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The 12 Best Substitutes for Heavy Cream

Midway through your mise en place, you realize there’s no heavy cream in the fridge. Here are some easy substitutes to get the job done.

By Elle Wignall
Sep 13, 2022
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Heavy cream is used in a wide variety of dishes both sweet and savory to add richness and body. While it’s a staple for pastry chefs and might be found in more households around the holidays, heavy cream may not have a permanent place in your fridge. Whether you forgot to pick it up at the supermarket or you’re looking for a vegan replacement in a casserole, it’s likely you have a pantry staple or two that you can substitute in place of heavy cream to ensure your dish turns out just as creamy.

When milk is processed, varying levels of milk fats are left in the liquid. Picture it like a scale of fat-free to heavy cream: Skim milk has all of the fat removed, while whole milk contains about 3.5% milk fats. Heavy cream is made up of the collection of milk fats that haven’t homogenized—or mixed into—the milk, and it contains 36-40% milk fat. It’s thicker than milk and has a velvety mouthfeel that translates well into  cozy macaroni and cheese, fluffy whipped cream, and a base for chowder. Here are some easy substitutes for heavy cream.

Easiest Substitute: Milk and Butter

The simplest substitute for heavy cream comes together with two other dairy staples. If you have whole milk and butter in the fridge, you can have a creamy concoction that works well for baking and cooking (but, unfortunately, not for whipping) in minutes.

Step 1: Melt the Butter

For the equivalent of one cup of heavy cream, melt ¼ cup of unsalted butter in our Butter Warmer or a microwave-safe Bowl. Let it cool to room temperature.

Step 2. Add in Milk

To replicate the fat content, this works best with whole milk. Once the butter has cooled completely, add in ¾ cup milk and whisk to combine. If all you have is lowfat milk, you can still make a convincing cream substitute—just whisk in a tablespoon of flour to thicken the mixture.

Best Vegan Substitute: Cashew Cream

Like milk, cashews have a subtle sweetness that can be used in sweet or savory dishes. It will even thicken while cooking. You’ll need a high-powered blender for this method, so if you don’t have one, opt for another non-dairy substitute.

Step 1: Blend the Cashews

In a high-powered blender, combine ½ cup unsalted, unroasted cashews with 1 ½ cup water. For an even thicker cream, use only 1 cup. Blend on high until smooth, 1–5 minutes based on the strength of your blender. The mixture will keep for up to 3 days in the fridge.

Healthiest Substitute: Milk and Cornstarch

Cornstarch is your kitchen’s secret thickening weapon. Flavorless and odorless, when stirred into milk it creates a substitute heavy cream with the right consistency. If you don’t mind a little less flavor, this is a great healthier option.

Step 1: Stir Cornstarch into Milk

In one cup of lowfat milk, whisk two tablespoons of cornstarch until it dissolves. Let it rest for a few minutes, giving it the occasional stir, until it has thickened.

Additional Substitutes

Beyond our top three methods for replacing heavy cream, creative cooks everywhere have come up with even more substitutes to use in a pinch.

Half-and-Half and Butter

Half-and-half has a little more fat than whole milk—around 10%—making it an even closer ingredient than milk to heavy cream.

Step 1: Melt the Butter

For the equivalent of one cup of heavy cream, melt ¼ cup of unsalted butter in a microwave-safe bowl or Saucepan. Let it cool to room temperature.

Step 2: Mix the Half-and-Half into the Butter

Once the butter has cooled completely, add in ¾ cup half-and-half and whisk to combine.

Evaporated Milk

Evaporated milk works as a heavy cream substitute that has the benefit of being shelf-stable. Keep a can in the pantry for a quick and easy swap.

Step 1: Substitute One-to-One with Evaporated Milk

Simply replace the heavy cream in a recipe with evaporated milk using the same amount called for in your recipe.

Oat Milk and Vegan Butter

Oat milk is widely accepted as the most faithful substitute for dairy milk. This mixture may be slightly thinner than heavy cream, but will still work well. Use unsalted vegan butter if you can find it.

Step 1: Mix the Oat Milk and Vegan Butter

Whisk together ⅔ cup oat milk and 5 tablespoons vegan butter until blended and use it for vegan or dairy-free cooking.

Coconut Cream

Another non-dairy option for replacing heavy cream is full-fat coconut milk—specifically the cream that rises to the top of the can. It acts as a one-to-one substitute, and is a great option to replace whipped cream. If you choose this option, keep in mind that it will impart a coconut flavor onto your recipe.

Step 1: Refrigerate the Can

To encourage the cream to rise to the top of the can, pop it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or up to overnight.

Step 2: Reserve the Coconut Milk

Open the can and drain the thin coconut milk into a separate container. It can be used in other recipes.

Step 3: Use the Coconut Cream as a One-to-One Substitute

Use the coconut cream as you would heavy cream. If you want to make whipped coconut cream, place a stainless steel bowl in the freezer for 10 minutes before placing the coconut cream in the bowl and mixing with a hand beater until airy.

Cream Cheese

This soft cheese works well in place of heavy cream and will complement recipes that could use a little tang, like cheese-based dips or soups.

Step 1: Replace Heavy Cream in a Recipe with Cream Cheese

Use a one-to-one substitute for the heavy cream in your recipe. For ease of use, let it reach room temperature first.

Cottage Cheese and Milk

Cottage cheese just needs a little blending and some milk to make a convincing heavy cream from its protein-packed curds. Like cream cheese, cottage cheese will give your recipe a distinctly cheesy, tangy flavor.

Step 1: Blend the Cottage Cheese and Milk

For one cup of heavy cream substitute, blend ½ cup of cottage cheese and ½ cup milk in a blender or with an immersion blender until smooth.

Greek Yogurt and Milk

A high protein option, greek yogurt masquerades well as heavy cream when thinned out with milk. Since this option is lower in fat, it  may leave baked goods a bit less soft than they would be with cream.

Step 1: Mix Greek Yogurt and Milk

For one cup of heavy cream replacement, mix ½ cup of each Greek yogurt and milk.

Silken Tofu and Soy Milk

Silken tofu is a creamy, flan-like version of tofu made from soy milk with fewer coagulants than the firm variety. It breaks apart easily, is high in protein, and  can be whipped like heavy cream.

Step 1: Blend Silken Tofu and Soy Milk

In a blender or using an immersion blender, blend ½ cup silken tofu with ½ cup soy milk for one cup of replacement heavy cream. To whip, add any extracts you like and beat with a hand mixer until it forms peaks.

Sour Cream,  Crème Fraîche, or Mascarpone

These three ingredients can be used in place of heavy cream with a one-to-one substitution with just a few caveats. Sour cream will add tanginess to your dish, and if you use it for soups or other hot dishes, it’s best to add it in at the end to avoid curdling. Thin out the mascarpone or crème fraîche  to your liking with a bit of milk to get it closer to the consistency of heavy cream.

Ready to Cook?

When you find yourself without heavy cream, it’s very likely that with a little creativity you can have a suitable replacement whipped up in no time. Don’t let the absence of heavy cream keep you from trying dishes like Chef Evan LeRoy’s brisket mac and cheese that calls for 2 cups of heavy cream.

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