Food & Drink

It goes with everything

Need an appetizer in a hurry or an outstanding dessert for a dinner party?

An ingredient that adds flavor and richness to many holiday recipes is sour cream. It's usually suitable for everyone's tastes because it's available in regular, light or fat-free varieties, and recipes that call for it are everywhere.

Many people keep a pint of sour cream in the fridge at all times. Simply add a package of onion soup mix or taco or Cajun seasoning, get out the chips or crackers, and it's party time.

Some professional chefs prefer the rich flavor that sour cream adds to certain dishes.

"One of my favorite uses is in desserts," Nova Gourmet personal chef Ashley Vannoy said. "The best recipe I have is for sour cream pound cake. It is to die for. The sour cream adds a tang and richness that makes it delicious," she said.

Traditionally, sour cream is made by letting fresh cream sour naturally at room temperature. Naturally occurring bacteria in the cream acts as a thickener and creates a tangy flavor.

However, according to Kathy Farrell-Kingsley in The Home Creamery (Storey Publishing, $16.95), if you left out today's processed cream overnight, all you would get is spoiled cream.

Commercially made sour cream is produced by inoculating a pasteurized cream with a pure mixture of bacteria. Once the product has thickened, it's pasteurized again to kill the bacteria. Commercial sour cream has no natural bacteria, which is why you can't use it as a starter for your homemade version. Adding buttermilk to pasteurized cream will thicken the cream to a custardlike consistency and give it a recognizably piquant flavor, Farrell-Kingsley said.

Homemade sour cream can be kept in the refrigerator for a month, and it will get thicker and better during that time.

Sour cream is commonly used for dips, dressings and sauces or simply "plain" as a condiment. What's a potato latke without sour cream?

Gourmet recipes often call for crème fraîche, which some considered the French equivalent of sour cream, but the editors at Cook's Illustrated say it is quite different.

Crème fraîche is made from cream that is 30 to 40 percent butterfat and that has been left out to mature. It becomes naturally sour without the addition of the bacteria starters. The final product is not sour or acidic, as is sour cream, but has a nutty flavor and is mildly tangy. The texture is often described as smooth, rich, and "spoonable, not pourable," and it has a creamy mouthfeel.

Crème fraîche is used most often as a garnish for soups, fruit and caviar. Sour cream, an American product, is made from light cream that is about 18 percent to 20 percent butterfat.

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