
The two graphics above provide some background. I’m sorry but I cannot find a “big” version of the top chart, showing the full industry life cycle of raw milk. The second graphic is a blowup of the central portion of the first graphic and shows the key information. Basically, cream is extracted from the milk. That cream is treated with the bacteria lactobacillus to create soured cream. From that base of soured cream can come three products:
- Conventional sour cream we purchase at the store: butter fat 10-19%
- Schmand: butter fat 20-29%
- Creme Fraiche: butter fat 30-40%
Schmand is found in central and eastern Europe, often goes by the name smetana and actually can have butter fat outside that 20-29% range.
All three products are used for a variety of culinary tasks. The great differences in butter fat content has consequences: their flavor, their cooking characteristics, and the care you must show when using. Your recipe and its preparation techniques should naturally vary.
Creme fraiche has a less sour, more sweet flavor than American sour cream. You can make your own creme fraiche, of course. For example, beginning with sour cream and NOT heavy cream, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of buttermilk per cup of sour cream. Heat the mixture over the stove until it is just barely warm, stirring to mix the ingredients. Store in a covered container — but not airtight for 24 to 26 hours — and then refrigerate or up to 10 days.
That recipe comes from the website ehow.com. Very nice people. Very nice website. But I have to tell you that playing with dairy this way can be just a tad risky. You can drive to the grocery store or you can be driven to the emergency room. I propose you just go to the store.
There are, by the way, other recipes for faux creme friache: for example,  heavy cream + yogurt or  heavy cream + sour cream. All these recipes involve having your faux product standing around at room temperature before putting in the refrigerator. The issue of rogue bacteria again comes into play, if not into your life.
As a scientist, I was always the theory guy, the geek at the blackboard. I was terrible in the lab. Chemistry professors did not like me. Suzen, well, Suzen loves me but has rules, like, “Do not attempt to kill me.” And, yes, if something goes wrong here at room temperature and you are going to have an unpleasant gastric experience. Just drive to the store.
You can the simpler path and just substitute sour cream for crème fraîche, but then you have some other rules to follow. Crème fraîche is better at handling high heat. If you boil sour cream, then it will curdle, so you have to watch the heat carefully if cooking with sour cream for a recipe meant to use crème fraîche. Again, drive to the store.
In the United States, any milk product that is going to cross state lines has to be pasteurized, killing the indigenous bacteria. In France, the home of Louis Pasteur, the milk is often not pasteurized. So the bacteria added to get crème fraîche are added on top of the bacteria already in the milk naturally.
In short, American-made crème fraîche cannot be the same as the French original. Different cows, different grasses, different milk, different bacteria. From that perspective, don’t even bother going to the store. Go to Normandy, where by reputation the crème fraîche is the best.
Crème fraîche with a Norman tart tartin. That combination cannot be surpassed.
Yesterday’s post featured Cinnamon Pecans. And a picture of two others treats, Honey Candied Walnuts and Crispy Roasted Chickpeas. That’s them pictured again in the two spoon-sized portions above.
The walnuts, from Alice Waters, are divine on their own but Alice mentions all the potential uses. They pair well with fruit and cheese, either on an appetizer plate or in a salad. These nuts would be a surprise sprinkled on a baked sweet potato or buried deep in a quesadilla filled with pork. While this version uses walnuts, pecans and pistachios are good substitutes. Of course, because honey is key ingredient here, and because honey comes in a zillion flavors, there is the potential for creative variability. Pick your honey. And your walnut, too, for they come with their own range of wonderful flavors.
Chickpeas are the core of hummus, ideally soft, creamy and lightly lemoned. Here is a recipe that goes to the opposite extreme. The chickpeas are roasted until crisp, then rolled in a spicy mixture that will turn you to drink. I suggest something with higher alcohol content than simple water. These treats are hot, and not just moderately hot.
Honey Candied Walnuts
Yield: 2 cups
- ½ cup sugar
- ¼ cup honey
- ¼ cup water
- 2 cups walnuts
In a deep saucepan, combine the sugar, honey and water, while stirring. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Add the walnuts.
Stir, mixing well, for 1 minute. Turn off the heat and let the nuts steep in the syrup for 2 to 3 minutes. Pour the nuts into a strainer and drain well. Spread the drained nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Properly candied nuts should feel slightly sticky and look light golden and shiny. Remove the nuts from the oven and cool completely before using. The nuts can be stored in an airtight container in the pantry for up to a month.
Source: The Art of Simple Food II by Alice Waters
Crispy Roasted Chickpeas
Yield: serves 4
- One 15-ounce can chickpeas
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
- ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with paper towels.
In a colander, drain and rinse the chickpeas. Remove as much water as you can, then pour the chickpeas onto the lined baking sheet and place another paper towel on top of them. Roll the chickpeas around between the towels to dry the chickpeas and removes some of their loose, thin skins. Remove the paper towels (from the top and bottom) and add the olive oil, tossing to coat well. Roast the chickpeas for 30 to 40 minutes, until they are golden brown and crispy.
Meanwhile, combine the salt, cumin, paprika, and pepper in a small bowl. Removed the chickpeas from the oven and immediately sprinkle them with the spice mixture, tossing to distribute the mixture and evenly coat the chickpeas. Let cool before serving. The chickpeas will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.
Source: Lunch by Gale Gand
Photo Information: Canon T2i, EF-S 60MM Macro Lens, F/2.8, 1/60th second, ISO-3200