Listen, there’s nothing wrong with sour cream out of a tub, but man can that stuff ever be thick. That’s why I love crema — the rich, delicately sour, slightly thickened cream used in Mexican cooking. Just look at how that stuff drizzles! I like to think of it as a thinner version of crème fraîche. Unlike sour cream, crema Mexicana won’t break or separate when heated, making it ideal for stirring into warm sauces. Sure there are a few good brands out there, but making it yourself at home couldn’t be any simpler. All you need is some heavy cream, a cultured dairy product like buttermilk or yogurt and some culinary cajónes. That’s right, in order to get this stuff to the right consistency you’re gonna have to leave it out on your counter overnight…unrefrigerated. But don’t worry, considering the resilience of the ultra-pasteurized heavy whipping cream sold in most supermarkets, it’s gonna take a lot more than a night on your counter to spoil. I too was a bit worried the first time I made it, but trust me, this recipe works like a charm. The finished crema is complex, nutty and has a beautiful pourable texture, perfect for spooning on tacos, enchiladas or even a simple baked potato. Or, do what I do and drizzle it on a plate of loaded, cheesy nachos — it certainly beats a thick glob of cold sour cream.
Many crema recipes call for a bit more of the active culture to be added to the cream in order to encourage rapid thickening. Using a mere two teaspoons will still thicken the cream considerably and the 24 hour slow culturing process will encourage more complex flavor development. Using buttermilk will lend the finished crema a slightly nutty flavor and a beautiful texture that is perfect for drizzling on just about anything. Using more than 2 teaspoons of the active culture will simply produce a thicker final product. Once the cream has thickened, feel free to add any flavor components that interest you. I will sometimes add a bit of lime juice, salt, chile or even ground cumin depending upon its eventual application. Covered and refrigerated, the crema will keep for about 10 days or so.
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 2 teaspoons buttermilk, crème fraîche, sour cream or plain yogurt
- Pour the cream into a small saucepan set over low heat and stir just until the chill is off. Do not heat the cream above 100° (lukewarm).
- Remove the saucepan from the heat, stir in the buttermilk and pour into a clean glass jar.
- Place the lid on the jar but don’t tighten it, and put in a warm spot. Allow the cream to develop for 12 to 24 hours, until noticeably thicker. Stir gently and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight to chill and complete the thickening process.
Makes 1 Cup