Heavy cream is one of those things that is always in my fridge. It’s the perfect way to smooth out a sauce, add a creamy texture to a dessert, and is essential for creamy soups, unbeatable mashed potatoes, decadent cocktails, and so many other delicious recipes. And of course, it’s key for making whipped cream. So, it is super annoying when I open the fridge to discover that the bottle of cream I thought you had has disappeared into my husband’s morning coffee – or worse, is a little furry, fizzy, or smells distinctly tangy. A trip to the store just for heavy cream is an annoyance at the best of times, but it’s even worse when you only need a few tablespoons. Luckily, there are some substitutes you can use for heavy cream in your recipes, many of which are already in your fridge or pantry. These substitutes won’t necessarily whip up like heavy cream, but they will stand in for its creamy richness. Here’s what to swap into your recipes and how to do it.
Raid the fridge for milk and other dairy products
If you need whipped cream, but only have milk on hand, you are in luck; Justin Chapple has some tips on how to make whipped cream out of milk using a food processor. If you need both creaminess and thickening, whisk a couple tablespoons of cornstarch into a cup of whole milk, and add it to soups and other recipes being simmered, being sure that they come to a gentle boil to activate the thickening properties of the cornstarch.
If you have milk and butter, you are in even better shape. Heavy cream is basically whole milk with all the butterfat still in it. So, adding fat – in the form of melted butter – back to whole milk will effectively restore that balance. Because, science. While you cannot make a version of heavy cream in this way that will whip up the way store-bought heavy cream will (nor should you use it in homemade ice cream), you can make a cream that can be used in sauces, chowders, and other recipes. Whisk together three-quarters of a cup of whole milk with a quarter cup of melted and slightly cooled butter until smooth, and you will have a cup of heavy cream(ish). Or, for creamy texture and flavor – again for non-whipping uses – half and half can be substituted in equal measure for cream.
Crème fraîche is another good substitute for heavy cream. This thick, slightly tangy cream product is lighter than sour cream, and can be stirred into sauces when you need that creamy boost. It works especially well for macaroni and cheese, where the tang boosts the cheesy flavor.
Photo by Eiliv Aceron
Hit up your pantry
Keeping a can of evaporated milk is a lifesaver when you need something to swap in for milk, but canned evaporated milk is another good substitute for cream in recipes. Instead of diluting it with water as you do to create a milk substitute, simply use it straight from the can in equal measure to the heavy cream called for in the recipe.
Another simple swap for heavy cream is coconut cream, which can be purchased in cans. Be careful to look for unsweetened coconut cream and not the sweetened “cream of coconut,” and buy full-fat coconut milk. Be aware that it can bring a subtle coconut flavor to your dishes, so be careful about where and when you use it.
You can DIY a version of heavy cream by blending soy milk and a light neutral oil like grapeseed or avocado, to get that creamy and fatty combo in a vegan-safe alternative. Use a two-to-one ratio of soy milk and oil for this mixture.