Kitchen Hacks

The Best Heavy Cream Substitutes for Cooking & Baking

July 13, 2019
Photo by James Ransom

There are thousands of recipes on our site that call for heavy cream, like penne alla vodka and creamed greens and frozen honey mousse. But do you actually need the cream? Can you replace it with milk? Or coconut milk? Or something else entirely? Today, we’re going to answer those questions and more.


But first, an ask-me-anything heavy cream lightning round! Let’s go:

What is heavy cream?

Cream comes by way of milk. As food science authority Harold McGee explains it, “Cream is a special portion of milk that is greatly enriched with fat.” So, if you find yourself with a bucket of straight-from-the-cow milk, and you let it hang out for awhile, the fat will rise to the top, yielding a layer of cream.

Can I substitute light cream for heavy cream?

Depends on the recipe. Light cream generally has a fat content of 20%, while heavy cream is at least 36%. If you need the cream to whip, light cream won’t cut it (there isn’t enough fat to form a foam—try to say that five times fast). But if the recipe is more forgiving (like a pureed soup or mashed potatoes), swapping in light cream shouldn’t cause any major issues.

Can I make whipped cream with half-and-half?

Sorry, no. Half-and-half’s fat content hovers around 12%, which is great for pouring into coffee and over fresh fruit, but isn’t fatty enough for whipping.

Can I substitute whipping cream for heavy cream?

Ah-ha! Trick question. They’re pretty much the same. Pretty much because whipping cream has a fat content of at least 35%, while heavy cream (which also goes by heavy whipping cream) has a fat content of at least 36%. Which is to say, both are good for the same things, like whipping, reducing in cheesy gratins, and posset-ing.

Can I substitute evaporated milk for heavy cream?

Again, depends on the recipe. Evaporated milk is pressure-cooked until it loses roughly half of its water content; the beige-hued result has a high concentration of lactose and protein. If you’re making whipped cream or a baked good (say, cream scones or apple butter pie), stick to what’s called for. But, if you’re working with a soup or saucy-something, you can do a 1:1 substitution of evaporated milk in place of heavy cream.


Heavy Cream Substitutes

These are some of the most common cream replacements. We'll get to know each ingredient, then learn how to put them toward specific recipes in the section below.

Half-and-half

Half cream, half milk, this dairy hovers between 10–12% fat. It can’t be whipped and shouldn’t be swapped into baking recipes, but is great for enriching soups and mashed or creamed vegetables.

Light cream

Heavier than half-and-half, but lighter than heavy cream, with an 18–30% fat content. Still too lean to whip, but good for enriching soups and mashed vegetables, and can be used for sauces.

Whole milk

With about 3.5% fat, this is the creamiest milk around, but still significantly leaner than heavy cream. Use for mashed vegetables or other forgiving cooking preparations. Trying to reduce milk like cream would cause curdling (though sometimes this is on purpose).

Evaporated milk

This canned product has had 60% of its water content removed. To use as a heavy cream substitute, look for the whole-milk variety, which contains at least 7.9% fat. It works very well in sauces, but has a slightly cooked, caramelized flavor.

Coconut milk or cream

Rich in fat, both of these products are a great vegan substitute for heavy cream. Try in sauces and soups; the cream can be whipped. Avoid light varieties and don’t confuse with cream of coconut, which is sweetened.

Cashew cream

Another great vegan substitute, with a much milder flavor than coconut. You can make your own cashew cream by soaking nuts, then blending them until smooth. If you’re buying store-bought, make sure to avoid sweetened varieties.

Onion "Cream"

Yep. This sorta-substitute, made by roasting and puréeing onions, is so out there, it's Genius. Don't even think about using it for sweets, but "you can swap it in for cream in your risotto, add to pasta with fresh herbs for a healthier, brighter, but still decadent-tasting dish, whip it into your mashed potatoes, or use it in a quiche to lighten up the base," according to its creator chef Grant Lee Crilly.


How to Substitute Heavy Cream in Recipes

Now, onto some specific recipes. Below are six heavy cream–loving dishes. We’ll break down whether or not you can substitute, and which substitutes are your best bet.

Can I substitute the heavy cream in mashed potatoes?

Short answer: Yes.
Recommended substitutes: Whole milk, evaporated milk, coconut milk, onion cream.
Caveats: Dairy is a free-for-all in mashed potato recipes. If you read enough of them, you’ll come across heavy cream, milk, cream cheese, goat cheese, sour cream, butter, and often the freedom to pick your favorite (like when a recipe says "1/2 cup whole milk or half-and-half"). So, there’s a lot of flexibility here. Just keep in mind that if you opt for a vegan option, like coconut milk, you’ll notice its flavor.

Can I substitute the heavy cream in soup?

Short answer: Yes.
Recommended substitutes: Evaporated milk, whole milk, coconut milk, cashew cream, onion cream.
Caveats: A lot of non-dairy milks are sneakily sweetened. Double check the ingredient list to make sure you aren’t about to turn your chowder into dessert.

Can I substitute the heavy cream in Alfredo sauce?

Short answer: Technically, Alfredo sauce isn’t supposed to have heavy cream in it—in traditional versions, the creaminess actually comes from the starchy pasta water, butter, and cheese—but, yes, a lot of contemporary Alfredo recipes do contain cream, and yes, you can substitute it.
Recommended substitutes: Evaporated milk. Or, pureed cauliflower!
Caveats: Because of the way it’s boiled down, evaporated milk has an almost sweet, caramely flavor. To make sure this isn’t too noticeable, don’t skimp on the Parm.

Can I substitute the heavy cream in quiche?

Short answer: Yes.
Recommended substitutes: Half-and-half or whole milk.
Caveats: Some quiche recipes call for all cream, some call for a mixture of cream and whole milk (with a popular ratio of 1:1), and some call for all milk. You can swap out the cream for half-and-half or milk, but it will result in a less flavorful, less silky custard. Don’t use lowfat or nonfat milk, which would give the custard a blander flavor and spongier texture, with a higher risk of curdling.

Can I substitute the heavy cream in whipped cream?

Short answer: Yes.
Recommended substitutes: Coconut cream.
Caveats: While you can’t swap out heavy cream for a lower-fat dairy, like half-and-half or milk (it won’t whip up), you can turn to a dairy alternative: coconut cream. You can either buy this straight or refrigerate a can of coconut milk for at least 12 hours, then scoop up the cream layer on the top.

Can I substitute the heavy cream in ice cream?

Short answer: Sort of.
Recommended substitutes: Half-and-half. Or, go vegan.
Caveats: Many ice cream recipes call for a 2:1 ratio of cream to milk. You can replace the cream portion with half-and-half, or you can replace both the cream and milk with half-and-half. Just remember that the less butterfat your ice cream has, the icier and harder it will turn out (aka not creamy). To compensate for this, you can swap out some of the granulated sugar for a liquid sweetener, like corn syrup or honey, which will encourage a creamier result. On the opposite side of the spectrum, you can skip the dairy altogether and make a vegan ice cream with coconut milk or cashew cream instead (here is our full guide on how to make dairy-free ice cream).

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Back before whipping cream was readily available, I had several recipes that used whipped evaporated milk. In order for it to whip it has to be really cold, practically frozen, so I would pour a can of it into an ice tray and freeze it until it was partially crystalized. I put my mixer blades and the bowl in the freezer too. Then into the cold bowl with sugar and vanilla and it whips up quite nicely and tastes almost like real whipped cream. ”
— Beth
Comment

Editor's note: We've corrected the statement that evaporated milk is also known as condensed milk. As many of you pointed out, condensed milk is sweetened and not the same as evaporated milk.

This post contains products that are independently selected by our editors and writers, and Food52 may earn an affiliate commission. What substitutes do you use for heavy cream? We want to know in the comments!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Jenny Malicki
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    Maxine Vannasdall Crawford
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    Hannah
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Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing stories about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. She now lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, which is all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.

38 Comments

Jenny M. August 14, 2019
You did leave out one important Do Not Substitute: making fresh cream of tomato soup requires heavy cream as 1/2 & 1/2 or milk do not have enough fat to bind with tomato. The result with lower fat options is a broken soup. I found out the hard way.
 
Beth August 15, 2019
Really? But lots of recipes for fresh tomato soup call for milk or evaporated milk. I'm sure cream would taste awesome, though. What do you mean by broken soup, did it curdle, or what? I'm really curious.
 
Beth August 10, 2019
Cool whip doesn't bake very well. Tends to melt and fall apart. I don't know what it's made of, kind of afraid to find out, but it can't be less caloric than real cream and apparently that's not a problem anyway. Does well in a refrigerator pie though.
 
vhoney9023 August 10, 2019
Can I use cool whip in place of heavy cream for a thicker in pecans , brown sugar, corn syrup,van. & butter then eggs, salt, & WHICH CREAM ?? just to blend the two together to thicken and pour on top of a cheesecake, and finish baking ? ? Thank you for any help !!
Vickey
 
Author Comment
Emma L. August 12, 2019
Hi Vickey—as Beth noted, I wouldn't recommend using Cool Whip as a substitute for heavy cream in baking.
 
Maxine V. August 6, 2019
If I have recipe for a 9 inch pie pan but wanna make it 13x9 how would I get right measurement for 8ngredients
 
Beth August 6, 2019
A 13 x 9 dish will hold almost twice as much as a 9 inch pie pan. Whatever you're making, if that's a little too much for the 13 x 9 inch pan, you can maybe cook the rest in a smaller dish or a custard cup. I would try twice as much and adjust it from there. Hope that helps.
 
Hannah August 5, 2019
I am hoping to find a substitute for heavy cream in baked goods - what options could I use?
 
Author Comment
Emma L. August 8, 2019
Hi Hannah! It really depends on the specific recipe. If you share an example that you're thinking of, I can try to help!
 
Hannah August 8, 2019
I have an old recipe for a cake that requires heavy cream in the batter. Would, say, whole milk be ok instead? I don’t know if heavy cream is supposed to give it richness, helping in the batter rising, or both.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. August 9, 2019
Got it! Assuming the cream doesn't get whipped, light cream or half-and-half should work fine. Whole milk *could* work, but it's harder to predict since the fat content is so much leaner than heavy cream. If you give either a try, let me know how it goes!
 
rktrix August 3, 2019
Is whipped chick-pea water better used as a substitute for egg whites? It seems creamy, but since there is no fat it would probably break down too easily. Has anyone played with this stuff?
 
ED August 3, 2019
I have cookie recipe that calls for 1/3 cup whipping cream in the dough. Is there a substitute for that purpose?
 
Author Comment
Emma L. August 8, 2019
Interesting! I haven't seen heavy cream in a lot of cookie dough recipes. Half-and-half, milk, or full-fat coconut milk are probably your best bet.
 
acecil August 3, 2019
I can’t wait to try this “onion cream” thing. I have so many ideas! Thanks for the article.
 
Danielle August 2, 2019
Any tips on a good sub for condensed milk? I love the coconut macaroons from this site, but I’m lactose intolerant.
 
Cate August 3, 2019
I am as well so when a recipe comes up using creams, butter, etc. I take Lactaid, which takes care of the problem when eating dairy for those of us who are intolerant.
Also when the recipe is more forgiving, I use Lactaid milk either alone or combined with a regular cream. It lowers the amount of Lactaid I have to then compensate for with a tablet. I have come across lactose free sour cream as well, which is good to use. Whole Foods carries it.
Once, I needed an emergency substitute, so I used a lactose free vanilla ice cream, mostly melted, and it worked well. Crisis become the mother of invention!😉
 
Danielle August 3, 2019
Lactaid pills don’t work for me at all.
 
