If you find yourself in the kitchen experimenting with recipes, you’ve most likely also found yourself at some point standing in the dairy section at the grocery store aimlessly staring into shelves of cream.
There's regular heavy cream, whipping cream, double cream, evaporated milk, and heavy whipping cream, but what's the difference between them all? If you are wondering, “What is heavy cream?”, you are not alone.
Heavy cream, also known as heavy whipping cream, is the thick part of the milk that rises to the top due to its high fat content. With about 36-40% fat, it has one of the highest fat contents compared to other dairy products. Whipping cream comes in at a close but lighter second, with about 30% milk fat. In comparison, the half-and-half you might put in your morning coffee has about a 10.5 to 18% milk fat content.
From ice creams to chowders to pasta sauces, many recipes call for anywhere from a splash to a few cups of heavy cream. It whips better and holds its shape longer than its whipping cream counterpart, which is why it’s used for everything from pastry fillings to pipings. It has a long shelf life in the fridge and can even be frozen and used in recipes later on. If you’re curious about common and creative uses of heavy cream and options for dairy free or lower fat substitutions, read on. We’re about to dive deep into this well-loved and well-used kitchen essential.
Most Common Uses
From pastry chefs to pasta-making masters, the reasons for using regular heavy cream in your cooking regimen are vast and varied (and can turn an ordinary dish into an extraordinary one).
To make sour cream, all you need is buttermilk and heavy cream or half and half. Heavy cream yields a thicker sour cream, perfect for topping everything from soups to tacos.
One of the most common uses for heavy cream is, of course, whipped cream. Combine your cold heavy cream with a bit of sugar, honey, or maple syrup and a dash of vanilla, then beat on high until stiff peaks form. Use it to top fresh berries or your morning coffee.
Heavy cream is also used to create big bowls of beautiful ice cream. Once you’ve created your ice cream, try placing it in on top of these Apple Pie Oatmeal Cookies for a divine after-dinner treat.
All you need to create crème fraîche—one of France’s famous and decadent creams—is heavy cream and buttermilk. Put a dollop on top of smoked salmon, cobblers, or add it to your pasta sauce.
Biscuits and Scones
Use heavy cream in biscuits and scones for a creamy and fresh flavor with an incredible texture. Try this recipe for Bob’s Old Fashioned Biscuits: simply substitute your milk for cream to let the baking magic unfold.
Chowder & Seafood Bisque
Heavy cream creates a rich and thick texture in chowder and seafood bisque. Top your bowl with fresh herbs for a delectable dinner.
Soup & Broth
If you’re looking for a tasty variation of mussels, try adding heavy cream to your broth. Also, use it for cream-based soups like broccoli, potato, and cream of mushroom.
A somewhat surprising addition, heavy cream is often used in caramel sauce as the secret ingredient. Try adding a dash to this recipe for Homemade Caramel Sauce before drizzling it over apples or ice cream.
Frosting & Cake
Jazz up your frosting and your cake by adding heavy cream. Give it a try with this simple Banana Layer Cake with Banana Buttercream Frosting to make it extra rich.
Use heavy cream as an add-in to thicken your pasta sauces and fill them with flavor. Try your sauce on top of some Gluten Free Pasta for a simple yet satisfying weeknight dinner.
For a creamy salad that’s not too thick, try using heavy cream as your base. From there, whisk in some citrus juice, oil, seasonings, and fresh herbs.
From scalloped potatoes, to mashed potatoes, to potato pancakes—adding heavy cream to your dish will guarantee a rich and delicious flavor. Try using Bob’s Red Mill potato flakes
in this recipe for mashed potatoes in minutes.
Give your wholesome breakfast a decadent upgrade by adding a dash of heavy cream alongside fresh berries in your morning bowl of oats.
