As the pandemic rolls on and ingredient scarcity continues, you might find yourself in need of a tasty whipped topping (like for one of these), but without the cream to whip. Rather than make a less-than-essential trip to the grocery store or go without whipped cream altogether, you can, in fact, substitute whole milk or half-and-half for heavy cream.
Conventional baking wisdom (not to mention science) holds that it’s pretty much impossible to make whipped cream with these lower-fat dairy products: Where whole milk is between three to four percent and half-and-half contains anywhere from 10.5 to 18 percent fat, heavy cream, the ideal base for whipped cream, clocks in at 36 percent fat—at least.
According to food science writer Harold McGee, that high-fat content is crucial to creating the fluffy, swoopy texture we’ve come to expect from whipped cream. The fat allows the cream to whip more effectively, and to maintain said dense peaks while minimizing froth.
In a perfect world, we’d always have heavy cream around to make whipped cream, but these are, to say the least, imperfect times. Besides, there is a way, in the immortal words of Tim Gunn, to nevertheless make it work with whole milk or half-and-half, as long as you’re willing to make some creative changes to your average whipped cream recipe. Here, we’ll show you how to make whipped cream out of milk—all without getting whipped into a frenzy. (And if your problem is actually a surplus of heavy cream, we’ve got some ideas for that, too.)
1. Add gelatin.
For around three cups of whipped cream made with whole milk, The Culinary Institute of America chef instructor Steven Isaac first recommends blooming 3 teaspoons of gelatin in 4 ounces of milk. The gelatin thickens and helps the milk maintain its volume once whipped. Once the gelatin's bloomed, microwave it in five-second increments until just liquified.
2. Add more milk & chill.
In the bowl you plan to whip the cream in, combine 12 ounces of cold milk with the gelatin-mixture, stir to combine well, and refrigerate for an hour. (Cold milk, like cold cream, is more likely to whip and not curdle.)
Once thoroughly chilled, sweeten the mix to taste. Then, commence whipping: With a stand mixer, hand mixer, or even by hand with a whisk, beat until the stabilized milk grows thick and holds peaks.
1. Add gelatin.
Escoffier chef instructor Colette Christian also recommends the use of gelatin when making whipped cream with anything other than, well, cream. For around three cups of whipped cream made with half-and-half, first combine 1 1/4 teaspoons of powdered gelatin with 2 ounces of half-and-half. Allow the gelatin to bloom for about five minutes.
2. Combine the half-&-half with sugar.
Meanwhile, in the bowl you plan to whip the cream in, sweeten 10 ounces of cold half-and-half to taste.
3. Melt the gelatin & add to the half-and-half.
Microwave the gelatin mixture in five-second increments until completely liquified. Add the liquid gelatin to the sweetened half-and-half, stirring with a whisk to combine well. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, or until slightly thickened but not overly solidified.
Whip the mixture using a stand mixer, hand mixer, or whisk until the cream is voluminous and can hold peaks. Looser cream will take less time, but if you’re aiming for a stiffer, stabler texture, that will require a little more beating. Be sure not to get distracted or leave your mixer unattended while beating—the cream will firm up within minutes and will devolve into butter if you aren’t careful.