Sour Cream Recipe
Going one step further, we also tested different types of cream to find the best combination for making sour cream. Check out the recipe to see our favorite.
- 1 quart Light Cream or Half & Half (Not Ultra Pasteurized)
- 1 Packet Sour Cream Culture
- Sour Cream Info
- Q & A
Begin by finding the best milk/cream you can. You can use a quart of half and half, or mix your own from milk and heavy cream.
If purchasing half and half, be sure it is not ultra pasteurized.
If you would like to mix your own milk and cream, the cream can be ultra pasteurized, but make sure the milk is not ultra pasteurized.
To make your own mix an example might be: 1 pint of Non-Fat Milk (NOT UP) and 1 pint of heavy cream (~36-40%). The resulting mix would be about 18-20% butterfat. You can vary this blend up or down to suit your taste and needs. Always use heavy cream when blending.
Note: The reason that you can use the Ultra Pasteurized Cream in the blend is that the milk provides the proteins and lactose but the cream only needs to provide the fat portion. Non-UP does work best though even for the cream but sometimes its hard to find.
I ran a few trials to see how the various creams worked and especially to see what issues Ultra Pasteurized cream would bring to the final product.
- High quality heavy cream (pasteurized only) to be blended with pasteurized milk
- High quality local half n half mix (pasteurized only)
- Ultra Pasteurized heavy cream to be blended with pasteurized milk
Note: Heavy cream will make a thicker sour cream and light cream with make a thinner sour cream. So, choose the type of cream based on your desired texture.
Heat Cream & Add Culture
Heat the cream to (70-72F) and then add the culture. To prevent the powder from caking and sinking in clumps, sprinkle the powder over the surface of the milk and then allow about 2 minutes for the powder to re-hydrate before stirring it in.
Note: You can use the suggested sour cream culture or 1/4 tsp of MM100 Culture or Aroma B Culture.
Another option is the use cultured buttermilk, from the store. But, with this option you will be relying on that buttermilk's live culture to be active enough to complete the ferment of lactose. If it has been hanging around for some time in the cooler or your refrigerator, the viability may be less than you like. This may lead to problems in getting the final Sour Cream.
Let Cream Set
The cream now needs to be kept at room temperature for the 12-24 hours, while the culture is working. It will be very slow initially but will soon kick into its more rapid rate of converting lactose to lactic acid and the milk cream will thicken and begin to develop its tangy flavor.
So, 12-24 hours is a big difference in time; how do you know when its done?
Not a simple answer because it depends on the milk/cream combo you are using, and maybe even more importantly what you want for sour cream. Different people may like a thinner or thicker texture, or a more or less tangy taste. These are things you can control by watching the temperature and how long you let it go for before you stop the fermentation by chilling.
In my workshops here, I always stress the importance of using the evaluation tools you were born with. Looking, tasting, smelling, and even a bit of poking. They have been the cheese makers tools for a thousand or more years. The best ways to do this is to start the sour cream in the evening, this way you can take a look at it the next morning. Has it thickened? Does it taste tangy enough? Sour cream should have a thicker texture and anywhere from a slight tangy flavor, to almost a big yogurt like tanginess. Hopefully it hasn't gone too far yet, and if it needs more character and thickness, let it go a bit longer (but not too long) until it's what you want.
Finished Sour Cream
When done, the sour cream should have a wonderful clean flavor plus a tanginess ranging from mild to prominent. You decide on what you want. Also the texture should be thick but never pasty. If you notice a few clumps you can stir the cream gently and they should go away.
My results showed pretty much what I expected. I let them all develop about the same level of acidity
- The Ultra Pasteurized heavy cream mixed 50/50 with the Pasteurized Whole Milk did form a decent tasting sour cream, but it was not as thick and not quite as smooth as the better quality local cream.
- However it did not take as long (17 hrs) to develop the acid level desired The local Pasteurized Heavy Cream mixed with a great quality Pasteurized Whole Milk, and the Pasteurized Half n Half, produced similar results, with a richer flavor and a much thicker and smoother texture.
These both took about 24hrs to develop the tangy character
If things go as planned, we would like to see a thick, smooth, creamy product with just the right amount of tangy character and no graininess. If you opt for a less tangy sour cream, you may find that the texture is not quite as thick, but it should be smooth and no sweetness to be detected.
