Looking for a heavy cream substitute for pasta, soups, and baked desserts that isn’t going to dramatically alter the flavor of your recipe?
Countless alternatives exist out there for you to try, but it’s good to always be sure that what you’re cooking with won’t spoil what’s on your plate.
Leave behind your days of emergency runs to the grocery store by keeping this list of substitutes for heavy whipping cream readily available during meal planning times so that you can still cook the meals you and your family love at home with a little help from some off-recipe ingredients.
What Is Heavy Cream?
With one of the highest fat contents amongst dairy products, heavy cream, which is also referenced as heavy whipping cream, is the thick part of the milk product. If you looked at a filled cup, the heavy cream could be found on the top of fresh milk, and it’s what is responsible for the infamous milk-stache.
Heavy cream’s high fat content sits at somewhere between 36-40%. The higher fat content of heavy cream allows it to whip evenly and hold its’ shape well, therefore it is often used in decorating pastries, but it also works great to thicken soups and pasta sauces, much like the creamy sauce in penne alla vodka, for example.
Shelf life for heavy cream, opened or unopened in the refrigerator, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, or USDA, remains good for up to one month.
What’s The Difference Between Heavy Cream and Whipping Cream?
When heavy cream is whipped, the stiff peaks make for the most beautiful, decadent pie and cake decorations. Offering a vast range of use cases, heavy cream adds flavor to goodies like ice cream, frosting, crème fraîche, and more.
Milk fat that conglomerates at the top of fresh milk that has yet to be homogenized, a process which transforms the fat into extremely tiny droplets that remain suspended in the liquid, is what is considered to be heavy cream.
Whipping cream has a much lower fat content than heavy cream does. The Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, requires whipping cream be labeled at 30-36% milk fat, with the remaining liquid ingredient being regular milk, which is closely similar in nutritional value to heavy cream.
The main difference here, of course, is the amount of fat. Whipped cream is popularly utilized to top sweets like ice cream sundaes, banana splits, Jell-O dessert salads, and hot chocolate, just to name a few.
What’s The Difference Between Heavy Cream and Half and Half?
Notably, half and half is equal parts of both whole milk and heavy cream itself. In other words, it is literally half milk and half cream. Half and half is sold next to the other dairy products in most grocery stores and has a fat percentage within the range of 10.5-18%.
Significant amounts of consumers use half and half in various savory recipes for casseroles, pasta sauces, sweets, and it’s of the most favored coffee creamers sold on the market.
How To Make Heavy Cream At Home
Thankfully, if you don’t have any heavy cream, there may not be any need to run to the grocery store. Many heavy cream alternatives exist out there and we will get into discussing a few of them later in this article, but for now, all you’re going to need is whole milk and unsalted butter to make your own heavy cream substitute. In the event that you don’t have whole milk in your refrigerator, half and half will also suffice.
- Take 3/4 cup of whole milk and blend in ⅓ cup of butter, but be sure to melt it first. Stir the melted butter into the mixture until you’ve achieved a creamy consistency.
- One cup of heavy cream will be produced by following these measurements. Try adding in one tablespoon of flour if you wish to thicken the cream; you may need to do this if you’re using a type of low-fat milk.
- As far as texture goes, this foolproof heavy cream substitute is spot on, however, the taste won’t be the same as the real thing, nor will it whip as well.
- When you’re planning to use half and half, the directions will change somewhat.
- Only ⅙ cup butter needs to be mixed with ⅞ of a cup of half and half to replace a cup of heavy cream for just about any recipe that calls for it.
- Additionally, half and half is a healthy option for substituting heavy cream and can often be used without butter in recipes for things like soup and pasta sauces. Unlike a majority of the other heavy cream alternatives, the half and half method also will whip nicely.
What Can Be Used As A Heavy Cream Substitute For Pasta?
Other than the easy butter, milk, and half and half mixtures mentioned previously, I’ll share more of what I believe to be the best heavy cream substitutes.
Nothing is worse than planning a hearty meal only to discover that you’re missing one key ingredient, especially if it’s a meal you’ve been looking forward to enjoying.
For that reason, cooks have experimented for decades to find the most successful solutions, and lucky for us, that knowledge has been passed down. Without further adieu, here’s my helpful list of heavy cream alternatives for the next time you need them while making pasta:
Whole milk on its own has a fat content of 3.25% and is feasible for replacing the heavy cream in a pasta or potatoes casserole recipe if need be.
