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Nothing can replace the majesty of heavy cream.
However, if you’re short on stock or abstaining for other reasons, these heavy cream substitutes may surprise you with their practical deliciousness.
In this article, we’ll show you how to (literally) whip up an easy and satisfying heavy cream substitute for your baking/cooking adventures, including a tasty vegan heavy cream substitute.
But first, what are we replacing?
What Exactly Is Heavy Cream?
Heavy cream is the fat that accumulates on top of fresh milk.
According to the FDA Code of Federal Regulations Title 21, heavy cream is “cream which contains not less than 36 percent milkfat” (just had to get technical).
Thanks in part to this high-fat composition, heavy cream is a versatile ingredient, offering applications as a creamer, whipped cream, soup thickener, frosting, dressing, and much more.
Whether you’re avoiding dairy, a vegan, or simply out of heavy cream, this list of heavy cream substitutes is for everybody.
Kicking things off with a tried-and-true vegan option, coconut cream is our top pick for a non-dairy heavy cream substitute for several reasons.
First of all, the subtle, slightly sweet taste adds a delicious (but not overpowering) accent.
Like heavy cream, coconut cream whips up nicely, allowing it to stand in for many of the same uses.
Of course, the fat and calorie content per ounce of coconut cream is still very high, but not completely without nutritional value, including fiber, protein, and more.
If it suits your recipe, you can use coconut milkinstead, which will shave off a considerable amount of fat while retaining some nutritional value.
Right up there with coconut cream for many vegans is cashew cream, which offers a comparably broad range of uses, e.g., dips, soups, icing, smoothies, syrup, and more.
The naturally high fat content and neutral flavor of cashew cream makes it a fitting substitute for heavy cream that won’t mess up the flavor profile of whatever you’re cooking, baking, etc. in most cases.
We like Bake It With Love’s cashew cream recipe for its simplicity. Here are the steps:
- Submerge ¾ cup of raw cashews in water and let sit for two hours or more
- Drain the water and place the soaked cashews in a high-speed blender
- Add another ¼ cup of water
- Blend until smooth
At this point, you can chill the cream and whip it up after the fact, adding any sweeteners you like or just letting that mild and slightly nutty flavor do its thing.
Milk and Butter
Barring any dietary restrictions, milk and butter is one of the most common and accurate heavy cream substitutes, which makes sense for obvious reasons (moo).
Going back to our definition of most store bought heavy cream (36% or more milk fat), you can use butter and milk to essentially “synthesize” a very similar mixture, using the milk for the liquid part and the butter to stand in for the fatty part, or cream.
The critical question here is, okay, but how much of each should I use?
If you stick to a ratio of two parts whole milk and one part butter, you should arrive close to the natural fat composition of heavy cream.
We’re not talking about an exact science here, and of course, you can always add more of either ingredient.
Half-and-Half and Butter
Along similar lines is the combination of half-and-half and butter, which should get you to the fat composition of heavy cream with less butter because of the higher fat content of half-and-half (ranges from around 11% to 18%).
Another benefit in this case is that you’re likely to get closer to the target in terms of flavor because this combo contains actual cream.
As for our very unscientific titration, you can stick with three parts half-and-half to one part butter as your starting point for this mixture, adjusting as needed.
You can even forego the butter entirely if you’re okay with toning down the thickness a bit.
The main advantage of sour cream as a heavy cream substitute is that, in most cases, you’ve got enough “body” built in to closely mimic the creamy, thick texture of heavy cream with little to no finagling.
Working around the potential disadvantage—that tangy, tart taste that contrasts heavy cream—requires either masking (or balancing) this flavor with other ingredients or simply applying this substitute in a case where this isn’t an issue.
For example, soup, mashed potatoes, and sauces can usually withstand an infusion of tanginess.
As long as you accommodate for this taste discrepancy, sour cream is as easy as substitutes for heavy cream substitutes get: there’s nothing to mix, and it’s just a 1:1 ratio.
You’re definitely losing out on the creaminess factor when it comes to evaporated milk, which won’t hold up and/or whip nearly as well, but it subs in for heavy cream very effectively when it comes to baking.
Like sour cream, you can keep evaporated milk at a 1:1 ratio when replacing heavy cream with it, making any adjustments per your preferences.
The great thing about evaporated milk is that it is shelf stable, and with roughly twice the fat of whole milk, you can still cut it with butter (depending on the application) to get closer to the thickness of heavy cream.
Full-fat yogurt is not only going to get you there in terms of thickness, but it often overshoots the mark, requiring a bit of milk to more closely resemble the texture of heavy cream.
Assuming you are using the real stuff and not some sugar-sweetened imitator trying to cash in on yogurt marketing buzzwords, you’re going to be in a similar situation to the sour cream scenario flavor-wise (a bit tangy and/or sour).
As then, so now—you can use full-fat yogurt in soups, mashed potatoes, and other tangy-friendly recipes without too much (or any) accommodation.
Greek yogurt isn’t going to stand in very accurately for heavy cream as a whipped topping without some milk and sugar, but fun fact, you can use it the exact same way as sour cream (dips, tacos, etc.).
Plant-Based Milk and Olive Oil
Finally, if you’re okay with a more adventurous departure from the standard flavor profile of heavy cream, you can use soy, almond, or other plant-based milk and olive oil as a heavy cream substitute for baking.
Depending on the recipe and the type of milk you use, you may notice a slight hint of bitterness and/or an earthy taste, but in many cases, the flavor is mild enough to fade into the background. Using coconut oil instead of olive oil may steer the flavor closer to a confection-friendly arena.
Generally, starting with two parts milk to one part oil will get you in the wheelhouse for most baking projects, adjusting as always to meet your preferences.
Oh, we forgot to say it. Vegan!
Heavy Cream Substitute FAQ
Can I use milk instead of heavy cream?
While you can use milk instead of heavy cream in some recipes, you’re likely to notice a significant change in texture (less richness, creaminess) if milk is your only substitute.
However, using whole milk with butter will help you get much closer in this regard.
Per above, keeping the ratio to two parts whole milk and one part butter should bring you to a texture (and taste) that’s very similar to heavy cream.
Can I use sour cream instead of heavy cream?
Sour cream is an excellent stand-in for heavy cream that you can substitute on a 1:1 basis.
The key consideration in this case is the slightly sour and tangy flavor of sour cream (as opposed to the mildness of heavy cream).
This may require you to compensate with sweeteners in the recipe and/or limit this substitution to soups, sauces, and other recipes that can smoothly integrate the flavor.
Is heavy cream half-and-half?
You can think of half-and-half as an “earlier point” on the spectrum of milk fatness (wow).
Half-and-half is an equal-parts combination of milk and cream that typically contains between 11-18% fat, where heavy cream is made from the fat that rests on top of fresh milk, resulting in a significantly greater fat content of 36-40%.
Both are made from the same things, but the latter has a greater concentration of fat than the former.
How to make your own heavy cream?
This article covers several workarounds for heavy cream, including butter and milk, half-and-half and butter, and vegan options like coconut cream.
Aside from dietary restrictions, fat content and flavor are the two major considerations when considering heavy cream substitutes.
The application is also a key factor, as some heavy cream substitutes are better for baking than as a cooking ingredient or topping, and vice versa.
Milk, half-and-half, and/or butter combinations will allow you to adjust the richness of your heavy cream substitute to your liking while staying very close on the flavor front.
Coconut cream, plant-based milk, cashew cream, and olive oil are ideal heavy cream substitutes for vegans/vegetarians.