Heavy cream is a crucial ingredient in many recipes, but you may find yourself in need of a heavy cream substitute for a number of reasons. Maybe you forgot to buy some, or you don’t eat dairy, or you’re having a dessert emergency (hey, we’ve all been there). The good news is that there are various alternatives to heavy cream that will provide a similar texture and flavor, including both vegan and dairy-free options, so you don’t need to head out to the grocery store just yet.
Heavy cream is the fat that collects on top of fresh milk if it hasn’t been homogenized or blended. According to FDA standards, heavy cream must contain between 36% and 40% fat—one of the highest percentages of any dairy product. While it’s sometimes called whipping cream or heavy whipping cream, these commercial products are distinct: Products labeled “whipping cream” may have a fat content as low as 30% and often contain stabilizers that help the liquid remain aerated when beaten. For most cooking purposes, however, the three items are interchangeable. similar, light cream, which has a fat content of around 20%, can be used in place of heavy cream for most cooking and baking projects, though you may find the results lacking somewhat in texture and moisture.
One of the most popular uses for heavy cream is making homemade whipped cream, as the fat content allows the cream to whip up into a light, fluffy topping that holds its shape extremely well. Light cream and whipping cream (the latter, perhaps, surprisingly) don’t whip up as quickly or as voluminously. Beyond dessert toppings, heavy cream may be used to add moisture and tenderness to baked goods, lend a velvety consistency to mashed potatoes, bring richness to soups and sauces, and imbue ice cream with its signature creamy texture.
Regardless of what you’re making, the following are the best heavy cream substitutes for cooking, baking, or whipping into dessert.
1. Half-and-half + butter
Because heavy cream is so high in fat, you can often create a substitute with other high-fat ingredients. In terms of taste and consistency, a combination of half-and-half and butter is one of the best substitutes for heavy whipping cream—it tastes just like the real thing. As its name suggests, half-and-half is made up of half whole milk and half cream, and its fat content is typically between 10.5% and 18%. By adding melted butter, which is around 80% fat, to the liquid, you can increase that fat content.
For this substitution, you’ll want to combine ¾ cup of half-and-half with ¼ cup melted unsalted butter—this will replace 1 cup of heavy cream. The substitute will work well in both cooking and baking, but it’s not the best option for whipping. If you’re willing to forgo a little richness, you could use all half-and-half as a 1-to-1 substitution and skip the butter entirely.
2. Milk + butter
No half-and-half? You can make a similar heavy cream alternative using regular milk and butter. Whole milk has a fat percentage of around 3.5% and is preferable to lower-fat varieties, but you’ll still want to use more melted butter than you would with half-and-half. For best results, try mixing ⅔ cup of whole milk with ⅓ cup butter. Whisk well to combine before adding to any baking or cooking projects. Again, you won’t be able to whip this mixture into a topping.
3. Coconut cream
For a vegan heavy cream substitute, consider using coconut cream. You can often spot coconut cream, which is thicker and higher in fat than coconut milk, on store shelves right alongside its kin. You can also steal it from a can of full-fat coconut milk: Chill the coconut milk overnight, then scoop the solidified coconut cream off the top, leaving the watery coconut liquid behind. Use this ingredient as a 1-to-1 substitute for heavy cream in baking or cooking, but note that it will impart a coconut flavor to your dish.