Because crème fraîche is very expensive at the store, it’s worth learning to make at home. Many crème fraîche recipes on the Internet can lead to moldy and disgusting results. That’s why you should follow this easy-to-master and bulletproof technique to successfully make crème fraîche in your kitchen.
Crème fraîche is rich and tangy with a silky, custard-like texture. Crème fraîche is a beloved ingredient in French cooking because when you add crème fraîche to food it makes your dish taste buttery and luxurious.
What is crème fraîche?
Crème fraîche is a fermented cream that is like yogurt but much richer in taste. It became a popular fancy ingredient because of its rich flavor that adds a touch of tartness while being less sour than sour cream. Crème fraîche can be quite expensive at gourmet grocery stores, which is why it’s worth learning to make at home.
Crème fraîche has a high-fat content (it’s made from cream), about 30% fat, so it is unlikely to curdle when you heat it. This property makes crème fraîche an amazing cultured dairy product to add to hot foods like soups and pasta sauces. Read on to learn the many different uses for crème fraîche and how to make it at home.
What ingredients do you need to make crème fraîche at home?
Crème fraîche is incredibly simple. Just 2 ingredients. The magic happens during the incubation process (more on that later). You need:
- Starter culture: Plain yogurt, cultured buttermilk, kefir, or another fermented dairy product. You can even try heirloom starter culture, though I hear it requires more time to incubate.
- Cream: I use heavy whipping cream. Costco has a good deal on cream. You can buy it from any grocery store.
What’s the Garlic Delight technique to make crème fraîche at home?
I made this crème fraîche recipe for the many readers who requested it. What’s different about Garlic Delight’s crème fraîche recipe?
I focus on technique. Why? I tried many recipes including from reputable recipe websites like Serious Eats and Epicurious. Guess what? They led to moldy, disgusting crème fraîche. Twice!
Alex and I developed this “bulletproof” technique. Yes, it’s more steps than the “one-step” crème fraîche recipe. But it’s also much more likely to succeed.
Let’s learn why the Garlic Delight crème fraîche technique works:
- Store the cream in a glass container: We use a glass container or jar for convenience so you can store the crème fraîche in the container and avoiding the extra step of transferring the crème fraîche from the inner pot to another container. This reduces the risk of contamination. (SIDE NOTE: I learned it’s called a pot-in-pot cooking technique. 😀 )
- Heat the cream: Heating the cream on the Yogurt > Boil mode on the Instant Pot brings the cream to a temperature just below boiling to kill unwanted microbes. This sets the stage for the incubation process, giving the beneficial bacteria a leg up over the mold, which is key to a cultured cream rather than a moldy cream.
- Use a water bath: The water bath is Alex’s idea to keep the cream at a constant temperature. It ensures good thermal contact between the Instant Pot and the cream because there is a glass container in the way. NOTE: If you are making a big batch of crème fraîche, you don’t need the water bath if you put the cream directly in the inner pot.
- Use a constant incubation temperature of 100°F to 116°F/43.5°C to 46.5°C: A constant temperature ensures the cream stays warm enough to give the starter cultures a friendly environment to grow and, more importantly, outpace the mold spores. It’s also not too hot that you accidentally kill the desirable bacteria.
- Set up a sealed environment: Again helps to reduce contamination during incubation.
Why make crème fraîche at home with an instant pot?
There’s nothing special about the Instant Pot for crème fraîche except that it can incubate the cream at a precise temperature for many hours and seals shut. Read on to find other ways to make crème fraîche in case you don’t have an Instant Pot at home.
RELATED: Another popular French recipe ratatouille can be made in an Instant Pot.
What if I don’t have an instant pot?
Here are alternative gadgets you can use if you don’t have an Instant Pot at home to make crème fraîche:
- Use a sous vide cooker: The sous vide can keep a constant temperature for many hours. You may need to store the cream in a sealed plastic bag instead of a glass container because the container or jar may allow water to leak in.
- Use a yogurt maker: A yogurt maker is designed to incubate milk or cream at a constant temperature. You can follow your yogurt maker’s instructions and simply use cream instead of milk to make crème fraîche.
