Crème fraîche is heavy cream that has been soured and thickened. It is similar to sour cream, but crème fraîche is thicker and not as sour as sour cream. It is often used plain as a topping for fruit or other desserts and it can be added to sauces or other dishes to make a creamy finish. It has a high-fat content, but is flavorful, so a small amount can go a long way.
Crème fraîche can be difficult to find in a supermarket, or you might not have it on hand when a recipe calls for it. Vegans or those with lactose or milk allergies might also wish to find a substitute for this ingredient. The best substitute depends on what you need the crème fraîche for.
Making Crème Fraîche
If you simply can't find crème fraîche in the supermarket, you can easily make it at home. Simply blend one tablespoon of either crème fraîche, buttermilk, yogurt, or sour cream with a cup of fresh cream, cover and leave overnight (not refrigerated). Once it thickens, it can then be kept in the fridge for 2-3 days. Using crème fraîche as the starter is the most authentic method, with buttermilk as the next choice.
Using Low-Fat Substitutes
There are low-fat versions of crème fraîche available, but they cannot be used for cooking anything above a simmer, or it will separate. It is also often less thick than full-fat crème fraîche, as are the possible substitutes of low-fat yogurts and sour creams. Use these as substitutes only if the recipe is not calling for them to be boiled, or when simply using them as a topping or dip.
Using Full-Fat Substitutes
Unfortunately, even full-fat sour cream tends to separate when subjected to a high heat. So, when a recipe, such as a sauce or soup, calls for crème fraîche and involves boiling the ingredients, it is best to use heavy or whipping cream. If you prefer, you can blend 1/2 a cup of heavy cream with 1/2 a cup of sour cream, although it's better to add the sour cream after cooking. Alternatively you can add a bit of lemon to the heavy cream to give it the flavor of crème fraîche.
Crema mexicana is very similar to crème fraîche and can be used as a substitute, while quark and clabber are similar, but are made out of unpasteurised milk.
Using Vegan Substitutes
Full-fat coconut cream can be used as a substitute for crème fraîche, but it will add a different flavor to the meal. Alternatively, soy sour creams can also be used. A blend of vegan cream cheese with a small amount of soy milk, or another sort of vegan milk, and lemon juice will also make a crème fraîche substitute that is similar in taste to the original.
Crème fraîche is a delicious treat that can add an extra dimension to a wide variety of dishes. There are many substitutions available that ensure that you will never have to create a dish without the taste of crème fraîche.