In the end, the flavor should go from the sweetness of milk lactose to a neutral to somewhat tangy character and should look something like the pictures below. This should be covered and moved to the fridge as soon as you think it's what you want.
It may develop just a bit more acid as it cools and then it should keep for several weeks
Like many things in life, they don't always go as planned and we just don't understand what happened.
Some surprises might be:
- The sour cream has become too tangy: too much acid was produced, either from the temperature being too high, adding too much culture, or ripening too long
- The cream does not seem to be doing anything: this can be caused by using an older culture, or a buttermilk from the store that has a lower viability.
- The cream is developing an off flavor: same reason as #2, but perhaps an unwanted bacteria has take over.
- You open the jar to inspect it and the cream has risen, or worse, it's overflowing the jar as in the left and center photo below: this is a contamination has taken over and it is producing a lot of gas.
- The whey has separated in the jar, as in the photo on right: here you see pockets of liquid in the jar caused by excess acid as in #1.
- The cream is a little grainy: this sometimes appears in lower fat mixes and when using a UP cream mixed with milk.
A Kitchen Staple
Sour Cream has been a staple in the kitchen ever since folks have been milking animals.
The cream was often allowed to rise and be skimmed to make butter, but if this did not happen soon enough, the natural bacteria would soon spoil the cream.
Our ancestors soon realized that if they controlled this process, the cream developed into a nice thickness with pleasant flavor. Plus, it could be kept for a much longer period.
With refrigeration today, we find that Sour Cream keeps for a few weeks and has many uses:
- on its own with fresh fruit and berries
- for thickening sauces
- in soups and stews.
- batters and cakes
- also a great base for dips and spreads
What is Sour Cream
Traditionally, it was simply a matter of allowing some of the cream to rise overnight in a cool space and then partially skimming. Once the cream was collected, it was simply allowed to rest at room temperature while the natural bacteria from the farm would begin to convert the lactose to lactic acid, and this became the sour cream. Once the cream was sour, much of the lactose was no longer available to ferment and it would keep for much longer. So in one sense, this was simply a form of cream preservation, but the tangy nature of this was just such a great complement to so many foods.
Today, we can buy our cream at the store and make it at home. Since most of this is now pasteurized, we must find another source of bacteria to convert the lactose. This can be as easy as adding a small amount of buttermilk that still has an active culture, or using a lab prepared culture. The problem with using buttermilk from the store is that we are never quite sure of how active the culture is, since it has endured the rigors of the retail chain.
To make sour cream, you just need buttermilk and heavy cream, or half and half. Heavy cream will result in a thicker sour cream (closer to Creme Fraiche), so choose milk/cream balance based on the texture you're looking for. Sour cream is just another version of cultured milk/cream.
The starter cultures typically used for making sour cream are normally what we refer to as Aromatic or Buttermilk cultures (i.e., Lc. lactis subsp. lactis biovar.diacetylactis and L.mesenteroides subsp. cremoris) similar to those used for cultured buttermilk. This tends to add a bit of buttery flavor and a little open texture, due to a small amount of CO2 being produced.
Traditional sour cream contains 18 to 20 percent butterfat and gets its characteristic tang from the lactic acid created by the bacteria. Sour cream is usually not fully fermented and still contains lactose, and like many dairy products, must be refrigerated unopened, as well as after use.
Variations in Style
There are two styles of sour cream, Cultured sour cream and Acidified sour cream.
- The Cultured Sour Cream, which is not less than 18% fat, uses a bacteria culture to convert lactose.
- The Acidified Sour Cream uses an acid addition to provide acidity in the milk. The lactose remains in the finished product
In addition there is a huge range of several fat reduction categories.
- Reduced fat: 13.5% fat
- Light: 9% or less fat
- Low fat: 6% fat or less
- Non Fat: 1% or less fat
Commercial additives can include: modified corn starch, sodium phosphate, guar gum, carageenan, locust bean gum, "natural" flavors, gelatin, rennet.
These are added to increase the thickness and texture, as well as to prevent separation of whey.
- cream product
I made a batch using a quart of heavy cream and a quart of full cream milk, both from our own cows. I used MM100 culture as suggested, and left it to culture for 24 hours. The result was a very smooth creamy sour cream, with just a hint of sourness or tang. I used it on Mexican food, fresh fruit, and in soups. It is a very versatile cream product that is really simple to make.