06 February 2009

Homemade Crème Fraîche

I spent the day in the Strand Bookstore's cookbook section, reveling in the many, heavy shelves of food writing. While I wanted them all, I restricted myself to 3: David Tanis' A Platter of Figs, The River Cottage Family Cookbook, and James Beard's Fish Cookery (a bargain at $1!).

Each fulfilled a different desire. I stumbled on Tanis' book in a display, attracted by the appearance of 2 quotes from Micheal Pollan and Alice Waters on the cover. While I didn't know yet that Tanis was the other creative genius behind Chez Panisse, I certainly try to get my hands on anything by Alice Waters, and I am beginning to warm up considerably to Pollan's unique point of view on food. His cookbook really sold itself, though. Divided by menus, organized by season, I felt compelled and attracted to the book. I enjoy cooking the main plats de resistance, and this bias leaves me well aware of my short comings in planning complete, multi-course meals. Tanis provides ample inspiration with what Waters calls "incomparable menus, each a little masterpiece". That he included a simple recipe for making crème fraîche at home tipped me over the edge:

  • Heat 2 cups organic heavy cream, not ultrapasteurized, to just under a boil
  • Cool to room temperature
  • Stir in 1/4 cup plain yogurt or buttermilk
  • Transfer to a glass, ceramic, or stainless steel bowl and cover with a clean towel
  • Leave at room temperature for about 12 hours, until slightly thickened. For a tarter flavor, let it stand for 24 hours.
  • Cover well and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks

I only find useful those cookbooks that instruct how to make every single component from scratch - books following Julia Child's pioneering writing. Why would I need a book to tell me how to combine pre-made components? That takes all the fun out of it!

For that same reason I fell for the River Cottage cookbook. It's beautiful, whimsical, and focuses on the origins of all the ingredients. There's actually a chapter entitled "The Magnificent Potato" with a momumental photo of the baking variety on the opposite page. It also includes one of the most practical set of instructions I've found for making bread.

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