February 18

Best Heavy Cream Substitutes For Whipping, Thickening and Baking

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Whether it’s a dollop on your pie, a swirl in your mashed potatoes, or a splash in your morning coffee, heavy cream elevates your dish to decadence. While cherished by cooks everywhere, there are legitimate reasons you'd want a suitable replacement. 

For those of us watching our calorie intake, heavy cream is a fat- and calorie-dense ingredient. Finding a low calorie alternative allows us to complete a recipe without the looming guilt afterwards.

Also, many vegans out there will prefer a plant-based, dairy free alternative. We've also included fatty, dairy-filled alternatives below if you ran out of the real thing.

In short, whatever your reasons, we're here to help.

Below we've outlined our favorite heavy cream substitutes for whipping, thickening/creaming and baking applications

Enjoy!

What is Heavy Cream?


Made from the fatty layer that rises to the top of fresh, non-homogenized milk, heavy cream is 36-40% fat, making it the highest-fat cream option (as opposed to light cream, table cream, half-and-half, or whipping cream). 

Heavy cream is widely used in the kitchen for its rich texture and versatile functionality. It confers moisture and tenderness to baked goods, thickness to sauces, creaminess to stews, emulsifying power to dressings, and foaming capacity to cold desserts; few ingredients offer such versatility.  

Best Heavy Cream Substitutes


1) Butter and Milk (For baking)


A mixture of milk and butter will closely mimic the dairy fat composition and flavor of heavy cream. Proportions are critical! Take a look below for suggestions.

Similarities: This mixture is fantastic to enrich doughs, gravies, or casseroles, but do not attempt to use it for a mousse or whipped topping. Because the fats are not homogeneously dispersed in the milk, a milk/butter mixture will not whip like heavy cream.

Suggested Conversion: In place of 1 cup of heavy cream, use ⅔ cup of slightly warmed whole milk plus ⅓ cup (5 Tablespoons) of melted butter. Heat the milk so that the butter does not harden upon combining.

Flavor Notes: Rich, hearty, buttery

Suggested Dishes: Potatoes au gratin, gravy, enriched dough, baked sweets

2) Milk (or table cream, half-and-half, or other pourable milk product) and cornstarch (For thickening and creaminess)


Use any pourable milk product you have on hand (the higher the fat content, the better) and thicken it with cornstarch to mimic the viscosity and thickening power of heavy cream. 

Similarities: This mixture thickens nicely, especially in heated applications, because the heat aids in starch gelation.  However, do not expect it to whip!  It also does not add much fatty richness unless your dairy base is quite high in fat (such as half-and-half).

Suggested Conversion: Add 2 Tablespoons of cornstarch to 1 cup of liquid dairy as a substitute for 1 cup of heavy cream.

Flavor Notes: Bland; a chalky taste indicates you used too much cornstarch

Suggested Dishes: Gravy, cream sauce

3) Evaporated Milk (for baking)


Evaporated milk has been processed to remove slightly more than half of the water without affecting any of the other components (fat, protein, or minerals). The result is a dense and partially caramelized milk product with a fat content usually around 7-9%.  

Similarities: Despite being lower in fat and calories than heavy cream, evaporated milk behaves similarly in baking and cooking applications due to its high moisture and viscosity.  It will not whip, though, so for whipped desserts and toppings, seek a different alternative. 

Suggested Conversion: Substitute at a 1:1 ratio.

Flavor Notes: Light notes of caramel, flan, and vanilla

Suggested Dishes: Baked goods, pastries, mashed potatoes, cream sauces

Vegan and Dairy Free Alternatives


4) Plant-based Milk and Olive oil (for baking)


For those who prefer to avoid animal products, this mixture works much like the milk-and-butter combination listed above. Any plant-based milk will do. Unlike milk and butter, both components are liquid at room temperature, so there is no need to warm them before combining. 

Similarities: You will not achieve a whipped dessert or topping with this mixture, but it is excellent in bread and pastries. It enriches soups well but may separate excessively if the recipe does not include a binding agent.

Suggested Conversion: In place of 1 cup of heavy cream, use ⅔ cup of plant-based milk alternative stirred with ⅓ cup olive oil.

