Monday, 30 September 2019

The Mysteries of French Cream Explained

Red tops mean full fat in France.
Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
Hopefully. It's a tricky subject and even French people seem confused when you put them on the spot.

This cream contains a seaweed based stabilising gel.
Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
As any anglophone expat or immigrant knows, cream is not just cream in France. In Australia there was just cream. When I moved to the UK I graduated to whipping, single and double cream. Easy enough. Whipping cream is for, you guessed it, whipping. Single is for pouring and double is for dolloping. The range of cream on the shelves in France is much bigger again. For anyone who did not grow up with it, it is confusing. More importantly, despite the ubiquity of Chantilly cream in France, French cream is notoriously tricky to whip. For Australians wishing to make pavlova, this causes some angst.

Take no notice of the 'Flavour of 2011' logo. Companies pay
to use this 'certification' on their products.
Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
And now for some French cream terminology:

Crème: must have a minimum fat content of 30% to be called crème or crème entière. If the fat content is lower a product must use a descriptor such as légère or allegée or not use the word crème at all.

Crème fraîche: always pasturised, and usually has a lactic culture added. This makes it ever so slightly sour tasting, lengthens its shelf life, thickens the cream and means it does not separate when heated. Its fat content is around 40%. Used for dolloping and cooking. Only found in the chiller cabinet. It is not the same as the anglophone sour cream.

Crème crue: always unpasturised, with no lactic culture added. This is what I generally buy, as my local laitière  (dairy farmer) delivers it to the house. Fat content is about 40% and this is the closest to double cream.

Fleurette: originally the cream that rose to the top of the milk, but it has been adopted by the dairy industry to indicate cream that does not have a lactic culture added. There are no rules about its use, so read labels carefully before buying. It can have a fat content as low as 5%. Usually crème fleurette is 30-35% and used for whipping, fleurette is 20% and used for pouring, creme fleurette légère is 5-15%. It often contains stabilising gels.

Liquide: pasturised or UHT cream that has a fat content of at least 30%, and has not had a lactic culture or thickener added. Often used synonymously with crème fleurette by cooks.

Fluide: there are no rules covering this term, but usually means crème fraîche with a lower fat content, around 30%.

Epaisse: 'thick' or 'thickened', usually with a lactic ferment. Often used synonymously with crème fraîche by cooks. Can be found in the chiller cabinet or as a UHT product.

Légère: 'light', products with a fat content of less than 30%, usually somewhere between 15% and 5%.

Fouettée: 'whipped'.

Chantilly: sweetened whipped cream flavoured with vanilla and stabilised with gums. You can buy packets of 'Chantilly mix', which contain the sugar, flavouring and stabilisers to add to your crème liquide / épaisse / fleurette for whipping success.

The astuce gourmande is to take the cream out of
the fridge at the last minute before whipping.
Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide. The Golden Rules of Whipping French Cream:

1. Use a big enough bowl because the cream will double in volume.
2. Use a crème liquide with a fat content of 30%. A crème légère does not have enough fat to hold the air bubbles, a richer cream will not make much volume.
3. Everyone agrees the cream must be well chilled and if you are feeling really serious, put the bowl and the whisk in the freezer for 15 minutes before you start.
4. You can use cream with a higher fat content, but add 15% milk to thin it down. That's about 2 tbsp per 250ml pot of cream.
5. If you sweeten with icing sugar you can add it at any time. If you sweeten with granulated or castor sugar, add it at the very beginning to ensure it dissolves completely. Sugar added at the end allows you to add a little less, and results in a less yellowy coloured whipped cream.
6. French chefs habitually add stabilising gums such as a pinch of gum arabic or tragacanth at the end, but the sugar also acts as a stabiliser, as does chilling.

Dairy products (milk, cream and cheese) from my local dairy farm.
Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

 Pavlova, topped with whipped cream and bottled blueberries.
Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.



For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.


This is a refreshed post from December 2011.


Colin and Elizabeth said...

I remember the original AND the joys of whipping French Cream... or trying!!! C

Susan said...

It's something most anglophone expats struggle with.

Rhodesia said...

I hate the cream here it is a real pain to whip though I generally get there eventually Diane

Susan said...

Curiously, I never had any problem with it and it wasn't until I started reading expat blogs and forums that I realised others had issues. I suspect I was lucky, in that a) I'm not very fond of whipped cream, so rarely do it; and b) when I do I use my local product, which is very high in fat and so more or less like any other cream I've ever used.

Amanda said...

I too have suffered agonies over whipping French cream. I wondered what was wrong with me, the beater, the cream, the world? Now I have a full-proof solution and it is indeed as you mentioned: have the cream chilled, have my bowl and beaters chilled (in the freezer for these), and I also start whipping on a low setting, gradually working my way up to a higher speed. No more cream-less pavlovas!

Susan said...

Indeed, as an Australian, being able to whip cream is fundamental :-)

TuppyEnFrance said...

I've never found creme cru that doesn't have a culture. The only french cream that I have successfully whipped in Creme fraiche liquide. I'm convinced France's fascination with adulterating raw cream and a lack of fresh milk is due to the lack of refrigeration in the countryside until the mid 80s.
Oh for a tub of Rhodda's clotted.

Susan said...

The creme crue I get definitely doesn't have a culture. I know because I used to work on the farm where it is produced. I imagine you are quite right about lack of refrigeration being the reason for culturing dairy products in France. I'm afraid I've never heard of Rhodda's clotted (and am not very fond of clotted cream in general, which is probably why I've never heard of that brand).

Unknown said...

Rodda's... I'm in an ecstasy just thinking about it. (missing British dairy...). Thank you for this article! So helpful!

Susan said...

Glad you found it useful.

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