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Sour cream goes with everything

Need an appetizer in a hurry or an outstanding dessert for a dinner party?

One ingredient that adds flavor and richness to many recipes is sour cream. It’s usually suitable for everyone’s tastes because it’s available in regular, light or fat-free varieties.

Many people keep a pint of sour cream in the fridge at all times. Simply add a package of onion soup mix or taco or Cajun seasoning, get out the chips or crackers, and it’s party time.

Some professional chefs prefer the rich flavor that sour cream adds to certain dishes.

“One of my favorite uses is in desserts,” Nova Gourmet personal chef Ashley Vannoy said. “The best recipe I have is for sour cream pound cake. It is to die for. The sour cream adds a tang and richness that makes it delicious.”

Traditionally, sour cream is made by letting fresh cream sour naturally at room temperature. Naturally occurring bacteria in the cream acts as a thickener and creates a tangy flavor.

However, according to Kathy Farrell-Kingsley in “The Home Creamery” (Storey Publishing, $16.95), if you left out today’s processed cream overnight, all you would get is spoiled cream.

Commercially made sour cream is produced by inoculating pasteurized cream with a pure mixture of bacteria. Once the product has thickened, it’s pasteurized again to kill the bacteria.

Commercial sour cream has no natural bacteria, which is why you can’t use it as a starter for your homemade version. Adding buttermilk to pasteurized cream will thicken the cream to a custardlike consistency and give it a recognizably piquant flavor, Farrell-Kingsley said.

Gourmet recipes often call for crème fraîche, which some considered the French equivalent of sour cream, but the editors at Cook’s Illustrated say it is quite different.

Creme franche is made from cream that is 30 to 40 percent butterfat – compared to 18 to 20 percent butterfat for sour cream – and has been left out to mature. The final product is not sour or acidic, but has a nutty flavor and is mildly tangy.

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