Considering that there are 85.9 grams of fat in one cup of milk, don’t expect high peaks or for it to hold any shape when whipped up, though.
Conversely, the fat percentage on sour cream sits at 20%, allowing it to give best results in areas like baking sweet treats or topping them with a dollop of sour cream, much like you would for some crepes.
Lactic acids inside the sour cream are what give it its’ consistency and tart flavor, but this may be cause for concern of altering the flavor in some dishes; it’s up to you to make the call about what situations sour cream would make a great substitute in.
Any amount of heavy cream the recipe calls for can be entirely replaced by sour cream. Avoid using it in warm dishes due to the fact that the sour cream tends to curdle when cooked at high temperatures in an oven.
Even if cream cheese isn’t suitable for whipping, like so many of these other substitutes, when it is used in place of heavy cream, it will thicken up perfectly in soups, frosting, and creamy pasta sauces.
Sour cream can change the overall taste and texture of a dish, and opting for the use of cream cheese is no different, so pick wisely when deciding what pasta dish you’ll be adding it to.
Be sure to soften it beforehand so that it melts with ease. Under normal circumstances, I have my cream cheese on a bagel, but using it as a substitute totally makes my taste buds dance. Plus, making the Alfredo sauce with cream cheese for my fettuccine Alfredo pasta recipe is so good, it almost makes me want to run out of the originally needed ingredients on purpose.
Cornstarch and Milk
Another healthy option to replace one cup of heavy cream in any given pasta recipe is by combining 2 tablespoons of cornstarch to one cup of milk, or you can swap for a low-fat milk such as skim milk or a non-dairy liquid like almond milk.
Continue stirring the mixture until it has begun turning thick, but keep in mind that this isn’t going to be a useful replacement for whipped cream due to the fact that it won’t hold shape.
Subsequently, this white sauce mixture will be found to be most useful in pasta sauces, soup, and baked goods.
How awesome is it that we can use something like cottage cheese as a heavy cream substitute for pasta? Due to the sheer fact that it magically works out for the right recipes, calling on cottage cheese to get the job done when heavy cream is out of reach has become my personal favorite alternative!
Warning to those who require low-sodium diets: some cottage cheese brands are high in salt content, so you may want to adjust your plan depending on how much sodium already exists in your recipe.
Containing high amounts of protein and numerous micronutrients, cottage cheese is the underdog of all dairy products and can be the substitute for heavy cream in equal amounts.
Not only does it hold up well as a stand-alone snack, but it’s useful in constructing elaborate meals too. All curds can be broken apart and mixed away in a blender or food processor; splash in 1/4 cup milk for every ¼ cup cottage cheese to give the pasta sauces you cook and serve their signature creamy texture.
Having a considerable 60% less water content than regular dairy milk is evaporated milk, a good substitute for heavy cream if it was to be used as a liquid ingredient. Regardless of how helpful and creamy evaporated milk is in pasta recipes, it still is not recommended as being one of the alternatives to heavy cream that can be whipped.
Without that extra thickness, the evaporated milk has no chance of forming those tall, stiff peaks you’d expect to see topping your most beloved dessert. Even still, it certainly is lovely to cook with, and if you’re making dessert treats of any kind, you can add a few drops of vanilla flavoring to the evaporated milk for an extra sweet touch.
Protein-rich heavy cream substitutes like greek yogurt will come in handy for thickening soups and pasta sauces, whereas using plain yogurt is unhelpful as it becomes too watery to deal with and has too strong of a taste of sugar.
Unfortunately, as Greek yogurt has a low fat content, it cannot be used for whipping purposes, nor would it be sweet enough to compare well nicely atop a slice of lemon meringue pie.
Nonetheless, this is a great way to insert a healthy alternative into a dish, and you can also mix equal parts Greek yogurt with whole milk to attempt at achieving the same consistency as heavy cream. Such a shame it is that this sour substitute doesn’t give any value to the flavor of desserts!
What Are The Vegan and Dairy-Free Options?
Anyone searching for the vegan alternative to using heavy cream for pasta would be pleased to find our extensive list of appetizing dairy-free choices. In fact, some of the best substitutes out there, in my opinion, are vegan.
Now, let’s get started in introducing them so that you can decide what vegan option is right for you based on your recipe’s needs and what you’ve got to work with in the kitchen.
