What Is Heavy Whipping Cream? Substitutes, Recipes, and Storage

Here's everything you want to know about heavy whipping cream from storage to substitutions.

whipped cream in mixing bowl
Photo: Blaine Moats

Few ingredients add richness and body to recipes more easily than heavy whipping cream. It’s the key to the luscious appeal of many dessert recipes, from custards to whipped cream-topped pies. When it comes to the great ways to top desserts, it’s hard to top whipped cream, which is often made from heavy whipping cream. Of course, heavy whipping cream isn’t just for desserts! It adds richness and body to many recipes; you can use it in anything from an elegant pan sauce to a creamy breakfast casserole. Here, we tell you everything you need to know about heavy whipping cream so you can get the most out of this versatile ingredient.

What Is Heavy Whipping Cream?

Have you ever heard the saying, “cream rises to the top”? That tells you a lot about what heavy whipping cream is. Before it’s homogenized, fresh milk will naturally separate, with a thick layer rising to the top. That thick layer is the cream, and it floats on top because of its high fat content. The cream is then skimmed off for processing.

Heavy Cream vs. Heavy Whipping Cream

Heavy whipping cream is made from milk and contains no less than 36% milk fat. Sometimes, the product also includes additives, often to help stabilize the product.  

So, what’s the difference between heavy cream and whipping cream? Whipping cream contains between 30% and 36% milk fat. Heavy cream, sometimes labeled heavy whipping cream, contains more than 36% milk fat.

What Is Heavy Whipping Cream Used For?

Heavy whipping cream is often used to make whipped cream. While you can buy all kinds of readymade dessert toppings (in cans in the dairy aisle and in tubs in the freezer aisle), once you’ve made a rich and creamy version from scratch, it’s hard to go back. Here’s how to make whipped cream from heavy whipping cream. Bonus: This article also tells you how to freeze whipped cream—a genius strategy for always having a great dessert topping on hand. 

Heavy whipping cream can also be used in dessert recipes themselves—the most decadent custards, such as crème brûlée and pot-de crème, often have a generous pour of heavy cream to add richness. Heavy cream can add extra extravagance to many other dessert recipes, from our decadent Dulce de Leche Cake to our amazing Two-Layer Chocolate Peanut Butter Cream Pie. And of course, many ice cream recipes often call for heavy cream as well. 

But heavy whipping cream goes well beyond desserts. We love the way it adds extra richness to soups (such as this amazing Creamy Wild Rice-Mushroom Soup) and casseroles (like this epic Butternut Squash Lasagna). Heavy cream can make pasta dishes, like this Creamy Mushroom and Bacon Pasta, extra decadent. And heavy cream can sometimes be the starring ingredient in a sauce—try this irresistible Garlic-Thyme Sauce on fish, chicken, or pork.

Substitutes for Heavy Whipping Cream in Recipes

If you find yourself bereft of heavy whipping cream for a recipe, you have options!

For soups, sauces, and casseroles, here’s a good workaround: Melt ¼ cup (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, then allow it to cool to room temperature. Whisk with ¾ cup of whole milk. The milk will offer creaminess, while the butter will add the rich flavor you seek.

Our Test Kitchen has come up with other heavy cream alternatives, including evaporated milk, light cream, half-and-half, whole milk, and heavy cream powder. For more information on those options, check out, The Best Heavy Cream Substitutes

For topping desserts, good substitutes include canned whipped cream (such as Reddi-wip) and non-dairy whipped dessert topping (such as Cool Whip). Or, try crème fraîche (a tangy cultured cream with 30% milkfat) sweetened with sugar or honey.

Dairy-Free Substitutes for Heavy Whipping Cream

If you need to avoid dairy, good substitutes for heaving whipping cream include:

  • A mixture of plant-based milk (such as soy or rice milk) and oil.
  • Tofu
  • Coconut cream or coconut milk

How to Store Heavy Whipping Cream

Heavy whipping cream should be stored in the refrigerator according to package directions. It should smell fresh and be creamy white in color. If it smells spoiled or has mold on it, discard it immediately.

Now that you’ve got the basics of heavy whipping cream down, you know why it’s such a great ingredient for making indulgent desserts and adding extra richness to savory dishes. Ready to take heavy cream to the next level? Try making Olive Oil Whipped Cream.

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