Sour Cream: No Sour Grapes

A few months back I read a new Jewish cookbook — The Gefilte Manifesto — which had in it instructions for making your own sour cream. It seemed to me that it would be rather pointless to do this, but on the other hand, it would take almost no effort to make the attempt and see if it might possibly be worth doing. So a few days ago I did as instructed. I took a cup of heavy cream (the best cream I could find, which has no added thickeners or other mishegas in it) and a half a cup of buttermilk (again, the best stuff I could find) and I put them in a jar with a lid and I shook them together, hard, for a minute. Then I left the jar on the counter top and waited.

Eventually, this stuff turns into sour cream.

It took about six hours for me to have the nerve to open the jar and see what would have developed inside. It turned out to be a combination of things. The top inch or so was thick, fluffy sour cream that tasted lovely, and the rest of the jar was filled with runny sour cream that seemed like a good useful product to me, but not to anyone else in the family. When we had latkes for dinner, I was the only one who’d use this sour cream. In other words, this was an interesting experiment, but not one that is likely to be often repeated unless I am willing to figure out a way to thicken the product (I glean that this is easily done with unflavored gelatin, but do I really care?). It turns out that I know a woman who makes her own sour cream all the time. She admits it’s not the same thing as storebought, but loves it on its own terms; I tend to think that I’m in that camp. It’s not “sour cream” as we’ve all been raised to think of it, but it’s a very good thing if you accept it for what it is.

In the end, I worked out a process in which I’d use the top layer, then shake the cream again and let another top layer develop, and so on and so on. It was not unlike the way when you toast marshmallows, you can toast the outside, slip it off, eat it, and then re-toast the marshmallow, and take off the “skin” and start over and over again until you’ve eaten the whole marshmallow. But it was silly, if I was the only one going to eat the stuff. I decided, after a few days, that I’d be better off just using the sour cream up in some recipe, because homemade sour cream doesn’t last very long. No preservatives, don’tcha know.

It was time for me to set up a loaf of bread, and I decided on a whim that it could not possibly hurt to use the sour cream as the primary dairy product in the bread. I’m talking about my usual pain de mie, the bread we use for breakfast toast and sandwiches and all that. Instead of adding dry milk and regular milk to the dough, I just threw in the last of the sour cream (it was about one cupful), and prayed. The dough was rather slow to rise at first, but after the first knocking down, I knew everything would be fine. I did my usual three rises, and when we baked the bread we wound up with this incredibly, ridiculously, tender loaf of bread that has been almost entirely consumed after two days. People keep coming up with excuses to eat toast. My daughter’s been asking for toast with butter and capers to have as her afternoon snack. My husband’s been eating it toasted with cream cheese and sliced green olives. It’s nearly gone.

I’m almost wondering: is it worth it to make a second batch of this failed experiment just so I can use it in more bread?



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