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Heavy cream (also commonly referred to as heavy whipping cream) is a key ingredient in a variety of dishes, from savory sauces to sweet treats like ice cream. But whether you follow a dairy-free diet or open your refrigerator mid-recipe to find you’re out of heavy cream, you may sometimes need an alternative.
Fortunately, there are several things you can substitute for heavy whipping cream. Here’s what you need to know.
What Is Heavy Cream?
Heavy cream comes from fresh milk. When milk stands out, heavy cream rises to the top. It has a higher fat content (over 36% milk fat) than other creams, like half and half or regular whipping cream, which has a slightly lower fat content (between 30%-35%). If you’re wondering the difference between heavy cream vs heavy whipping cream, they’re the same thing—the term simply depends on the brand you choose.
What is double cream? Double cream is essentially the British version of heavy cream, but it contains an even higher percentage of milk fat—about 48%.
5 Heavy Cream Substitutes
Heavy cream isn’t always a staple in your refrigerator—and for some people, dairy may not be part of your diet. Either way, if you’re wondering what to substitute for heavy cream, we have you covered with these five alternatives.
- Milk (Gluten-Free, Keto-Friendly)
For many dishes—like sauces or soups—you can substitute milk for heavy cream (and the reverse is generally true as well: you can usually substitute heavy cream for milk). Because even whole milk contains less fat than heavy cream, you won’t get the same richness or thick consistency, but it is a convenient alternative when you’re wondering, “What can you substitute for heavy cream?”
- Milk and Butter (Gluten-Free, Keto-Friendly)
If you’re halfway through a recipe that calls for heavy cream and realize you have none in the fridge, you can substitute a mixture of milk and butter. First, melt one-quarter cup of butter, and then slowly whisk in three-quarters cup of whole milk or half-and-half. Then, use the mixture as a one-to-one replacement for heavy cream in almost any recipe except whipped cream—it won’t stiffen the same way heavy cream does.
- Silken Tofu and Soy Milk (Vegan, Gluten-Free)
Unlike firm tofu, silken tofu has a soft, creamy texture. By blending it with equal parts soy milk, you can create a smooth, thick liquid that you can use as a vegan substitute for heavy cream. It can even be whipped, so if you add a little vanilla extract and sugar, you can create a dairy-free whipped topping.
- Coconut Milk or Coconut Cream (Vegan, Paleo, Gluten-Free, Keto-Friendly)
What is a substitute for heavy cream if you follow a special diet? Coconut milk is a perfect vegan heavy cream alternative, but it’s also perfect for people who adhere to paleo, gluten-free, or keto diets.
Coconut milk has the same thick consistency of heavy cream, but without the dairy. For the best results, make sure to use full-fat coconut milk and shake the can before opening it. For an even thicker option, try using coconut cream. You can purchase cans of coconut cream, or, if you have a can of coconut milk, you can make it yourself. Put a can of coconut milk in the refrigerator for 8 to 12 hours. Open it (without shaking it beforehand!), and you’ll find a thick layer of cream on the top. Spoon the cream out of the can and use it to make a coconut whipped cream or as the base of a coconut frosting.
- Sour Cream (Gluten-Free, Keto-Friendly)
Sour cream has a high enough fat content—about 20%—to make it a good substitute for heavy cream in some savory recipes, such as soups or chili. However, while some chefs swear that sour cream is a key ingredient for a killer whipped cream, it generally can’t be used on it’s own to make whipped cream.
Downsides of Using Substitutes
Of course, recipes call for heavy cream for a reason. While you can get by in a pinch with any of these substitutions, there are some downsides:
- Some substitutes won’t work in all scenarios. For example, while milk can replace heavy cream in soups and other savory recipes, it can’t, on its own, be whisked into whipped cream. It’s best to select your substitute for heavy whipping cream based on your specific application.
- Certain alternatives may change the flavor of the recipe. Sour cream and Greek yogurt, for example, have a signature tanginess that may alter the flavor of your dish.
- Dairy-free substitutes often lack the nutrition of traditional heavy cream. While heavy cream contains calcium, protein, and a range of vitamins, not all dairy-free alternatives offer the same nutrition profile.
When you find yourself wondering, “What can you substitute for heavy whipping cream?”, make sure to keep these potential downsides in mind.
How to Make Heavy Cream
Heavy cream is made by allowing fresh, whole milk to sit, and then separating the fattiest layer of liquid off the top.
However, if you don’t have access to farm-fresh milk, you can easily learn how to make heavy cream with just two ingredients: whole milk and butter. Melt a quarter cup of butter, and then slowly whisk in three-quarters cup of whole milk. The butter adds extra fat to the milk, replicating the high fat content of heavy cream.
If you find yourself searching your refrigerator and wondering, “What can I substitute for heavy cream?” you surely have something on hand that will work. With these alternatives, you can make any recipe that calls for heavy cream.
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