Crème fraîche is a thick, velvety cultured cream with a subtly tangy flavour. It comes from France, where its name means simply ‘fresh cream’ and is essentially a richer, higher-fat version of sour cream. Because it doesn’t separate or curdle when heated, crème fraîche is perfect for adding to soups and sauces for a rich, creamy texture. It is slightly acidic, and can be combined with baking soda for use as a raising agent, and is also delicious spooned onto fruit and desserts like whipped cream.
If your recipe calls for crème frâiche but you can’t find any at the store, here are a few great substitutes you can use in a pinch.
Sour cream is probably the closest match to crème frâiche, and can be substituted using a 1:1 ratio in most recipes. Both are cultured creams with a silky texture and tangy flavour, both have enough acidity to work as a raising agent, and both can be heated without curdling. Sour cream is great for adding extra richness and flavour to soups and sauces, and as a popular ingredient in Tex-Mex cuisine, it works particularly well with spicy food.
There is a slight difference in taste, with sour cream having a lower fat-content and higher acidity, which makes it a little less creamy and a little more tangy. In dishes with other, stronger flavours, the difference is scarcely detectable, but some people may find other alternatives more palatable as a topping for fruit and desserts.
Full-fat Greek yoghurt
Greek yoghurt is another cultured dairy product with a tangy flavour, although in this case it is made using cultured milk, rather than cultured cream. It is less creamy and more tangy than crème fraîche, but still tastes good as a slightly healthier dessert or fruit topping. It works well as a raising agent, and can also be used to thicken sauces and soups, but because of its lower fat content, it is prone to curdle when heated, so you will need to stir the yoghurt in right at the end, after removing from the heat. You can substitute Greek yoghurt for crème frâiche at a ratio of 1:1.
Cream cheese has a similar creamy, slightly tangy flavour to crème frâiche, and can be substituted at a ratio of 1:1 in most recipes. It is typically even higher fat than crème fraîche, so it won’t curdle when heated, but due to its dense texture it will need some vigorous stirring to ensure it is absorbed into the mixture. It lacks the acidity to be used as a raising agent, however, and its density means that it doesn’t work as a topping for desserts and fruit.
Mascarpone is a luxuriously creamy soft cheese, with a fat content of up to 75%. It can be substituted for crème frâiche at a ratio of 1:1 for a richer, more decadent version of your dish, although it lacks the acidity to work as a raising agent. Because of its high fat content, there are no issues with curdling, but mascarpone is quite expensive, and in dishes where other, stronger flavours are the star, there are alternatives that work just as well for a fraction of the cost. It is perfect as a topping for fruits and desserts, however, as here it’s unrivalled creaminess and rich, slightly sweet flavour can really be appreciated.
How to make crème fraîche at home
Another option available to you is simply to make your own crème frâiche at home. You need to prepare it a day in advance, but if you have the time, it’s actually far simpler than you might think.
Pour the cream into a clean mason jar and stir in the yoghurt.
Leave in a warm place for 24 hours.
When you return, the ‘friendly’ bacterial cultures from the yoghurt will have colonised the cream, making your very own cultured cream, aka crème frâiche.
Recipes with crème fraîche
Try the rich, silky flavour of crème frâiche for yourself with these delicious recipes from Fine Dining Lovers.
Gluten-free eggplant pancakes: crème frâiche adds a hint of tangy creaminess to this deliciously savoury vegetarian appetiser.
Cold rocket soup with orange zest: crème frâiche brings the creaminess to this elegant and refreshing summer soup.
Fava bean soup with fried bacon: another quick summer soup with an irresistibly silky texture, topped with crispy bacon.
Pea gazpacho with Stilton: because we couldn’t resist adding just one more soup recipe, we hope you enjoy this perfect marriage of sweet garden peas and salty Stilton, finished with a generous swirl of crème frâiche.
Parsnip and carrot tart: this simple but tasty vegetarian tart has a luxurious creamy filling, and adds a touch of class to lunch or supper.
Tuna pasta bake: rich, creamy and comforting, this satisfying pasta dish is set to be a new family favourite.
Cheese soufflé: a true classic, this cheese soufflé is a showstopper that’s sure to impress your dinner party guests.