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August 2006

Crème fraîche

What is crème fraîche?  I have several recipes that call for it but I can't find it anywhere.

--Eva

Crème fraîche [pronounced 'krem FRESH'] is a common ingredient in French cooking.  It is a fermented cream product with 30% or more butter fat, by weight, and is used to garnish soups or desserts.  It is also used as an ingredient in sauces, and may be incorporated into cheese cakes.  Crème fraîche is somewhat thicker than American sour cream and has a distinctly nutty and tangy flavor.

Because cream products in the United States and Canada are pasteurized, it is not easy to get an authentic crème fraîche, which is made from raw milk.

In some recipes, particulalry sauces, you can substitute commercial yogurt or sour cream thickened with a small amount of corn starch, but for a more accurate taste and texture, especially when it is used as a garnish for fruits or other desserts, try combining two tablespoons of buttermilk with one cup of whipping cream.  Store in a sealed, sterilized jar for 8 to 24 hours at room temperature.  The longer you leave it, the thicker it will be and the more the flavor will develop.

After that time, your crème fraîche can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Crème fraîche is not suitable for whipping.


 

 

 


Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered, nor can we guarantee we will answer questions immediately
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward




Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered, nor can we guarantee we will answer questions immediately
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward


Freezing Tzatziki

Can you freeze tzatziki? I have gallons of it left after a wedding.  help!

-- Wendy

This was kind of answered in the posting on Freezing Cream Cheese Dips.

The chances are that your tzatziki may exude some water after it has been frozen and then thawed.   If so, I would recommend pouring that off rather than trying to stir it back in.

The flavor should still be OK after freezing, but the texture may become grainy, depending on the amount of fat it contains.   If it does turn grainy, there is not much you can do to remedy that.   To help reduce the chances of it becoming grainy, you could try stirring in some heavy cream, although doing so will thin out the flavor and make it more runny.  If the tzatziki was made from full fat Greek Yogurt, or otherwise has a high fat content (more than maybe 12%), you may be OK, anyhow.

If you have the time, try freezing a small amount and then thawing it out the next day to see what happens to the texture.  Otherwise, I would package it into serving portions, freeze the lot and hope for the best.

Either that or eat tzatziki for breakfast, lunch and supper!

The longer you keep it frozen, the more likely the texture will be affected.   It should, however, keep for three months or more.


If you have food or cooking questions, send them to Questions@KitchenSavvy.com
Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered.
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward



Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered, nor can we guarantee we will answer questions immediately
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward


Balsamic Vinegar

Why do some Balsamic Vinegars cost a few dollars a bottle while other may cost a hundred dollars an ounce.  Is there a difference?

--Bryan

Traditional balsamic vinegar is the result of a long process that starts with the juice, or 'must', of Trebbiano and Lambrusco grapes being boiled until the liquid is reduced to about two thirds of its original volume.  This reduction is done over low heat over several days, resulting in a greater concentration of sugars and starting some of the browning reactions that contribute to the flavor.  This browning reaction is fundamental to a lot of cooking and is described in the posting "Browning Meat for Slow Cooker".

The must is then poured into a wooden cask where it is left to ferment into vinegar.  Rather than the typical, two step approach for traditional vinegar production, where sugars are fermented into alcohol which is then fermented with a second bacteria to make vinegar, traditional balsamic vinegar undergoes both fermentations at the same time.  The sugar to alcohol step involves a particular strain of yeast that will continue to work as the vinegar level rises.

As the vinegar ages, for a minimum of 12 years and frequently much longer, it is moved to progressively smaller casks, each made out of a different wood so that each contributes a particular flavor note to the vinegar.  Traditionally, some older vinegar is blended into the new vinegar to start the fermentation process.

Because of the long process and the reduction in volume that occurs during the making of traditional balsamic vinegar, there is typically a large investment to be recovered from sale of the product.

By contrast, commercial balsamic vinegar is a concoction of boiled must, red wine vinegars, caramel flavoring and other ingredients.  If it is aged at all, the time is shorter, perhaps as little as three years, and the progression through various casks is not done.