Flavor Notes: Spicy, rich, green

Suggested Dishes: Enriched dough, baked sweets, vegan bechamel, vegan roux-based gravy

5) Coconut Cream (for whipping)


Made from silky coconut fats, coconut cream (as opposed to lower-fat coconut milk) performs much like heavy cream in most recipes

Similarities: While it behaves much like heavy cream, one difficulty with this ingredient is its strong coconut flavor, which may be inappropriate for the flavor combinations of hearty European-style soups or stews. It whips beautifully, and it also acts to thicken sauces.  You may recognize this ingredient as the base for some curries.

Suggested Conversion: Substitute in a 1:1 ratio

Flavor Notes: Noticeable coconut flavor; nutty, tropical

Suggested Dishes: Thai curry, mousse, pudding, whipped dessert toppings

6) Silken Tofu and Non-dairy Milk (Whipping and thickening )


Silken tofu has a light, satiny texture that mimics creaminess. Combining it with a plant-based milk simply helps it more closely approximate the texture of heavy cream. 

Similarities: Entirely plant-based, this mixture replicates the functionality of heavy cream very well.  It whips, thickens, and adds a creamy appearance and texture, all with more protein and less fat than heavy cream. Note that you must combine the silken tofu and plant-based milk in a blender or immersion blender to remove lumps. Beware: because this mixture is very high in protein and low in fat, it can alter the texture of baked goods when used as a substitute.

Suggested Conversion: To substitute for 1 cup of heavy cream, mix ½ cup silken tofu and ½ cup plant-based milk.

Flavor Notes: This combination is quite bland, but you may choose to liven it up with a bit of sugar or flavored extract.

Suggested Dishes: Whipped toppings, flavored mousse, curries, casseroles

7) Cultured milk products (Greek yogurt, sour cream, creme fraiche, cream cheese, mascarpone) (for thickening/creaminess)


Yogurt, cream cheese, mascarpone, cream fraiche and other cultured dairy products are smooth, creamy, and spoonable products made from milk. 

Depending on how much fat they contain and their specific processing steps, you may notice some differences (for example, cream cheese is more solid than yogurt and has a milder tang). Yet, these products are all rich, thick, slightly acidic, and contain around 30% fat.  

Similarities: While the resulting flavor may change depending on precisely which you choose (for example, sour cream contributes a noticeable tartness, while mascarpone is gently sweet), they all work well to thicken sauces and soups. One caveat to note is that some of these ingredients curdle when added to hot liquids--avoid this by tempering the dairy with a small amount of hot broth, then adding this mixture back to the pot. Because they comprise about the same moisture-to-fat ratio as heavy cream, they also perform wonderfully as a substitute in baked goods, where their flavor can be a bonus. 

Suggested Conversion: Use in a 1:1 ratio with the heavy cream in your recipe

Flavor Notes: Rich, tangy, buttery

Suggested Dishes: Enriched doughs, all baked goods, casseroles, gravy

Frequently Asked Questions...


1) Are “heavy cream” and “heavy whipping cream” the same thing?

Heavy cream and heavy whipping cream are two different designations for the same product; the label depends on the brand. That said, a third product called simply “whipping cream” (without the word “heavy) is an entirely different product. It has a lower fat content (around 30%), while heavy cream (or heavy whipping cream) falls between 36-40% fat.  

In practice, the two are interchangeable in most recipes. Usually, whipping cream is used when the desired result is a product that is slightly less rich but still high in moisture.  

Concluding...


Whether someone beat you to the last pint of heavy cream at the supermarket, or you are merely looking for a low-calorie or vegan option, you have quite a few substitutes to work with! 

With the right alternative, there is no need to miss out on the luscious taste and texture that heavy cream has to offer. 

If you have any questions/comments, don't hesitate to leave a note below. 

Cheers,

Caitlin


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About the author

Caitlin is a Ph.D student and chocolate researcher at Colorado State University. Her research in the Food Science program focuses on chocolate fermentation (that’s right, it’s a fermented food!) and small-batch post-harvest processing techniques. When she is not acting in her capacity as resident chocolate guru, she researches other fermented foods and beverages like beer, sausage, and natto. Caitlin was drawn to fermented foods while living in rural Spain for six years, where she was exposed to traditional, time-honored practices of food preservation. At home, she practices Bollywood dance for fun and is followed everywhere by two small pet rabbits.

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