When it comes to types of cream and knowing which kind is best for baking, whipping up fresh whipped cream, or even using in your coffee, you have several options to choose between. Frankly, it can get confusing and overwhelming if you don't know the key differences between the four most basic types: half-and-half, light cream, whipping cream, and heavy cream. The primary difference between these four grades of cream lies in their fat content. Here are some quick and simple tips that will go a long way toward helping you understand the differences and choose the best dairy for every job:
Half-and-half contains between 10.5% and 18 % milk fat content, and it is used mostly in tea and coffee.When a recipe calls for half-and-half, you can substitute 7/8 cup milk plus 1/2 tablespoon of melted butter for ever cup of half-and-half called for.
You can also try using whole milk as a direct substitute for half-and-half in a recipe, but you may experience a slight difference in both flavor and texture. They are similar, but half-and-half is richer and creamier.
Just as you don't want to boil milk (it forms that unappealing skin), half-and-half shouldn't be boiled. Similarly, neither can be whipped. But both are great for adding dairy richness.
Light cream, sometimes called "coffee cream" or "table cream," is higher in fat than half-and-half. Light cream usually has around 20% milk fat. In addition to using in coffee, light cream is wonderful in sauces, soups, and for drizzling over desserts like fresh fruit or pound cake.
Whipping cream can be anywhere from 30-35% milk fat content. Like light cream, it can be used in sauces, soups, and desserts. Whipping cream can be used to make a whipped cream, but it will not hold its stability quite as well as heavy cream--which forms stiff peaks when whipped.
Heavy cream, or heavy whipping cream, has the most fat content--at anywhere from 35-38%. It is the best type of cream to use for making homemade whipped cream, as it will form stiff and highly stable, fluffy peaks when whipped for a few minutes.
If you find yourself without heavy cream next time you're baking, try this substitution: 3/4 cup milk plus 1/3 cup butter for 1 cup of heavy cream. However, if the recipe calls for whipping that cream, it won't work. You need the fat that's fully incorporated in heavy cream in order to get whipped volume.
You can also use evaporated milk as a direct substitute for heavy cream, as long as it is simply being used as a liquid ingredient in baking or cooking. Evaporated milk has a more concentrated creamy richness than fresh milk, but it won't whip as cream does.