In flavor and appearance, traditional balsamic vinegar is usually thicker and more syrupy.  It has a more complex and balanced flavor.  By contrast, commercial balsamic is more watery and has a distinct sweet-and-sour sort of flavor.

Traditional balsamic is used in small quantities to directly enhance the flavor of foods, for example by sprinkling a few drops on strawberries or ice cream or by drizzling it over risottos or grilled meats.  Because of its cost, it is almost never used for things like salad dressings.  Commercial balsamic may be used in dressing or marinades, and is frequently boiled down for sauces or other uses.

If you are looking for authentic, tradictional balsamic vinegar, look for the word "Tradizionale" in Italian on the label.  The two most common types are "Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena" and "Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio in Emilia".  A label which has the word "Vecchio" indicates a 12 year old vinegar while "Extra Vecchio" means it is 25 years old.  Also, look at the ingredients and avoid any offerings that include words like caramel or wine vinegar.

Authentic balsamic vinegar is definitely pricey, but if you can find one within your budget, it is well worth trying at least once.


If you have food or cooking questions, send them to Questions@KitchenSavvy.com
Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered.
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward



Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered, nor can we guarantee we will answer questions immediately
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward


Beurre Blanc Breaks

Every time I try to make a Beurre Blanc, it separates into a greasy mess.  What is happening, and how can I prevent it?

--Meegan

 

A Beurre Blanc is a sauce made by reducing a mixture of wine, vinegar and shallots.  Butter is whisked into this to form a sauce about the consistency of heavy cream.  Other acids and flavors can be substituted for the vinegar and shallots, respectively, to make a variety of sauces.  For example, lemon juice, garlic and a pinch of saffron can be used to make a very tasty sauce for shrimp or other sea foods.

The name is pronounced "Burr Blonk" and literally means "white butter" in French.

What is happening is likely one of two things, either you are using clarified butter in place of whole butter, or you are allowing the sauce to become too hot.

To understand, you need to know that Beurre Blanc is an emulsion of fat globules (small spheres of fat) evenly distributed in water.  Normally oil and water don't mix.  However by breaking the fat up into small globules and then coating those with a compound called an emulsifier, you can get them to combine into a homogeneous whole.  The emulsifier in Beurre Blanc is a milk protein that attaches to the fat globules and causes them to repel each other.  Because they are forced apart, the fat globules don't combine into bigger and bigger globs.

The reason you need to use whole butter is that the naturally occurring emulsifiers in whole butter are found in the non-fat part of the butter, which makes up about one fifth of its total weight.  If you use clarified butter, you have removed the emulsifiers which make a Beurre Blanc work.

The other detail which you need to know is that the fat globules in butter are surrounded by a thin protein membrane.  At 136°F (58°C) this membrane breaks down, allowing the oil inside to leak out.  If you overheat a Beurre Blanc, the oil inside the fat globules will escape their protein/emulsifier cage and separate out.  The good news is that if you allow the sauce to cool to about 110°F (43°C), and then add a small amount of water and whisk it in, the sauce will re-form.  However since the oil is now released from the enclosing protein membrane that it previously had, it will slowly seep back out of the sauce.

The easiest way to avoid this problem, I find, is to start with chilled butter.  Once the wine and vinegar mixture has reduced sufficiently, I allow it to cool slightly off heat and then add a couple of tablespoons of the cold butter and whisk it in.  Once that has melted in, I add a couple more tablespoons of butter and repeat until it is all incorporated.  If the sauce cools off enough that the butter doesn't melt in, then I return the pan to the heat just long enough to get the heat up enough to start softening the un-melted butter.  By working back and forth like this -- on and off the heat -- I can regulate the temperature enough to keep the sauce from breaking.  Once all of the butter is incorporated, I return the sauce to the heat one final time while still whisking it, to warm it through, being careful to not allow it to get too hot.  If the sauce starts to get a sheen or I see any drops of oil start to appear, then I immediately take it off heat and whisk it until it cools down a bit.  It is then ready to serve.


If you have food or cooking questions, send them to Questions@KitchenSavvy.com
Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered.
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward



Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered, nor can we guarantee we will answer questions immediately
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward