As a common dairy item in both sweet desserts and savory dishes, you may have asked yourself, “What is heavy cream?” This important kitchen staple plays an essential part in adding texture, consistency, and flavor to your favorite dishes. In this guide, I dive into what is heavy cream made of, how it is made, what it is often compared to and mistaken for, and how you can create and use it at home in your next recipe.
- What is heavy cream?
- Heavy cream vs Whipping cream - What's the difference?
- Heavy cream vs Double cream - What's the difference?
- Heavy cream vs half-and-half - What's the difference?
- Heavy cream vs cooking cream - What's the difference?
- What is heavy cream made of
- What is heavy cream used for?
- How to store heavy cream
- How to freeze heavy cream
- Best substitutes for heavy cream
- Heavy cream FAQ
- What Is Heavy Cream (Ultimate Guide)
What is heavy cream?
Also known as heavy whipping cream, heavy cream is the thick and fatty part of dairy milk that separates and rises to the top and is then skimmed off. It has a very high-fat content of 36-40%, unlike light whipping cream which has typically 30-36% fat content. According to the labeling standards of the Food and Drug Administration, a pasteurized or non-pasteurized cream with 36% milk fat or more is considered a heavy cream.
Heavy cream vs Whipping cream - What's the difference?
While you now know that heavy whipping cream is just another name for heavy cream, what is whipping cream? Regular whipping cream has a slightly lower milk fat content than heavy cream, containing just 30-36%. It is also slightly lower in calories and fat, containing 45 calories, 4.5 grams of fat, and 3 grams of saturated fat, versus heavy cream’s 50 calories, 5 grams of fat, and 3.5 grams of saturated fat.
Because of its lower fat levels, it has a looser consistency and in many parts of the world people often call it "light whipping cream." Whipping cream is a good choice if you are looking for a nutritionally lighter option. However, when making desserts, it won´t whip up the same stiff way as the fattier heavy cream versions.
Heavy cream vs Double cream - What's the difference?
Popular in British recipes, double cream is much richer than heavy cream, containing 48% milk fat content. Because of its consistency and flavor, it is common to use it as a dessert topping. In the UK, heavy cream is simply referred to as double cream, containing anywhere from 33-48% milk fat.
Like whipping cream, you can use double cream as a substitute, but the consistency will be much thicker and richer in flavor.
Heavy cream vs half-and-half - What's the difference?
Compared to the others, half-and-half has the least percentage of milk fat content, containing just 10.5-18%. It is a common coffee creamer, and you can easily make it at home by combining equal parts of heavy cream and milk.
With half the amount of milk fat as heavy cream, half-and-half is another excellent alternative for those following a healthy diet and wanting to cut back on fat. However, it is not a good substitute for a whipped cream recipe, as it needs to contain more fat to stabilize the cream.
Heavy cream vs cooking cream - What's the difference?
Also known as culinary cream, cooking cream withstands high temperatures without breaking or curdling. During cooking, it thickens quickly to give it stability. On the other hand, heavy cream can curdle when heated too fast or cooked at very high temperatures.
Compared to heavy cream, cooking cream is lighter, more liquid, and has less butterfat. Because it contains more liquid than heavy cream, it does not do well in recipes that need whipping, even after refrigeration.
What is heavy cream made of
Heavy cream is really simple to make at home by combining whole milk with cooled and melted butter. For each cup that you need, combine ¾ of whole milk and ¼ cup of melted butter. For a lighter cream, combine half and half with melted butter.
While this homemade mixture makes a suitable replacement in cooking and baking, it is not the best in all cases. For example, it would not go well in recipes that require whipping.
What is heavy cream used for?
Heavy cream is a popular and important dairy ingredient in the kitchen. You can use it to add thickness, creaminess, and flavor to sweet and savory recipes. It is a common ingredient in cake, pie, and biscuit recipes, such as my creamy Sicilian ricotta pie and carrot cake with cream cheese mousse filling.
You can also use it in ice creams, whipped cream, custards, and mousses. I use heavy cream in my decadent diplomat cream and chocolate cremeux. It is also vital in soups and sauces to give them a thick texture and enhance their flavor.
How to store heavy cream
After it is open, you should immediately place it in the refrigerator if not in use. If already open, it will last up to two hours at room temperature. In the fridge, you can store heavy cream for up to 3-5 days, assuming it was not left at room temperature for a lengthy period beforehand. Some versions in the US can be stored much longer, please always check the package for instructions.
How to freeze heavy cream
You can freeze it for up to four months, whether in the carton or already whipped. Thaw at room temperature and stir well to incorporate them into your recipe. Or, you can freeze it in cubes and mix them directly into hot soups and stews.
Best substitutes for heavy cream
What can you substitute for heavy cream if you ever find yourself in a pinch? Luckily, there are many substitutes available. However, when considering which replacement to use, it is important to consider the fat content required and the flavor you are going for. Not all substitutes provide the same taste or texture or work well in both baking and cooking recipes.
Mixing whole milk or half-and-half milk with butter is among the best homemade substitutes when baking or cooking. Other acceptable substitutes include evaporated milk and Greek yogurt combined with milk.
When making whipped cream, coconut or mascarpone cream is the best substitute. Because of their thick and creamy texture, they are great for whipping as well as using as a dessert topping. If you need a vegan-friendly option, coconut cream (not full-fat coconut milk) is the best way to go.
Heavy cream FAQ
Your heavy cream has likely gone bad and needs to be thrown out if you notice any mold or discoloration on the cream or its container, is heavily separated, has a foul smell that resembles sour cream, or if you have tested the cream and it does not taste fresh.
High temperatures, acidity, or high salt content can cause curdling. It can also curdle if you overwhip the cream. You will know it is starting to curdle when it looks clumpy and deflated versus fluffy with stiff peaks.
When making recipes that require whipping heavy cream, it is important not to overmix. Avoid walking away if using an electric mixer. When making recipes that include adding lemon juice, you can prevent curdling from acidity by slowly whipping in the ingredients in stages.
You can typically use heavy cream and whipping cream interchangeably in recipes. However, whipping cream’s lower fat content means that the consistency of the result will come out lighter and looser. Heavy cream is best when making whipped creams and frostings as it creates stiffer peaks that hold well.
For savory sauces, I recommend milk + butter, evaporated milk, greek yogurt + milk, cottage cheese + milk, cream cheese, or sour cream as a substitute. For vegan diets, I recommend a silken tofu and soy milk combination. Refer to my heavy cream substitute guide for how to use the above options.
What Is Heavy Cream (Ultimate Guide)
What is heavy cream?
- Heavy cream is the thick and fatty part of dairy milk that separates and rises to the top and is then skimmed off. It has a very high-fat content of 36-40%. According to the labeling standards of the Food and Drug Administration, a cream with 36% milk fat or more is considered a heavy cream.
Heavy cream vs whipping cream
- Not to be confused with heavy whipping cream, regular whipping cream has a slightly lower milk fat content than heavy cream, containing just 30-36%. Because of its lower fat levels, it has a looser consistency and is sometimes called "light whipping cream".
How to store heavy cream
- Heavy cream should be immediately placed in the refrigerator once opened. It will last up to 3-5 days refrigerated once opened. You can also freeze heavy cream for up to four months, whether in the carton or already whipped.