9 Simple Ways to Make a Heavy Cream Substitute
Heavy cream lends a velvety texture to anything it touches. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to make a heavy cream substitute when you're fresh out.
Heavy cream is the wonderfully fatty stuff—up to 40% fat, to be precise—that rises to the top of fresh milk. A staple of the dairy section, this product is often labeled “heavy whipping cream.” You likely see it every time you grab for a gallon of milk, but it’s one of those ingredients you buy only when a recipe specifically calls for it.
But what do you do when you don’t have real cream on hand and there’s no time to make a grocery run? Make your own cream substitute! The good news is there’s no shortage of ways to add fat to a recipe to make a quick and easy alternative. Here’s what to swap in—depending on what you’re cooking—and how to do it right.
Editor’s note: While you can replace heavy cream with ease in many recipes, you’ll see more consistent results with using alternatives in dishes like mashed potatoes, soups and sauces. Baking recipes, like cake and cookies, might take some trial and error to find the right texture and consistency.
1. Milk + Butter
Best All-Purpose Heavy Cream Substitute
Since butter is made of the fat removed from milk, you can make your own heavy cream by adding the fat right back into your milk. Simply melt 1/4 to 1/3 cup of butter, let it cool, then mix with 3/4 cup whole milk.
It might not be a perfect doppelganger, but you can use it in most applications—including baking. This substitute is ideal for sauces such as homemade Alfredo or the dressing that coats this herb-flavored chicken. Or use it to add an extra creamy texture to mashed potatoes, scrambled eggs or quiche.
Best for Cooking
As its name suggests, this coffee companion is half heavy cream, half milk—so it’s considerably less fatty than heavy cream. It’s usually more likely to be in your fridge, too. You can use this in the 1:1 ratio, or start with about half of the heavy cream called for and work your way up to the full amount as needed. This easy swap is a perfect solution when you want to indulge but without all the fat. Use it to lighten up potato soup or lobster bisque without sacrificing flavor or fulfillment.
Editor’s note: You can also add a little melted butter to half-and-half to increase the fat percentage when a richer flavor and texture is desired.
3. Evaporated Milk
Best for the Long Haul
Shutterstock / Julia Sudnitskaya
With less than half the liquid of regular milk, this thick, cooked-down milk works well in place of heavy cream in cooking, especially in recipes in which the cream is added as a liquid ingredient. Since it’s shelf-stable, you can keep it in the pantry for much longer than heavy cream in the fridge. One cup of heavy cream can be replaced with one cup of evaporated milk, or three-quarters of a cup of milk plus one-third of a cup of butter.
Editor’s note: Evaporated milk lends a slightly toasty, caramel taste, so keep that in mind when adding it to recipes. It makes a great substitute in recipes boasting a similar flavor profile—such as homemade caramel sauce or creme brulee.
4. Greek Yogurt
Best for Reducing Fat
Mix together equal parts milk and Greek yogurt to substitute for heavy cream in sauces and savory recipes. Protein-rich Greek yogurt will add richness and texture without as much fat as heavy cream—but heads up: it’s not ideal for baking.
Editor’s note: If you’d like the texture of the Greek yogurt to mimic that of real cream, just add a few tablespoons of milk to dilute the yogurt.
5. Coconut Cream
Best for Whipping
This dairy-free, vegan option is unique in both flavor and origin. Use it in curries, sauces and desserts—basically, for recipes that you wouldn’t mind coconut flavor added to. It’s a full-bodied, fattier and less watery version of coconut milk, so the texture should be just right for a dish like this shrimp curry.
Place a can of full-fat coconut milk in the refrigerator for 6-8 hours or overnight. After it’s chilled for this long, pour the liquid into a separate container or discard. Remove the thick, solid cream that’s left in the can and use it as a replacement for the heavy cream called for in your recipe.
Best for Sweet Sauces
Think of this fatty dairy product (up to 75% fat!) as the Italian version of cream cheese. It’s made from whole cream, cultures and acids, and with its high fat content, it’s extra creamy, indulgent and delicious. It lends a mildly sweet flavor so it’s great for sweet sauces. Or incorporate it into tomato soup, chicken tikka masala, macaroni and cheese, just about any pasta dish, or stir into the gravy that will smother your favorite pork chops (or any meat entree for that matter). The possibilities are truly endless. Check out a tasty cream cheese substitute, too.
Editor’s note: Mascarpone may need to be thinned with a little milk if you are using it in a cold application. In a hot one, it will melt just fine and won’t need to be thinned.
7. Sour Cream
Best for Cheesecakes
Also made from heavy cream, this is a perfect option for achieving the texture you’re after (especially in cheesecakes)—as long as you don’t mind the slightly “sour” taste. You can also sweeten sour cream with confectioners’ sugar and serve in place of traditional whipped cream.
8. Creme Fraiche
Best for Savory Sauces
You may not always have this in your fridge, but when you do, you’re in luck. Creme fraiche has a similar texture to sour cream but has a higher fat content, so it’s less likely to curdle. It’s great for thickening soups and stews and can add extra creaminess to ordinary mashed potatoes or a rich, savory sauce, like the one coating this succulent steak.
9. Powdered Heavy Cream
Best for Convenience
Annabelle Breakey/Getty Images
Powdered heavy cream is dehydrated sweet cream solids that add richness to baked goodies, like these in-a-jiffy biscuits, as well as coffee, tea, soups and sauces. Unlike fresh cream, milk and other dairy products, it has an incredibly long shelf life, so you can keep it in your pantry for last-minute additions. It can also be more cost-effective than fresh cream, especially if none is going to waste. It can be used 1:1 in any recipe calling for fresh heavy cream once it’s reconstituted.
To make one cup of liquid cream, use a blender or electric mixture to mix a 1/2 cup powder with one cup cold water. For best results, let the mixture sit for 6-8 hours or overnight in the refrigerator. Use the liquid mixture according to your recipe.
Editor’s note: You can add powdered cream directly to soups, sauces, coffee, tea, smoothies and other recipes that are already in a liquid state without reconstituting.
Check out more baking substitutes to use in a pinch.