Home-Made Crème Fraîche or Mexican Crema

Being an avid reader of cook books and magazines, when crème fraîche appeared on my radar, I was wild to use this “new” (to me) ingredient. Of course, it wasn’t available, even at the “gourmet” stores – and it took years and years (decades?) before I ever found it in a store.

Creme Fraiche - Home-made
Creme Fraiche – Home-made

Eventually it showed up, but the cost was dear. Luckily, many recipes suggested a substitute with common enough ingredients. And my home-made crème fraîche tasted just like the store-bought, perhaps even a little better!

Update: I’m going to discuss the easiest, least expensive method first, but if you’ve had trouble with this method, scroll to the bottom for another, which I’m adding because it may be a bit more fool-proof. I found this in my recipe box, dating from the ’80’s.

I’m not a food scientist, but in my research of why this first method seems to go wrong for some, it occurred to me that different dairy may have different cultures, some of which multiply best at different temperatures, and some of which are shorter acting. If one method doesn’t work for you, hopefully the other will! 🙂 Not all products list which cultures are used, so it could be very hard to tell which will or won’t work.

Widely known now, there seems to be little reason to add a new blog post about it, yet I like the idea of including it in what is basically my virtual collection of recipes – this way when my memory fails me, I don’t have to bother to look it up. I know, I know, it’s a cup and a tablespoon, but heck, sometimes I forget what I want when I walk in the other room…

A cup of cream, a tablespoon of buttermilk and a little (well a lot) time is all that’s needed to make this delicious substance. Mix gently together, cover loosely if you wish (I use a clean, cotton kitchen towel) and let it sit out at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours or more.

The amount of time depends partially on temperature of the room. Warmer and the cultures multiply a bit more quickly, cooler and it’s a bit slower. I’ve often found in the winter when I keep my heat down it can take much longer than 24 hours. Some people will heat the cream to jump-start the process. Because the timing is not always completely reliable, I make crème fraîche a few days before I need it. That saves a last-minute trip to the store if it hasn’t reached the right consistency when I need it.

You can of course, multiply the amounts if you wish to make more.

Just like yogurt, the growth of the good bacteria cultures from the buttermilk slow down to almost nil when refrigerated, so when the mixture reaches your desired thickness, just cap it and toss it in the fridge. It will keep, just like yogurt, buttermilk or sour cream for a good amount of time in the fridge.

If you’re looking for a great substitute for Mexican Crema, simply make the same mixture and refrigerate it a little sooner, when it still has a thick but pourable consistency.

A few more notes:

  • More bacteria (more buttermilk) in the mixture means it will thicken faster, but it won’t be quite as creamy and there’s a slight difference in flavor from the longer aging substance.
  • I prefer to find a whipping cream that is not ultrapasturized and contains only whipping cream. Some whipping creams now contain stabilizing ingredients – corn starch, for one.
  • I also like a buttermilk that contains only buttermilk and live active cultures.
  • The same method can be used using a cup of cream and two tablespoons of plain yogurt or two tablespoons of sour cream, providing the yogurt or sour cream contain active cultures. I imagine any substance with live cultures will give great (but similar results.)

To cover or not to cover always seems to come up in discussions about crème fraîche. Here’s my thoughts:

  • Crème fraîche always forms a skin of some type on the top, whether covered or not, but it is much more pronounced when not covered. The skin can be removed or stirred in, but there may be a few lumps. It looks a little scary but it’s no big deal.
  • Just like making a home-made wild yeast, if uncovered, the mixture will pick up very small amounts of bacteria from the air. These can flavor the crème fraîche in a unique manner. The French always say their crème fraîche is unique. It’s probably so, in the same way that San Francisco Sour Dough is unique. The culture in the buttermilk is generally strong enough to crowd out any bad bacteria, and acid enough to make the environment inhospitable to bad bacteria.
  • I have pets, and it is not unusual for me to find them in the kitchen, even as much as I discourage the practice. Covering my creme fraiche is, for me, a must. I just KNOW that darned cat is in the kitchen dancing on my counters in defiance when I sleep…I just know it…I cover loosely with a kitchen towel and keep just a bit of space at the edges so the air can circulate.

