Homemade Crème Fraîche and Vanilla Seed Panna Cotta

Italy has mascarpone and we Americans enjoy sour cream.  France’s version of thickened cream is called crème fraîche; and it will knock your socks off.  It’s complex in flavor with hints of tang,  sweetness, and in some instances overtones of hazelnut.

Each of these flavor profiles depends of course on the quality of the cream.  The more complex the profile, the more complex is the finished product.  I used Cedar Summit Farm organic, grass-fed cream and whole milk for these recipes.

Crème fraîche can be heated without curdling making it a perfect medium to fold into sauces.  Just a dollop on a bowl of fresh berries will put them over the top.  Best of all, it’s so darn simple to make.  It does require just a bit of planning though (start 2 days ahead) so that it will be on-hand when you are ready to enjoy it.

I tested two recipes.  For the first one, I used a 1/2 cup full fat sour cream to 2 cups of heavy cream and proceeded with the method below.  It was good but the amount of sour cream overwhelmed the complexity of the cream.  Therefore, I prefer this recipe.

2 tablespoons cultured buttermilk
2 cups heavy cream (pasteurized, but not ultra pasteurized or sterilized, and with no additives)

Combine the buttermilk and cream in a saucepan and heat it to no more than 85 degrees on an instant reading thermometer.  Pour into a clean glass or ceramic bowl.  Cover with a couple of layers of cheese cloth and let sit at room temperature (between 65 and 75 degrees) for 8 to 24 hours, or until thickened.  Stir and refrigerate at least 24 hours before using. The cream will keep about 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

Now that the crème fraîche is made, here’s a recipe perfect for a simple, yet elegant dessert.

Makes 12 servings

1/4 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon powdered gelatin, such as Knox brand
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, split with seeds removed and reserved
1 cup crème fraîche, see recipe above

Pour buttermilk into a shallow bowl and sprinkle gelatin over it.  Let stand at least 10 minutes or until gelatin is dissolved.  Set Aside.

Pour cream, milk, sugar, vanilla bean and seeds into a saucepan, and bring to a simmer over high heat.

Remove from heat and take out the vanilla bean.  Whisk in the dissolved gelatin and crème fraîche and stir to combine.

Pour evenly into 12 – four ounce ramekins.  I used 5 ounce, clear plastic tasting cups which gave an incredible shine when unmolded.  Chill to set for at least 3 hours or preferably overnight.

When ready to serve, carefully run a sharp knife around the parameter of the mold.  Unmold onto a serving plate and garnish with fresh berries.

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