Sour cream is one of my guilty food pleasures. I eat it regularly, sometimes daily. I eat it at breakfast with crepes and baked into Sour Cream Scones with Tart Cherries. It goes in creamy dressings for potato and other salads. It’s the base for dips and midday snacks. I put sour cream on baked potatoes, tacos, and empanadas. And I use it in desserts, including cookies.
I call sour cream a “guilty pleasure” because it can be high in calories and fat. Most commercial reduced-fat and nonfat versions are primarily whey, modified food/corn starch, salts, stabilizers, and artificial gums—not a good alternative. So if I’m buying sour cream, I read the labels closely and buy full-fat versions that only list “cultured cream” or something similar as the ingredient. But you can easily get the best flavor from the fewest ingredients by making sour cream at home.
The potential downside of homemade sour cream is its thickness. Americans are used to sour cream so thick that you can stand your spoon in it. When I lived in Russia, sour cream was sold in bags; you’d snip the corner and squeeze it out. Homemade sour cream is closer to this density. Once you adjust to the texture, you’ll be hooked on its rich flavor and keep it in your cultured dairy repertoire.
Homemade Sour Cream
1/16 teaspoon Aroma B mesophilic starter
Pour the fridge-cold half and half into a sterilized wide-mouth pint jar. Add lukewarm water to a 3-quart or larger saucepan until it is half full, and then set the jar of cream into the saucepan. On low heat, warm pan’s contents until the cream is 86°F, which should take at least 15 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat.
Add the powdered starter as you would for Cultured Buttermilk: Sprinkle it over the cream, let it sit for 5 minutes to rehydrate, and then stir it in with about 20 up-and-down strokes. Set a used, sterilized canning lid loosely on the jar. Leave the jar in the water bath for 12 hours or overnight so that the sour cream cools slowly and develops the culture.
Remove the jar of sour cream from the water bath, and then screw a canning ring over the lid. Let the jar sit for 24 hours at room temperature, until the sour cream fully ripens. Transfer the jar to the fridge and let it sit another 2 days to thicken and develop a fuller flavor before using (see below). Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Makes 1 pint.
Tips & Tricks
- Cultured sour cream is a step up from buttermilk: it uses the same starter but needs to be heated to set properly. So of all the tools you may be adding to your cheesemaking kit, you really only need one for sour cream: a thermometer.
- Your choice of cream makes all the difference when you’re making dairy products at home. Avoid ultrapasteurized—even if it’s organic. I’m fortunate enough to have a local dairy, Kalispell Kreamery, that sells low-temperature pasteurized, nonhomogenized (also called cream on top) milk and cream that works beautifully in fresh homemade dairy products. With a little searching, you’re likely to find a similar source.
- I usually make my sour cream from half and half, because at 40% butterfat my local dairy’s cream is too heavy for this purpose: you end up with thick, creamy, less tangy crème fraîche instead. If half and half–based sour cream (with 8%–14% butterfat) is too thin for you, consider starting with light whipping cream (around 20% butterfat). If you want less fat, you can use whole milk but it will be quite runny without an added thickener.
- The longer your sour cream sits in the fridge, the thicker it becomes. Cream-on-top sour cream will also separate in the chilled jar. Simply stir the thicker top portion down into the jar before you use it—or scoop off the top layer for a thick, cream dollop on a special dish.
Twice as Tasty
Like Fresh Yogurt, sour cream has become a baking staple at my house. When I was young, my mom would make yogurt pancakes that were so thin and light my dad and I would try to see who could eat the most (I think I won once). When I lived in Russia, I spent weeks tromping around St. Petersburg looking for baking powder before giving up and adapting my favorite recipes to baking soda and buttermilk, yogurt, or sour cream. I’ve been making sour cream–based scones ever since.
When I started making cookies for house concerts, I realized I needed a chocolate chipper that appealed to my adult taste buds. I immediately began playing with sour cream. The combination of tang and slightly bitter chocolate has been a hit—particularly when it’s sprinkled with fancy salt.
Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup Homemade Sour Cream
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips (about 1-1/2 cups)
sea salt for sprinkling
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugars until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time, along with the vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in 3 batches, alternating with the sour cream, and stir until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips. Cover and freeze for 10 minutes before shaping.
Remove the dough from the freezer. Shape a tablespoon of dough at a time into a ball, placing it on an ungreased cookie sheet. Repeat the process with the remaining balls, placing them about 2 inches apart, until the sheet is full. Sprinkle each dough ball with sea salt, pressing it slightly into the dough if necessary so that it sticks.
Bake at 350°F for 12–14 minutes, until golden with set centers. Immediately move the cookies to a wire rack to cool. Scrape any crumbs from the baking sheet and continue baking the remaining dough. Keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. Makes about 50 cookies.
Tips & Tricks
- Using unsalted butter in baking lets you control the amount of salt added to the recipe. If you substitute salted butter, add only 1/4 teaspoon of salt to the flour mixture—or leave it out.
- Even though homemade sour cream is thinner than commercial, I haven’t seen any difference in the loft and texture of these cookies. What I do notice is the flavor: those made with homemade sour cream taste richer than cookies that incorporate even the fullest-fat commercial sour cream.
- Any sea salt will work for sprinkling, but a medium-coarse grind or flaky salt will be visible after baking. Flavored, smoked, and infused salts turn one batch of cookies into a tempting party tray.
- Further upgrades to these and other cookies can make them worthy of a special event or holiday. A cup of toasted and chopped walnuts, hazelnuts, or pecans can slide nicely into the dough without other alterations. Or drizzle on bonus chocolate ganache before salting.
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