Note: Creme Fraiche can become quite a bit thinner when stirred, so use it carefully.

* Update – this method seems to hedge all bets by including more than one product that contains live cultures, and you’ll notice it contains a lot of sour cream. This will produce your product very quickly, but if you’d like to slow it down, reduce the amount back to about two tablespoons and leave on the counter longer:

Another method for Crème Fraîche:

  • 1 cup heavy cream, not ultrapasteurized if possible
  • 1/2 cup sour cream or buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons plain yogurt with active cultures

Mix together, cover and let stand at room temperature for six to eight hours until desired thickness.

One more Update~read the notes under Buttermilk on my post for Queso Fresco to learn more about what to look for in the buttermilk you buy. Only certain “cultures” will work properly and temperature is more important than one might guess.

26 thoughts on “Home-Made Crème Fraîche or Mexican Crema”

    1. That’s actually a fantastic question, and one I used to wrestle with. On this post there is a tag “buttermilk” toward the bottom, which will lead to several recipes.

      Buttermilk also keeps longer if transferred to a very clean jar and lidded tightly. It can be frozen, too. I put mine in ice-cube trays, freeze and then put in a ziploc. That way I can easily melt a few when I want to make something. Figure out how much liquid your ice cube tray holds by putting water in a 2 cup measuring cup and noting how much is left over. Jot that down on the ziploc (each kind is different, mine holds about 2 cups and 8 cubes is one cup) and you’ll know about how many cubes you’ll need to melt for the recipe.

      Buttermilk is used in biscuits, waffles, pancakes, muffins, many cakes, and other baked goods.

      Also, many dressings and it is often used to soak or marinate chicken or fish before oven or deep frying. I make lemon buttermilk popsicles (on this blog) sometimes with thyme, sometimes not. Cole slaw often has buttermilk.

      I’m sure there’s more! Anyone else have any ideas?

    1. I use yogurt a lot in recipes that call for either creme fraiche or sour cream, depending on if it’s cooked or not, but when you want the real deal, rich creme, this is a nice way to go.

    1. I find buttermilk is VERY slow for me. I suspect it is the way the buttermilk is processed, and really in fact, it’s not buttermilk any longer. I wonder how buttermilk from an actual local dairy farmer would work? Although, of course, that would be too much of an adventure to deal with unless you lived on/near a dairy farm!

          1. I HAVE warmed the whipping cream but just enough to take the chill of the fridge off and bring it to slightly above room temperature and to encourage the growth of the bacteria.

            1. I don’t know if there is any science behind this, but the only other thing I can think of is that when I made yogurt with my daughter the first time, she very specifically warned me to be gentle when stirring it together. She said it never got thick if she whisked it in or stirred with any force. Just a random thought! 🙂

              I’m guessing different milk bacteria might have different temperatures. It’s puzzling, but sometimes this just isn’t that reliable, and I’m guessing it is the buttermilk. I think I’ll go back and highlight that area of the post!

              1. Sometimes these things are temperamental. I remember once whisking in some vinegar to make paneer and the darn thing just wouldn’t make curd. I whisked it in quite briskly cause I didn’t want the milk to scorch on the bottom. I can’t recall if I ended up pitching it or adding a bunch more vinegar. It was quite a while ago.

            2. I was on a kefir kick for awhile until I killed it off (I was bummed and relieved at the same time – it was like having another kid!) but I got it from this site. They have a lot of information on various cultures, and some you can order: http://www.culturesforhealth.com/starter-cultures.html

              Maybe you’ll find something on there that helps. I wonder if the buttermilk you’re using is a “short term” culture that doesn’t multiply.

              1. Thank you for the link. I may try to find something similar in the health food/organic sections of one of the places I shop. I don’t know much about buttermilk brands so I was just using something I had bought to make ice cream, pancakes etc.

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