Heart of Cream

This dish, like so many others, has become needlessly consigned to a specific holiday, but such a rich dessert should grace our tables much more often. Most recipes for coeur a la creme have only four ingredients—crème fraiche, cream cheese, egg whites and sugar—though the misguided might add vanilla or lemon. For years I’ve been making a coeur a la crème using cottage cheese for convenience, but this year, I’ve upped my game and made crème fraiche, which is not difficult, a little goes a long way and keeps quite well.

You can make a simple crème fraiche by adding a packet of culture to store-bought dairy, but that’s a slacker’s option; me, I trotted down to the Mississippi Farmer’s Market and bought lightly pasteurized  local products that retain enough lactic bacteria for the process. I mixed a cup of whole milk and a quarter cup of buttermilk along with a spoonful of store-bought sour cream, which does have a tiny bit of its characteristic bacteria, enough to make a bit of a bite. I kept the starter out overnight; by morning it had thickened to a dense slurry. I added a half cup or so of this culture to a quart of whole cream from the supermarket, and it worked like a charm. I ended up with a thick, tart crème fraiche. If you’re so inclined, the culture can be tended as you would a sourdough, and in time will mellow and deepen.

If you happen to frequent the kinds of stores that sell such things as stainless steel strawberry stem removers,  chromium banana slicers, and cast-iron hot dog toasters, then you’re likely to run into these cute little ceramic heart molds with holes that are made specifically for a coeur a le crème. Since I am most assuredly not the Williams-Sonoma-type, I went to the Dollar Store and found a purple plastic, heart-shaped container with Ninja Turtles embossed on the front (“Be My Bodacious Valentine!”) that was just the right size, about a pint. I burned holes in the plastic with a hot nail, and lined the mold—for that’s what it had become—with damp cheesecloth, mixed one cup of my crème fraiche with six ounces of cream cheese, blended in two (organic) stiffly-beaten egg whites and a tablespoon of confectioner’s sugar.

I placed the coeur on a plate in the coldest part of the refrigerator for several hours. After inverting the mold onto a server and removing the cloth, I added a puddle of pureed raspberries, though any kind of berry would have been good. One of these days I’m going to try bananas.