Scrumptious in flavor, coconut cream is the vegan way to make whipped cream. It’s 100% dairy-free and rich like velvet, but there is a small amount of planning ahead that needs to be done if you’d like to employ coconut cream over dairy products.
It can be purchased on its own, but not every grocery store is going to have the same stock, so I can’t promise that your local grocer will have it for sale. However, you can actually make the coconut cream right at home by following the steps below:
- Allow for one can of coconut milk to chill in the fridge for one night, making certain to use full-fat coconut milk. Open the can once you’re beginning to start cooking your recipe and pour the cream of coconut liquid (or coconut water, to be more specific) into an airtight container, where it can be stored in the fridge and used in other recipes, like smoothies.
- With a spoon, scoop out the hard, dense coconut cream that has remained in the can, and don’t panic, it is safe to eat despite its thick texture. Empty the contents of the can into a mixer with a whisk attachment and beat on high until a fluffiness begins to manifest. Do not overbeat the coconut cream!
- Lastly, coconut doesn’t have to be the only flavor there is to enjoy in your homemade frosting. Sprinkle in seasonings like pure vanilla extract, maple syrup, confectioners’ sugar, lemon zest, and more; one of the most exciting parts about cooking is how often it allows for you to have fun and get creative!
Amongst the most noteworthy things to mention about cooking with coconut cream is the intense coconut flavor it adds to the whipped cream, despite any added flavoring. Thus, it is wise to only bust out this dairy substitute whenever you believe it won’t impact the flavor of a dish negatively.
Olive Oil and Soy Milk
Take roughly 1/3 cup of olive oil and whisk into 2/3 cups of soy milk for one cup of a dairy-free substitute that will taste the most similar to heavy cream out of all of these alternatives for pasta add-ins.
Soy milk and olive oil are also friendly to the vegan diet, of course, but this light cream will not whip well. Don’t hesitate to use this instead of heavy cream in baking recipes as well; you’ll know what I mean when I say it enhances the flavor of the dish!
Silken Tofu and Soy Milk
Silken tofu, the softer version of tofu derived from condensed soy milk and formed into solid, white blocks. They’ll break apart easily in an immersion blender or food processor with equal parts soy or other plant-based milk, without leaving any unwanted clumps behind.
Prepping the tofu this way makes for an incredible, healthy, vegan whipped cream that is a near copycat to the leading brand of store-bought whipped topping. Simply stir in vanilla extract or sugar to complete the brief recipe.
Those on Whole30 and Paleo diets will be pleased to find a two-step recipe exists to make a vegan, dairy-free replacement to heavy cream. What you’ll need is one cup of raw cashews, soaked overnight in 1 ½ cups water, and an additional half cup of water. Here’s how you begin:
How To Make Cashew Cream
- Following draining and rinsing the soaked cashews, add them and the half cup of water to a blender and blend at high speed settings for one minute.
- Use a spoon or silicone spatula to push the mixture down the sides halfway into blending to ensure no big lumps sneak through. Blend well for another minute. Serve, and leftovers can be kept in the refrigerator for one week.
- 1 cup raw cashews, soaked in warm water overnight - or you can use a saucepan and boil the cashews for 15 minutes
- ½ – ¾ cup water
- 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- ½ tsp salt, more to taste
- freshly cracked pepper to taste
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- ½ tsp onion powder
- 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
- Drain the cashews.
- Add the cashews to a high-powered blender along with ½ cup water, garlic, onion powder, salt, pepper, nutritional yeast, and lemon juice. Blend on high speed until smooth and creamy. Add additional ¼ cup of water to your liking for a less creamy consistency.
- Blend on high speed until smooth and creamy. Add additional ¼ cup of water to your liking for a less creamy consistency. Scrape down the sides with a silicone spatula as you blend.
- Taste and adjust to seasonings to your liking. Add more nutritional yeast for a more cheesy flavor. Add more lemon for acidity.
With items like whipping cream, heavy cream, and half and half, one good thing is that, even though these are all separate products, they are so closely similar that they can be effortlessly replaced in recipes or only need minor alterations to be useful when an ingredient comes up short.
You can get back to cooking faster and feel stress-free when you’ve got pages and pages of heavy cream substitutes for pasta, soup, and baked desserts at your disposal. Utilize your palate and discover what alternatives in this comprehensive list will give you the most appetizing return for your specific recipe needs.