CREMA MEXICANA

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.

CREMA MEXICANA

from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen

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.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 teaspoons buttermilk, crème fraîche, sour cream or plain yogurt

METHOD:

  1. 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).
  2. Remove the saucepan from the heat, stir in the buttermilk and pour into a clean glass jar.
  3. 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

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    • Gary
    • March 4th, 2010

    This sounds like a universal condiment. Could you also add some honey,vanilla, or perhaps maple syrup to the basic mixture, or will the chemistry get thrown off? If yes it would be great on breakfast crepes. Nice photo,shows the consistency really well.

    • Pat
    • March 4th, 2010

    Could a yogurt maker be used for the 12-24 hours to maintain an even temperature or would that be to hot? I love Crema with Fish Tacos!

  1. Pat – Your question about the yogurt maker is a good one. Unfortunately I’ve never used one myself, but I would imagine that a consistent temperature between 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit would work just fine. If left in a jar, the creama will thicken at different rates depending upon environmental factors. I could be thick enough in 12 hours during the warm summer months and might take as long as 24 hours during the winter. I too love crema on my fish tacos, especially when it’s spiked with a bit of chipotle. Let me know how it turns out.

  2. This is so cool! Thanks for sharing :)

  3. I love the idea. I am soft cheese, yogurt obsessed and make them at home all the time. This does seem novel indeed! Thank you for posting it!

  4. Oh man, I bet this really would be great on nachos. I love how you can add your own flavours, and make it different every time. Thanks for posting!

    • Lisa
    • May 5th, 2010

    To double the recipe, can you simply double the ingredients???

  5. Lisa – Absolutely! Doubling the recipe is as simple as doubling the ingredients.

    • JeffK
    • July 6th, 2010

    @Mike
    I just made Mexican crema and it got too thick. It’s consistency is close to sour cream. Can I thin it out with milk or cream, or is it better to start over?

  6. Jeff – You can definitely thin it out with a bit of milk to reach the desired consistency. You might even consider adding a bit of lime juice to add some flavor while improving texture. If it got to thick you probably just added a bit too much of the starter culture to the cream. Give it a try and let me know how things work out.

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