- Use a saucepan and oven (I don’t recommend this method because it risks failure): Heat the cream in the saucepan to 180ºF to 200ºF/82.5ºC to 93ºC (just below boiling) to kill the unwanted microbes. After introducing the starter culture (yogurt), incubate the cream in a warmed oven set to the lowest temperature possible. Ideally, your oven can get as low as 100°F/43.5°C. If it cannot, you may need to leave your oven door ajar at the lowest temperature to incubate the cultured cream.
WARNING: If you use a saucepan and oven to make crème fraîche, I can’t guarantee your crème fraîche will not get overheated or underheated which may cause your crème fraîche to fail. If you detect even a speck of red bloom, please throw it out. Don’t risk getting sick by eating moldy cream.
RELATED: If you insist on making crème fraîche with a saucepan on the stovetop, check out this Splendid Table recipe.
Can I use this technique for making regular yogurt?
Yes! This crème fraîche recipe is the same process for making yogurt. Except instead of cream, you use milk.
Once you master this crème fraîche technique, feel free to experiment with making yogurt using milk and different kinds of cultures. You can try goat milk, sheep milk, different heirloom starter cultures. If you want to try making soy milk and coconut milk yogurt, do a quick Google search for advice because the process differs slightly for these plant-based milks.
How can I tell when the crème fraîche is ready?
After you remove the crème fraîche from the Instant Pot, you should notice it jiggles like jelly. It is thick and, similar to gently whipped cream. It retains soft peaks when you stir it. It also pulls back from the sides of the container when you scoop the crème fraîche with a spoon.
Homemade crème fraîche made in an Instant Pot
- Instant Pot
- glass container
- 2 cups (475 ml) heavy whipping cream
- 1 tablespoon (15 g) yogurt, can substitute with cultured buttermilk, kefir, or other starter cultures like heirloom starters
- Gather the equipment and ingredients.
Prepare the cream
- Put the heavy whipping cream in a glass jar or container. Set up the rack in the Instant Pot's inner pot. I like to have the rack "handles" standing up against the sides of the inner pot. Put the cream in the inner pot on top of the rack.
- Add water into the inner pot. Be careful not to accidentally drip water into the cream. Fill the inner pot with enough water to reach the same level as the cream in the glass container to ensure good thermal contact.
- Lock the lid in place on the Instant Pot. It doesn't matter if you set the valve to seal or not. Set the Instant Pot to the Yogurt mode. Push Adjust to set it show Boil on the interface.
- Instant Pot will heat the cream until you see the interface show Yogt. Once you see Yogt, this means the cream is at a high enough temperature that we want to cool the inner pot and the cream to prepare for incubation.
- Carefully remove the inner pot with oven mitts because the pot is very hot.
- Rest the lid on top of the inner pot to prevent dust and other contaminants from falling into the cream. Allow the temperature of the cream to decrease until it reaches between 100°F to 116°F/43.5°C to 46.5°C. This takes about an hour. If you are impatient, you can put the inner pot in an ice bath to cool it faster. In an ice bath, it will take about 5 minutes for the temperature of the cream to plunge to the target temperature range.
Add the culture starter
- Measure the temperature of the water bath. Avoid measuring the cream directly so you don't introduce additional microbes into the cream. Once the temperature reaches the target 100°F to 116°F/43.5°C to 46.5°C, you are ready to introduce the starter cultures.
- Before adding the starter culture, you may want to remove the film on top of the cream which develops from heating it. You can discard the gooey film.
- Add your starter culture. In this recipe, add the spoonful of yogurt. You can use other cultured dairy products listed in the ingredients list.
- Stir in the starter culture (yogurt) with a whisk to make sure it is well combined.
- Add the inner pot back into the Instant Pot. Turn on the Yogurt mode again. Push the Adjust mode to set a timer. Use the + and – buttons to set the timer to 8:00 (8 hours).
- Once your crème fraîche is ready, carefully remove the Instant Pot lid. Try to avoid dripping the condensation that has collected on the lid into the crème fraîche.