Yirgach August 2, 2019
This is a nice article on alternatives, but actually for all the wrong reasons. It's the trans fat which is a problem! Your body produces it's own cholesterol for a good reason. Learn the difference and you will be able to enjoy the taste of food as nature intended.
See here: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/top-9-biggest-lies-about-dietary-fat-and-cholesterol
 
James B. August 2, 2019
When I worked at a local Italian restaurant years ago, we used full-blown "manufacturing cream" (>40% butterfat) in our Fettucine Alfredo sauce. I've managed to scale-down the artery-clogging potential by subbing Half & Half with a caveat: After browning the minced garlic and flambeeing with dry vermouth, I lowered the heat, added the cooked pasta into the pan and slowly added the half & half letting it absorb somewhat into the noodles before sprinkling/folding in the grated Parmesan. As soon as it became a creamy, cheesy sauce, I immediately plate it before it separates with the cheese sinking to the bottom of the pan and the half & half cruddling up. Takes some practice, but it's an acceptable substitution.
 
Nicole P. August 3, 2019
Milkfat is GOOD FOR YOU!!! Artery-clogging is a myth! Don't believe the hype!
 
Beth August 2, 2019
Back before whipping cream was readily available, I had several recipes that used whipped evaporated milk. In order for it to whip it has to be really cold, practically frozen, so I would pour a can of it into an ice tray and freeze it until it was partially crystalized. I put my mixer blades and the bowl in the freezer too. Then into the cold bowl with sugar and vanilla and it whips up quite nicely and tastes almost like real whipped cream.
 
Katharine F. August 2, 2019
buttermilk, in baking of course, in mashed potatoes also...
 
doristeo July 19, 2019
Evaporated milk is not condensed milk! The consistency and sugar level is totally different!
 
amherreras July 19, 2019
Hello, loved the article, and as a professional chef I must say Food52 is one of my favorites. Thank you for your diversity and deliciousness included in every recipe and article. Just check this one quote out from the article: "Evaporated milk (also known as condensed milk)". Perhaps this is misleading?
 
Hue B. July 15, 2019
Condensed milk is sweet; evaporated milk is not.
 
Nancy July 14, 2019
Useful article, thanks.
Remember, also, avocado instead of heavy cream in chocolate mousse.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. July 19, 2019
Yes! I've been wanting to try this recipe ever since it published: https://food52.com/recipes/81255-hannah-bronfman-s-no-cook-chocolate-mousse-with-avocado
 
Nancy July 19, 2019
Emma - I learned another recipe about 10 years ago, but the concept is the same. I recommend raspberries or blackberries for garnish (sharper nicer contrast with the chocolate than other sweet berries) and mint leaves for garnish. Also good as a dessert that almost everyone can eat (GF, vegan, non dairy).
 
Joan H. July 14, 2019
Early in the piece you say that evaporated milk is also known as condensed milk. Not so. Condensed is sweetened.

 
Lora S. July 14, 2019
That's sweetened condensed milk, such as Eagle Brand. Evaporated and condensed are similar words in meaning, evaporated milk is condensed by removing, by evaporation, some of it's water/liquid.
 
Peter J. July 18, 2019
Anyone who goes into a supermarket and grabs a can of condensed milk thining it is the same as evaporated is going to be disappointed. There may be some places where they sell unsweetened condensed milk, but in every store I've ever been in in the US, there are two distinct sections: evaporated milk (unsweetened and more liquid) and condensed (sweetened, thicker and in a shorter can).
 
Author Comment
Emma L. July 19, 2019
Thank you so much, Joan (and Gammy, Hue, Doristeo, and Amherreras!), for flagging that "condensed milk" and "sweetened condensed milk" are often used interchangeably. We've corrected this line in the piece to avoid any confusion.
 
Allison July 13, 2019
can you substitute half and half for cream when making caramel (sauce and candies)? lactose free half and half is readily available at the grocery store, but i have yet to find lactose free cream, unfortunately...
 
tia July 15, 2019
I think what you're looking for out of the cream is fat, to help keep the caramel soft so you'd need to make it up somehow. You could maybe use butter instead? Or maybe add enough to make up for the limits of the lactose free half and half? I know butter has some lactose in it, but I think it's a very small amount so it might be worth a try.
 
Gammy July 13, 2019
Make sure when subbing in condensed milk that it is not SWEETENED condensed milk, which is the more familiar version. It has a much higher sugar content than evaporated milk.