Mexican-Style Crema

Crema Mexicana
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A tub of crème fraiche will provide you the closest thing to real Mexican crema—and here I’m thinking of what my favorite dairy vendors at the Mercado de San Juan (on Pujibet Street) and the Mercado Medellín (Colonia Roma) in Mexico City would call crema de rancho, cultured heavy cream direct from the ranch.  Sadly, it is becoming rarer these days because jars and tubs labeled Mexican crema on both sides of the border most often fall into two camps. The first have the richness of half-and-half and enough added gums to dupe you into thinking they’re richer.  That version is simple tasting, without the nuttiness and slight sourness live cultures give crema de rancho.  The second group sport a half-and-half richness with thickening gums and souring culture.  Essentially, they are American sour cream, though the Mexican versions are typically creamier and a little less thick.  Below, I’m going to offer you two versions of making your own Mexican-style crema.  The first is really luscious, nutty and most like crema de rancho; but it is more finicky to make and melts quickly when spooned on anything warm.  The second is more sour, but also more foolproof and stable when spooned onto warm flautas and such.  There is a lot of variability with dairy products.  The type of cows that produce the milk, how those cows are raised, what the cows are fed and whether or not it changes from season to season, the type of pasteurizing and homogenizing, the exact cultures used in fermented products and whether those cultures remain alive in the finished product—those can all affect your end result. Which is to say, if your cultured cream doesn’t come out perfectly, simply use it in a sauce or dessert where heavy cream (not whipped cream) would be welcome.   Both of these versions of crema can be covered and stored for several weeks in the refrigerator.    
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Ingredients

  • For Crema #1
  • 2cups heavy/whipping cream (for the best flavor, not one that is ultrapasteurized)
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk (do your best to determine that it contains live cultures)
  • 2tablespoons powdered milk (not essential, but it gives the finished product a richer texture)
  • For Crema #2
  • 1/2cup best-quality sour cream (do your best to determine that it contains live cultures)
  • 2cups heavy/whipping cream (for the best flavor, not one that is ultrapasteurized)

Instructions

For Crema #1: Warm the cream to about 80 or 90 degrees—no warmer than body temperature—and pour it into a very clean, 3- or 4-cup container with a tight-fitting lid.  In a blender (or with an immersion blender), whiz together the buttermilk and milk powder until no traces of the powder remain.  Stir the buttermilk mixture into the cream, cover lightly (if there’s a screw-on or snap-on lid, don’t seal it) and set in a draft-free warmish place (80 to 90 degrees if available) for the cream to culture and thicken, 6 to 12 hours (longer if your space is cool).  When it is noticeably thicker, refrigerate for 6 hours or longer to fully thicken. 

For Crema #2: Warm the cream to about 80 or 90 degrees—no warmer than body temperature—and pour it into a very clean, 3- or 4-cup container with a tight-fitting lid.  Whisk in the sour cream, cover lightly (if there’s a screw-on or snap-on lid, don’t seal it) and set in a draft-free warmish place (80 to 90 degrees if available) for the cream to culture and thicken, 6 to 12 hours (longer if your space is cool).  When it is noticeably thicker, refrigerate for 6 hours or longer to fully thicken. 

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