- Carefully remove the glass container with the crème fraîche. It should be an off-white or very pale yellow color. You can use the crème fraîche immediately. If you want a firmer texture, refrigerate the crème fraîche for about 12 hours or overnight before using it.
- Enjoy your crème fraîche!
Can I make a larger batch of crème fraîche?
If you are doubling or tripling the ingredient quantities, you can put the cream directly in the Instant Pot inner pot if you don’t have a glass jar or container that is large enough.
I only recommend using the glass container because it saves a step of moving the crème fraîche from the inner pot and storing it in a container.
If you put your cream directly in the inner pot, you don’t need to create a water bath because your Instant Pot will heat the cream directly.
My crème fraîche failed. What went wrong?
I’ve found two probable reasons your crème fraîche failed:
- Overheated the cream: If you heat the cream too much, it can kill the bacteria we want to grow to ferment the cream. How to fix: If you kill the bacteria, you will need to reintroduce the starter culture before incubating it again. Or toss out the cream and start again. Overheating the cream is likely to happen if you don’t have a temperature-controlled environment.
- Mold overtook your starter culture: Making cultured dairy products like yogurt and crème fraîche is all about fighting off mold by cultivating beneficial bacteria to ferment the milk and cream. When I followed the “one-step” crème fraîche recipes, using cream from the fridge without heating it first, the mold took over before the bacteria had a chance to grow. That led to disgusting moldy cream. How to fix: You can’t. Hold your nose and throw it out. Then try my technique of using a temperature-controlled incubation or at least heat the cream before adding the yogurt to give your lactobacillus a fighting chance.
How long does crème fraîche last?
Crème fraîche lasts up to 10 days to 2 weeks in the fridge. You can extend the life of crème fraîche by practicing good food hygiene, including the following:
- Use clean spoons: Avoid dipping a dirty spoon into the crème fraîche container. No double-dipping.
- Keep the crème fraîche covered: During the incubation process and when storing the crème fraîche in the fridge, keep the crème fraîche covered with a clean lid as much as possible to reduce contamination from dust and spores.
- Don’t make more than you need: The recipe is designed for 2 cups of crème fraîche. If you need less, halve the recipe. If you need more, double the recipe.
How to use crème fraîche
- Fruit: Top fresh (or defrosted) sliced stone fruits, berries, and poached pears with crème fraîche similar to how you serve yogurt with fruit.
- Instead of whipped cream: Serve a spoonful of crème fraîche in place of whipped cream. You can enjoy crème fraîche on a slice of pumpkin pie, a scoop of ice cream, a slice of chocolate cake, and alongside a chocolate soufflé.
- Charlotte aux poires: I have charlotte aux poires to thank for introducing me to crème fraîche. Here are 2 good recipes:
- A quick and easy version from Le Journal des Femmes that uses mostly store-bought ingredients
- An intense, gourmet version from Encore Un Gateau with instructions on how to make ladyfingers and crème bavaroise from scratch.
- (If you want a charlotte aux poires recipe in English, leave a comment below to request it.)
- In place of mayonnaise: Add the crème fraîche to chicken salad, potato salad, and shrimp salad instead of mayonnaise.
- Eggs: Add crème fraîche instead of cream in beaten eggs to make omelets and scrambled eggs.
- Quiches: Crème fraîche is an integral ingredient in quiche lorraine.
- Soups: Swirl a spoonful of crème fraîche in your soups, including pumpkin soup, butternut squash soup, mushroom soup, and any other soups that benefit from a touch of cream.
- Pasta: Before serving pasta, you can add a dollop of crème fraîche on top of the pasta noodles and sauce, much like how you would grate Parmigiano-Reggiano on top.
- Salmon: The tangy flavor of crème fraîche balances the richness of baked or poached salmon.
Garlic Delight recipes that use crème fraîche
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How to substitute crème fraîche
If you don’t have crème fraîche on hand, you can substitute plain whole-milk yogurt (the Greek-style yogurt is a particularly good substitute), sour cream, or cultured buttermilk. Any substitute will change the flavor and texture so think about what flavor and thickness you need so you can reach for a comparable cultured dairy product.
READ NEXT: Check out this ratatouille recipe that uses an Instant Pot.