Is it just fancy sour cream?
Transparent Pie with Whipped Crème Fraîche and Sugared Cranberries
Credit: Victor Protasio

You may have seen “crème fraîche” listed among the ingredients in all sorts of recipes, both sweet and savory. But do you know what it actually is?

What Is Crème Fraîche?

Crème fraîche, which literally means “fresh cream,” is a thick cream with a rich, tangy flavor. It’s similar to sour cream, but its higher fat content (crème fraîche has a butterfat content of approximately 28 percent, whereas sour cream has a butterfat content of about 20 percent) makes it smoother and more velvety.

Believe it or not, crème fraîche owes its signature tanginess to bacteria: It’s made by adding a starter culture to heavy cream and allowing it to stand at an appropriate temperature until it thickens. The bacteria culture is used to produce lactic acid from lactose, which is responsible for its sour flavor and viscous texture.

This bacteria actually serves another useful purpose: Its acidity keeps the cream from spoiling quickly, and helps it remain fresh for several weeks.

Crème Fraîche vs. Sour Cream

Have you ever tried to cook with sour cream or yogurt, only to end up with a hot curdled mess? Meet your new best friend, crème fraîche.

Because of its extremely high fat content, it’s pretty dang hard to heat it so much that it separates. This makes it a great choice for enriching steaming sauces or soups.

So what about taste? While both crème fraîche and sour cream are quite tangy, sour cream is slightly more potent.

How to Use Crème Fraîche

Traditionally used in French cuisine, crème fraîche has been making a name for itself in the U.S. over the last few decades.

It’s great for thickening sauces or soups, but its buttery flavor and texture makes it perfect for desserts.

Crème fraîche is frequently mixed into batter or spooned over pies, cakes, or fruit.

Can You Make Crème Fraîche at Home?

It’s actually relatively simple to make crème fraîche at home. All you really need is buttermilk, heavy whipping cream, and time to let the mixture sit (8-24 hours should be good). Find our recipe here.

If you don’t want to go through the trouble of making your own (no judgment here), you can totally buy the packaged stuff at the grocery store for a few dollars more than regular sour cream.

Crème Fraîche Substitutions

In a pinch, it’s totally fine to swap crème fraîche for sour cream or yogurt. Keep in mind, though, that both options are more acidic than a well made crème fraîche—this could cause your final product to taste a little tangier than expected.

Also, don’t forget that cooking with crème fraîche is slightly easier than cooking with sour cream or yogurt, as it is less likely to curdle over high heat.

Crème Fraîche Recipes

Hasseltots with Creme Fraiche and Caviar image
Hasseltots with Creme Fraiche and Caviar image
| Credit: Hector Manuel Sanchez; Food Styling: Karen Rankin; Prop Styling: Kay E. Clarke

Hasseltots with Creme Fraiche and Caviar image Photo: Hector Manuel Sanchez; Food Styling: Karen Rankin; Prop Styling: Kay E. Clarke

Ready to try out crème fraîche for yourself? We’ve got you covered: