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What is Crème Fraîche?

If you have ever watched an episode of the Great British Baking Show, then you will probably have heard the term “crème fraîche” thrown around. But, while you might have heard of crème fraîche before, you might not actually know what it is. 

As you have probably guessed, crème fraîche is an ingredient that is often used in baking. As you have probably also already guessed, crème fraîche is a French creation, but it is now used in many countries all across the globe. 

creme fraiche

But what is crème fraîche? Where does it come from, exactly? And how should it be used in baking? In this guide, we’ll be answering all this and lots more. So keep on reading to find out. 

What is crème fraîche?

First things first, let’s take a look at exactly what creme fraiche is. In short, crème fraîche is a dairy product, and it is pronounced krem-fraysh. As we have said, it is an ingredient which comes from France, and it literally translates to fresh cream. Crème fraîche is made using dairy cream, but it is not the same as the fresh cream which we know and love today. That is because crème fraîche has been soured using bacteria, this means that it tastes different to regular cream, and it is also thicker too. 

Smoked Salmon Cocktail Blinis with Creme Fraiche and Chives
Smoked Salmon Cocktail Blinis with Creme Fraiche and Chives

While crème fraîche has been soured through the use of bacteria, it still is not the same thing as soured cream. These two ingredients are similar to one another, but crème fraîche contains less acid, and so it has a less sour flavor. It is also higher in fat than regular cream, and soured cream, which is why crème fraîche has a thicker consistency. It is widely used in cooking, and this is because it is very versatile. The flavor of crème fraîche allows this ingredient to be used in both sweet and savory dishes, and it can also be cooked or served fresh. But where does it actually come from? Let’s take a quick look at the history of crème fraîche. 

Where does it come from?

We have already established that crème fraîche is a French creation, but what is it actually made of? And why was it first created? In France, there are actually 2 different things which are known as crème fraîche. One is a thick fermented cream product, the other is a liquid cream product. Outside of France, we only really know one type of crème fraîche, and that is the liquid kind. So, generally speaking, it is accepted that the liquid version of this soured cream is “crème fraîche”.

Several canapes with caviar and creme fraiche
Several canapes with caviar and creme fraiche

To make crème fraîche, a starter culture is added to heavy cream. This mixture is left at room temperature to stand, and during this time, the culture will cause the cream to thicken because it is made entirely of bacteria. When you hear about the process that goes into manufacturing crème fraîche, you might be put off eating it. But the bacteria used in crème fraîche is good bacteria, and it will not do you any harm.  

Now that you know what crème fraîche is made of, you might be wondering what this ingredient is used for. So, let’s take a look at some main uses of crème fraîche. 

What is Crème fraîche Used For?

If you are new to the world of baking, then you might be wondering what crème fraîche is used for. As we have said, it can be used in both sweet and savory dishes, but you might not know any dishes which actually contain it. So, here are some dishes which use crème fraîche in their recipe:

  • Crème fraîche and eggs. 
  • In dips to serve alongside chips. 
  • Cake frosting (i.e., on red velvet cake). 
  • Chocolate truffles.
  • Salad dressing. 
  • Ice cream. 
crisp bread with creme fraiche and berries
crisp bread with creme fraiche and berries

As you can see, crème fraîche is incredibly versatile, and this is why it is used in so many dishes. This is mainly possible because of the flavor of crème fraîche. Crème fraîche does not have a particularly strong flavor, but it does have nutty and sour undertones. The lack of flavor means that crème fraîche isn’t used for its taste, instead it is used for its consistency and the fact that it thickens anything that it is added to. It is often used in dips to thicken their texture, and it is used in frosting to add another dimension to the flavor. So, as you can see, crème fraîche is actually very versatile, but what should you do if you can’t get your hands on it? 

Crème fraîche Substitutes

If you live outside of France, then you will know that getting your hands on crème fraîche isn’t always the easiest task. Most of the time, crème fraîche is sold when it is already infused in products. For example, crème fraîche ice cream or crème fraîche icing. Due to this, it is often rare for a grocery store to sell crème fraîche on its own. But this doesn’t stop recipe books from listing it as an ingredient. So, if you cannot buy crème fraîche, what can you use instead?

Thankfully, there are quite a few substitutes that are suitable to replace crème fraîche in a recipe. So, if you cannot find crème fraîche in the grocery store, it is not the end of the world. Instead, you can simply buy any of these alternatives:

  • Sour Cream – this is the closest substitute to crème fraîche, and because of this it can be subbed in at equal measures.   
  • Full fat Greek yogurt – this can also be subbed in at a ratio of 1:1, but it has a lower amount of fat than crème fraîche. 
  • Cream cheese – this should only be added in small amounts. It isn’t ideal, but it does the job. 

Summary

In short, crème fraîche is a dairy product that is created by adding bacteria culture to regular cream. This makes crème fraîche sour in comparison to fresh cream, despite the fact that crème fraîche literally translates to fresh cream. It is mainly used in cooking to thicken the consistency of dishes, but we have looked at this and lots more in this guide.

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Written by Brian N

Brian has been an influencer in the food and beverage industry for over 20 years. He not only loves to eat and drink at restaurants on a regular basis, he also knows the business inside and out.