Aw yeah! Crème fraîche!
I say it so enthusiastically (I’m basically shouting “crème fraîche!!!” to no one in particular, at 5:00am, much to the confusion of my dog), but until adulthood, I didn’t actually know what it was.
It’s hard to talk about my food roots without acknowledging my formative years as a member of relatively low socioeconomic status. We were entrenched in what I now refer to as the “generic cereal” class strata, characterized by those industrial-sized bags of puffed sugar that somehow managed to contain at least six phases of corn in a single package, and also never tasted as good as the cereal they ripped off (probably because name-brand cereals had cooler mascots hocking their corn-derived black-holes-of-nutritional-sustenance).
To put it another way: Velveeta, the processed cheese food, was my Loch Ness Monster: an elusive thing of beauty that I longed only to possess, but that was, tragically, reserved solely for special occasions and company.
So, no. I didn’t know what crème fraîche was as a kid.
In fact, it only recently came to my attention that dairy-based crème fraîche is ridiculously easy to make: heavy cream, a little buttermilk, let it sit around for 12 hours, and that is it. How is this the food of rich people? Shouldn’t rich people food be really labor-intensive (for your live-in servant), and not the natural result of, essentially, forgetting to refrigerate your dairy for a few hours?
But I digress. My point is, maybe I haven’t had crème fraîche before. But that won’t stop me from veganizing it.
After finding out how easy it was to make nonvegan crème fraîche, I thought: usually, vegan buttermilk substitute is made by whisking soymilk with apple cider vinegar; and coconut cream works the same as heavy cream in a lot of capacities; so, why wouldn’t I be able to combine and ferment these foods to produce similar results?
Naturally, I consulted Spice, Food Genius Extraordinaire, who gave me some tips (among other things, she recommended that I use unrefined coconut oil, which is structurally similar to butterfat. I happily obliged, because I would never argue with the addition of more fat to a recipe).
It’s hard to call what follows a recipe, because there is basically nothing to it: you whirl a couple ingredients in a blender, pour it in a jar, ta-da. But I’m going to give you all a little instruction anyway, because 1. It’s so easy, I want to inspire you to make it for yourself; and 2. We dairy-eschewers love fancy fermented foods as much as anyone, right? Right. So! You’ll need:
1 can of coconut milk (or about 1 ½ cups)
½ cup unrefined coconut oil [mine was a scant ½ cup because, initially, I was bashful about using that much oil—but you have no reason to be bashful. Embrace that delicious fat!)
2 tablespoons of soymilk
1 capful (a teaspoon? Ish?) apple cider vinegar
1 capsule of vegan probiotic [not pictured, because that came later.] (Sidenote! My probiotic is actually human origin, so I’m sure some will argue that it isn’t vegan, but whatever: humans can consent and the inert ingredients are vegan. That’s good enough for me.)
1. Mix together your soymilk and ACV and allow to curdle.
2. Next, give your coconut milk a whiz in the blender and, while running, add the unrefined coconut oil. Make sure it is emulsified.
3. While the blender continues to run, add the soymilk mixture.
4. This is where the original recipe ended: I poured the emulsion into a jar, covered, put a Barry White album on repeat, and left those friendly bacteria to reproduce.
Around hour twenty, I was annoyed. According to various people on the internet, dairy-based crème fraîche takes about 12 hours to reach desired consistency. My vegan version had an additional 8 hours, and it had neither thickened enough, nor developed the pleasant fermented tang that I expected. It was bubbling a little, which I took as a good indicator of bacterial multiplication, but I was still a little perplexed: why wasn’t my nondairy version performing? I bet that nonvegan crème fraîche didn’t even listen to Barry White.
Finally, I remembered—around the time that I was finishing my morning pot of coffee–that borderline-zealot coconut oil proponents are always touting its antimicrobial properties. So, the coconut oil, essential for its contribution of butterfat-like structure, was likely to blame! (My hypothesis is that, although the apple cider vinegar contributed good bacteria to the recipe, but there probably wasn’t enough to overcome the antimicrobial property of the coconut oil.) I had a lightbulb moment: why not add some probiotic strains? It would function like a starter for the fermentation process. Thus came Step 5:
5. Empty a capsule of vegan probiotic into your crème, and stir until you’re reasonably confident that it has been incorporated.
After I added the probiotic capsule, I closed the jar and left my apartment for about twelve hours. When I got home that night, it looked like this:
It had a nice, sharp tang reminiscent of sour cream! Even the coconut-y notes present in the original emulsion were mostly gone (maybe just present enough to lend a little backbone to the crème), but the fatty richness remained assertive. Success!
All told, my crème fraîche had approximately 32 hours to ferment, but I suspect that the majority of that was achieved in the twelve or so hours after I added the probiotic capsule. In my completely unscientific opinion, I think that if you add the capsule at the beginning of the process, it will ferment at about the same rate as dairy-based crème fraîche–or about twelve hours. But I would recommend just keeping an eye on it, and moving your jar to the fridge when it gets to be about the consistency of whipped cream. After twelve more hours (or so) of refrigeration, you’ll have this incredible, peak-having substance on which you can put everything ever:
Disclaimer: This probably does not taste just like dairy-based crème fraîche (after all, the ingredients you start with are completely different) but I wholeheartedly endorse pairing it with berries and a drizzle of agave (pictured above), and am so excited to stir it into soups/top roasted vegetables with it/ad infinitum. Make this so you can join me in my fancy-fermented-food enthusiasm!