Note: This is a fairly rich, thick soup, so you may want to dilute it with more buttermilk or milk to taste. I like to add a whole serrano pepper to the soup instead of ground red pepper for a...
Building a better pantry: crème fraîche and buttermilk
Do you ever find a recipe that you really want to try, and you end up not making it because it calls for crème fraîche?
I've been there.
It's gotten easier and easier to find crème fraîche in most supermarkets, but it's still expensive, and calling for it, flippantly, in a recipe is unhelpful and can be exclusive.
In reality, crème fraîche is something you can make at home with very little effort. The process takes about 12 to 18 hours, and the only thing you have to do is stir for 30 seconds.
Of course, what you'll end up with is not exactly like authentic French crème fraîche, but in my book, it's close enough.
What do you do with crème fraîche? I use it as I would use sour cream. It makes a fine topping for a variety of dishes including baked potatoes, black beans, or a cucumber salad. You can also use it alongside main dishes like shallow fried soft-shell crabs or borscht.
You can combine crème fraîche with whole grain mustard, herbs, garlic, citrus zest, or spices for different applications, and few desserts are as luxurious as crème fraîche with seasonal berries and little shortcakes. One of my favorite uses for it is to combine it with an equal amount of heavy cream, a little sugar, and vanilla, and whip as I would plain whipped cream. It makes for a luxurious and slightly tangy topping for everything from butterscotch pudding to a fancy ice cream sundae.
Makes about 1 cup
1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons buttermilk or plain yogurt with live cultures
Allow to sit, at room temperature, until the cream thickens considerably and smells slightly sour, about 12 to 36 hours. Refrigerate.
Buttermilk follows roughly the same principle: stir and wait. The only difference is that instead of using heavy cream as you did for crème fraîche, just use whole, lowfat, or skim milk. If you use, say, half a gallon of milk, plan on using 1/4 cup buttermilk or yogurt to culture the whole half gallon. As with other cultured dairy, the higher the fat content in the milk you use, the thicker the final product will be. In my estimation, you're better off making full-fat buttermilk anyway since most people use it in cooking rather than drinking it straight.
One of my favorite ways to use buttermilk is to fill a glass with it and crumble a thick slice of cornbread into the glass. Best eaten with a spoon. Of course, this belies my roots, and I know it's an acquired taste. That said, buttermilk is absolutely crucial for cornbread, biscuits, scones, and many desserts. In Anne Mendelson's book, Milk, there is a recipe for an Indian soup containing buttermilk that's really delicious. I'm sure there are many ways of using buttermilk that I'm not aware of, but my point is that there's no reason you should have to throw away a half gallon of buttermilk ever again.
Now, please understand that cultured buttermilk is not real buttermilk. Real buttermilk is a byproduct of making butter. It's essentially the skim milk left behind when the butten clumps together. Real buttermilk is a special treat because there are still little flakes of butter floating in it, making it especially delicious.