In the house where I grew up, the words sour cream and dollop went everywhere together.
On blitzes. On borscht.
On latkes. Oh, yes, on latkes.
I never knew that you could do anything with sour cream other than dollop it.
In fact, I never really knew much about sour cream.
Traditionally, sour cream, which originated in the cold and somewhat nomadic regions of Russia and Eastern Europe, was made by letting fresh cream sour naturally. Today, commercial sour cream results from a controlled process; the bacteria is allowed to grow until the cream is both soured and thick, and then the cream is pasteurized to stop the process.
True sour cream must contain at least 18 percent milk fat by weight. Low-fat and non-fat varieties combine nonfat milk with stabilizers like carageenan or guar gum to simulate the density of regular sour cream. They are a bit less creamy than full-fat sour cream, but can be substituted in equal amounts for regular sour cream in most recipes.
Why is sour cream so popular for baking? It's more dense, and less runny, than buttermilk and yogurt, which means that your cake or muffins will be moist, with more body, than if you'd used milk, buttermilk or yogurt (the exceptions are yogurt cheese or Greek yogurt, which have much of their liquid drained off).
According to Joy of Baking, for one cup of sour cream, you can substitute:
- 3/4 cup sour milk, buttermilk or plain yogurt + 1/3 cup melted butter, or
- 1 cup of creme fraiche, or
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar plus enough whole milk to fill 1 cup (let stand 5-10 minutes).
In my house, you're most likely to find sour cream stirred into chili, but every now and then, a childhood favorite -- cottage cheese and sour cream topped with banana -- makes an appearance.
Currant cardamom scones
Adapted from a basic scone recipe on allrecipes.com, this is a classic, amenable to any flavorings. I did learn a new technique: freeze a stick of butter, then grate it on a box grater. It wasn't the easiest grating I've ever done, but the end result was worth it as the butter incorporated quickly into the flour. Makes 8 large scones.
2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1/3 cup + 1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, frozen
1/2 cup currants (or golden raisins)
1/2 cup sour cream
1 large egg
Preheat oven to 400°F.
In a large bowl, combine flour, 1/3 cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cardamom. Set a box grater into the flour mixture, and on the largest holes, grate the butter right into the flour; the end will be hard to hold on to, so just use your fingers or a knife to break it up (hint: if you dip the butter into the flour as it gets slippery to handle, it will be easier to grate).
Using your fingertips, combine the butter and flour mixture until the texture resembles a coarse cornmeal. Then, stir in the currants.
In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream and egg, until smooth. Using a fork, stir the sour cream mixture into the flour. When clumps start to form, use your hands to bring the dough together by pushing up against the side of the bowl. It will seem like there isn't enough liquid to moisten the dough, but as you keep pushing, it will come together. As soon as it just holds its shape, remove the dough to a lightly floured counter top.
Press or roll the dough into a circle approximately 7-8 inches in diameter, and 3/4 inch thick. Using a very sharp knife, cut the dough into 8 wedges.
Place the wedges on a rimmed baking sheet lined with a Silpat (silicone mat) or parchment paper. Make sure they are at least one inch apart. Sprinkle the remaining 1 Tbsp sugar over the scones, and place the baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven. Bake for 16 minutes, or until lightly golden brown.
Cool for a few minutes, and serve warm or at room temperature.
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