One of the easiest ways to enhance the flavor of a somewhat bland chicken dish is to create a sauce for it. If you’re looking for a rich sauce, making one with heavy cream is the way to go. Add some citrus to cut the fat and a refreshing side salad for a nutritional bonus, and dinner is served.
If you’re looking for perfectly soft, creamy and custard-like scrambled eggs, add some heavy cream to your scrambled alongside your salt and pepper. Cooking them “slow and low” will help to make them fluffy and creamy as well.
Panna cotta, the chilled dessert served throughout Italy, calls for heavy cream and tastes wonderful when mixed with vanilla and topped with fresh strawberries.
Pastry Fillings & Pipings
Pastry cream, also known as crème patissière, is used in cream puffs, éclairs, and fruit tarts and is made with heavy cream. Heavy cream can also be whipped and used as a piping for desserts like cookies and cakes.
Chocolate ganache can be spread on cupcakes, used in truffles or poured over this amazing marble bundt cake, and all you need to create it is chocolate chips, heavy cream, and the right proportions and temperature.
Homemade Irish cream is fun, festive, and easy. Of the few ingredients it calls for, one of the essentials is heavy cream. Whether you’re drinking it warm on a cold evening or using it for French toast, it’s a celebratory way to feed your cream craving.
Making cheese at home is actually pretty simple and allows you to enjoy a preservative-free, fresh flavor with the help of heavy cream. Try ricotta, paneer, mascarpone, and more, and spread your homemade creation on these quick and easy Everything Crackers.
Substitutions for Heavy Cream
If your recipe calls for heavy cream but you’re looking for a substitution, you’re in luck. Perhaps you’d rather have something dairy free, with less fat or a different flavor (or you’d just rather not venture to the grocery store). Here are some options.
Milk or Half-and-Half and Butter
Milk or half-and-half and butter are perhaps one of the most common and foolproof substitutions for heavy cream. Butter adds fat to the milk or half-and-half, making it more similar to the consistency and taste of heavy cream.
Soy Milk, and Olive Oil
If you’re searching for a dairy free alternative to heavy cream, opt for mixing soy milk and olive oil to achieve a quick substitution. Olive oil will add fat to the soy milk and provide a good, moist texture in baked goods.
For a similar consistency with full and savory flavor, you can try using cream cheese as a substitute for heavy cream. Add it to your soups, your sauces and more (and while you’re at it, give these Gluten Free Cream Cheese Brownies a try).
Greek Yogurt and Whole Milk
If you’re looking for a healthier, protein-packed version of heavy cream, try experimenting with a mixture of Greek yogurt and milk. The yogurt is thick and the substitution will work well with things like soup; try a scoop on top of this Indian-Spiced Cream of Tomato Soup with Whole Wheat Couscous.
Coconut cream is another nutritious and fantastically creamy alternative to traditional heavy cream. It’s versatile, vegan and works well in sweets and treats. Use it to make whipped coconut cream or coconut ice cream. You can also use it to make frosting, like this recipe for Brownies with Whipped Coconut Buttercream Frosting.
Whole Milk and Cornstarch
Cornstarch acts as a thickening agent — so once it’s mixed with milk, the milk takes on a texture similar to that of thick heavy cream. Use Bob’s Red Mill Cornstarch mixed with milk to thicken your soups, sauces, and fillings.
Next time you venture to the store and feel overwhelmed by the seemingly endless shelves of cream — you can take a deep breath — knowing the precise reasons why people everywhere reach for that carton to have in their kitchen as a staple ingredient.
Whether you’re adding a splash of heavy cream to your pasta sauce, integrating it into your frosting recipe for a birthday cake, or using it to experiment with DIY cheesemaking, having a carton on hand proves to be extremely useful in the kitchen.
But luckily, if you don’t have heavy cream on hand or looking to cut it out for dietary reasons, rest assured that there are many ways to substitute and still create a fantastic dish with creamy flavors.
From all of us at Bob’s Red Mill –– happy baking, happy cooking, and happy eating!
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