Wednesday, November 12, 2014

And then events turned sour (cream).

Repeatedly whacking the tab button fails to make paragraphs written in this form thing indent properly.  Irritating.

I'm over my honeymoon phase off living in a new place and on to the phase where small things bother me much more than they should.  I'm told the next phase is normalcy, so yay progress? Germany is not so vastly different from the US that I'm really frustrated by day to day life or anything like that. I really do mean small things.  And for the last couple of weeks I have been fixated on sour cream.

Germans as a whole are really confused about the American propensity to lop whole food groups out of our diets and label certain foods as wholly good or bad.  Standards here are high, GMOs and many additives and preservatives are illegal, bread is often fresh from the bakery that day, and food is seasonal and local (proudly announced by a little German flag on a package or label.)  Seasonality aside, the variety in what's offered even at a smaller shop can be quite marvelous.  To my eyes two things stand out in particular: the meat section (wurst!) and the dairy.  Both of these categories are much beloved and will likely be present in some form at every meal of the day.  

And so. Dairy. Milk, yogurt, creme fraiche, schmand, quark, frishkase, buttermilk (which they drink here and comes in flavors!) tatziki, cream cheeses, fresh and hard cheeses, brined, packaged, sliced or block cheeses. This section of the grocery store will take up twice what it would in an American store the same size. Yogurts and quarks come in a rainbow of flavors (don't ask me what quark is, I don't actually know except it's delicious) and every last thing is labeled by fat content.

Did you notice the glaring omission from that otherwise glorious list? (Or look at the title or read the first paragraph?) Sour cream.  In a country where potatoes are the first thing you see in the produce section, no sour cream.  In a bigger store, the more "specialty" section of the fridge will have kartoffel cream, which is the cream you pile on potatoes here. They have aioli.  Hanging out next to those two is usually the tatziki.  And sometimes, there it is, the impostor: a little tub labeled sour cream.  

The first time I spotted this I clapped my hands and  jumped up and down, throwing it in the basket even though we already had approximately 47 dairy products in the cart (cheese, y'all.)  I don't remember what we had for dinner that night, I just remember the devastation. This little box does not contain sour cream.  It's some kind of mayo-ish, gray tinted cream stuff full of unidentifiable herbs.  This cycle of elation and defeat has been repeated at several grocery stores, as all three kinds of "sour cream" available are the same stuff, all with strange strange herbs.

I know creme fraiche is $5 for a measly little tub at Whole Foods, but its's 45 cents here, and it's what's recommended as a substitute.  It's not as special as it seems though.  You cannot chunky dunk a nacho in it.  It will not turn your baked potato into a fluffy pillow of savory goodness.  It's a bit too stiff for baking.  I put it on a burrito last week and it almost physically hurt. So by all accounts the nearest real tub of sour cream is in the UK, what do you do when you've been living in Austin for the two years before you moved here and tacos have become a food group? 


I'm inspired by my sister Elise, who is known to occasionally turn the Webber grill into a smoker, or disassemble half a cow on the dining room table without flinching. Who perfected stateside cream fraiche on top of a Chicago radiator rather than shelling out for it, made her first perfect souffle somewhere around the age of 14 and says things like "oh, cheddar cheese isn't *that* hard to make if you have a cheese press."  Of course you should be able to make sour cream at home. And so I took to the internet! 

Two common methods prevail.  You can mix a cup of cream with a quarter cup milk and a teaspoon of white vinegar, or mix a cup of cream with a tablespoon of buttermilk. A third method involves ordering live cultures, but that sounded like effort.  You can also drop a few tablespoons of sour cream into a jar of cream for a few days to spawn more sour cream.  Which would mean you'd been able to buy some in the first place. Piff. Being awash with all dairy except my goal and short on patience, I decided to just try both of the first two methods at once. Vinegar version on the left, buttermilk on the right. I know you would have wasted sleep over which was which if I hadn't told you.
                                                                So Full of Hope

The next day dawned... and not much had happened.  The vinegar version was still at it's original consistency, the buttermilk one had barely thickened. Instead of hoped for tacos, I smothered my sorrows in a br├Âtchen dipped in hollandaise (hollandaise for one recipe at end of post. Yes my dear husband is out of town, why do you ask?) and moved the jars closer to the radiator, thinking that part of my kitchen was perhaps too cold.  Leaving the cream out like this is totally fine, by the way. The acid in the additions and the air tight jars prevent any weirdness from happening.

This morning I was finally rewarded with this!
The buttermilk version worked! After two days and no change to the vinegar version I called it a loss, though I may try again after some more research.  The end product is not the tub of Horizon Organic that Elise and I once accidentally polished off within the span of a day, but it will do quite nicely for my impending tacos (and also at filling the angry void in my soul) :)

The winning sour cream recipe:
1 cup of heavy cream
1-2 tbsp live culture buttermilk

Mix the ingredients in a jar. Close jar. Wait two days.

Hollandaise for One:
1 egg yolk (how about you save the white for meringue cookies, hmmmm?)
1 1/2tbs butter (21 grams)
1 tsp lemon juice, or to taste (I like this very lemony and, frankly, I like the bottled stuff here)

Place a heavy bottomed pan of your choosing over a burner set to the lowest temperature and add all the ingredients.  With a spoon or spatula, swizzle the butter around the bottom of the pan, stirring the egg yolk and lemon juice. The butter will melt ever so slowly, which is exactly what you want.  When all of the butter is melted, keep stirring for about thirty seconds to make sure the sauce is warmed through.  Serve immediately with whatever the heck you like (cracked black pepper or cayenne would be nice on top!)


  1. Ha, very cool! I'm curious to know if the local Germans would enjoy authentic sour cream on their potatoes... or tacos for that matter.

    I guess the same live culture is used for buttermilk and sour cream? The difference being using either milk or cream as the base?

    1. I think they'd love it, but it's just not a thing here. Neither are tacos, but I have tortilla and salsa skills for that :)

      You don't absolutely need a live culture for buttermilk, it can be made by adding an acid to milk and allowing it to curdle. Cultures are usually added to commercial buttermilk. I think that's why the vinegar version didn't work- mixing the vinegar and milk does create a buttermilk, but a homemade acidified buttermilk doesn't have live cultures, which the sour cream needs. My theory, in any case, I could be totally wrong!