Thursday, February 24, 2011
Many, many Brazilian recipes call for creme de leite, and if the recipe forums and culinary FAQ websites are to be believed, there is a lot of confusion as to what creme de leite is and is not. Cooks from other countries who are trying to use a Brazilian recipe are often stumped when trying to find an acceptable substitute for creme de leite. Equally so, Brazilian cooks who try to cook their favorite recipes with creme de leite when outside Brazil don't know what to use.
The UHT-treated creme de leite is heat-treated to ensure long shelf life, and it is also churned slightly so that it has a significantly thicker consistency than the fresh. Because of this thicker consistency, when substituting other ingredients for creme de leite, it's best to use something like sour cream or creme fraiche. Plain North American or European fresh cream will not have the same consistency and the result will be different. Obviously sour cream will change the taste of the final dish, though creme fraiche will less so.
Just as expat Aussies carry Vegemite with them when migrating or travelling and Americans go to great lengths to find peanut butter overseas, Brazilians living outside Brazil often express "saudade" (nostalgia) for creme de leite and beg visiting relatives to bring some along with them. Or, on their visits home to Brazil, they fill any empty space in their suitcases with creme de leite for use across the seas.
None of the substitutes are perfect reproductions of Brazilian creme de leite, but for most purposes, other dairy products can successfully be swapped. But if you're making a Brazilian dish with creme de leite for Brazilian guests, don't expect them to say it tastes just like Mama made - because she used creme de leite and you didn't