I recently bitched and moaned up a storm about about preparing a chicken galantine in culinary class, complaining that the thing was icky to make and, ultimately, nothing more than a deconstructed chicken. I also noted that a galantine is something no (sane) home cook would ever want to tackle.
Not so with creme fraiche, which we got around to making a few days later. Creme fraiche is a nothing more than thickened cream, but it’s wonderfully silky, rich, a tad sour, and just a little bit nutty. It’s amazing dolloped on fresh fruit, and you can stir it into soup as a thickener. If you want to elevate a humble baked potato to gourmet status, top it with creme fraiche instead of sour cream. My cat, Moe, likes the stuff straight up from a spoon. (Don’t judge me harshly–if I take it out of the fridge and don’t offer him some as a tribute, the little shit will. not. leave. me. be.)
So, creme fraiche is addictive and versatile (dress up a baked potato, feed the cat, whatever). It’s also a mucho premium ingredient to buy–about $5 for an 8-ounce container. “The expense seems frivolous when it’s so easy to make an equally delicious version at home,” the late Sharon Tyler Herbst wrote in the Food Lover’s Companion (if you don’t have a copy of this reference book, you need one). It’s so easy, in fact, that you do it in your sleep:
Combine 1 cup of heavy cream and 2 tablespoons buttermilk in a small bowl. Let it stand overnight at room temperature (yep, while you sleep). Then refrigerate the stuff and use it within a week.
That process yielded a cup of the luscious cream, which I took home and used to make a variation of Kerry Saretsky’s World’s Easiest Mac and (Four) Cheese with Zucchini and Thyme on Serious Eats. As she notes, using creme fraiche saves you the effort of making a stovetop bechamel sauce. I loved the tangy complexity the creme fraiche added to the mix of cheeses. A little diced prosciutto di Parma was a nice touch, too.
Will I make creme fraiche again? You bet. Heck, it’s so easy that if Moe had opposable thumbs, he’d make it.