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.
Suzen has been doing Cooking by the Book for 26 years. She pioneered culinary team building. We have had thousands of events. Over 100,000 people have been through our kitchen.
And every time, it has been:
- First course
- Second course
- Side course
I have loyally stood by. Bit my tongue. Waited for the day. And, finally, finally, the day came. This time the menu was:
I can’t tell you how happy I was. A client wanted to just do dessert, something that involved teambuilding. I was licking my chops and checking the sugar supply.
It was Suzen’s idea to do ice cream sandwiches. I had suggested whoppie pies, but I’m a decent man. I know how to compromise. Imagine a kitchen full of people, all making different ice cream sandwiches. I did not have to die to go to heaven.
Here is the sandwich that was judged the best by everyone. Yes, there were three different teams, each making their own combination of ice cream and cookies. All the choice came from a wonderful new book called Cookies & Ceram by Tessa Arias. There’s a picture of the book below and I’ll be blogging about this wonderful book tomorrow. But for now, just consider this sandwich for your weekend dessert.
Butterscotch Ice Cream and Chocolate Chip Sandwiches
Yield: makes about 9 ice cream sandwiches
Butterscotch Ice Cream
Yield: 1 quart
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups heavy cream, divided
- 1 ½ cups whole milk
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 4 Large egg yolks
In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, the butter. Add the sugar and vanilla and stir until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture begins to bubble, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add a ½ cup of the heavy cream, whisking until smooth. Remove the butterscotch from the heat and allow to cool while making the ice cream.
Prepare an ice bath by filling a large bowl with ice cubes and 1 to 2 cups of water. Place a medium bowl fitted with a fine strainer inside the ice bath.
In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, remaining ½ cup cream, and salt. Set over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is warm and begins to steam, about 5 minutes.
In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks until smooth. Whisk half of the warm milk mixture into the egg yolks, one ladleful at a time, until the egg mixture is warmed and smooth. Pour the egg-milk mixture back into the saucepan.
Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until it is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon and registers around 175°F on an instant-read thermometer, about 5 minutes. Be careful not to boil.
Immediately strain the mixture through the fine strainer into the prepared ice bath. Add the butterscotch to the ice cream custard, stirring to combine. Cool the custard in the ice bath until room temperature, stirring often.
Press plastic wrap against the surface of the custard and refrigerate until chilled, about 4 hours or up to 1 day.
Pour the chilled mixture into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s directions. Transfer the ice cream to an airtight container, press plastic wrap against the ice cream surface, and freeze until it is firm and the flavor is ripened, at least 2 hours.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
Yield: 18 cookies
- 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon milk
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the butter and sugars on medium-high speed until well combined and smooth, about 1 to 2 minutes. Beat in the egg, milk, and vanilla. On low speed, gradually add the flour mixture and beat until combined. Fold in the semisweet chocolate chips with a rubber spatula.
Use a spoon or spring-loaded scoop, drop 2 tablespoon-sized balls of dough onto prepared baking sheets. Flatten slightly with the palm of your hand.
Bake cookies for about 10 to 12 minutes, or until the edges are slightly browned. Let cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before removing to wire racks to cool completely. Freeze the cookies until frozen, at least1 hour. Cookies can be stored in airtight containers in the freezer for up to 1 month.
TO ASSEMBLE, top one cookie with a scoop of ice cream. Place another cookie on top of the ice cream and gently press down to form a sandwich. Immediately place the sandwich in the freezer. If you desire, dust with cocoa powder. And, on the side, you can add mini chocolate chips. According to Nestle, you can never have too many chocolate chips. Freeze for at least 2 hours before serving.
Source: Cookies and Cream by Tessa Arias
Photo Information: Canon T21,EFS 18-55 mm Macro lens, F/5.0 for 1/60th second at ISO 400