Creams: The ultimate guide

Among dairy products, cream is one of the most loved and useful ingredient with its smooth texture and creamy taste. Most nations use some kind of dairy ingredient in its kitchen every day, it is one of the basic material in human nutrition. Animal milk is the source of a lot of different type of dairy product worldwide, which can be used to prepare drinks, meals, savory snacks and pastries.

What creams do you prefer?
What creams do you prefer?

💡Cream types: what you need to know

This article will try to explain the basic qualities of various cream types and discuss differences between these in the UK and the US: half-and-half cream, single cream, whipping and whipped cream, heavy cream, double cream, clotted cream, sour cream, cream cheese and butter. And you can get some ideas for using the creams in your baking and pastry making.

With all the creams available, it can be difficult to know which one to choose. Here are a few things to think about when making your choice:

👅Different types of dairy creams have different flavors, some with more nutty notes or more sweet notes.

🔣 Creams come in different milk fat percentages. The higher the milk fat percentage, the richer and thicker the cream will be.

🥛 Some dairy creams are intended for drinking while others are intended for cooking or baking.

🥛It’s all about the milk

The base of all mentioned creams is animal milk, and in the most case it means cow milk. But creams can be from goat, sheep and even camel and horse milk in Africa and Middle East. As structure of unhomogenized fresh milk is unstable, fat can rise up to the surface and this smooth fatty layer gives the cream.  It is understandable that the most important quality of cream is the milkfat. Every country has its own food making history, practices and special food regulations which means creams from various lands differ from each other. The table below represents names and fat content of cream types in the UK and the US according to their national regulations. Cream products have different names, different “fattiness” but also differences in their flavor and texture.

The main reason for this? The quality of the milk varies based on cow species, types and conditions of farming and feeds for example and therefore cream products have a little bit different sensory properties even after the same producing process.

Creams: the table

UK Product nameFat contentUSA Product nameFat content
Half cream / Sterilized half cream12%+Half-and-half10.5%-18%
Cream/ Single cream  18%+Cream18%+
Sour cream(~18%)Sour cream / Cultured sour cream18%+
Whipping cream35%+ (35-36%)Light whipping cream/ Whipping cream30%-36%
Whipped cream = whipped whipping cream35%+ (35-36%)Whipped cream = whipped light whipping cream30%-36%
Heavy cream38%Heavy cream / Heavy whipping cream36%+ (36-44%)
Cream cheese45-65%Cream cheese33% + max. 55% moisture
Double cream48%+  
Clotted cream55%+ (55-60%)
Butter80%+ +2% dry non-fat materialButter80%+
A detailed description of cream fats in the USA and the UK

All cream products can be pasteurized or ultra-pasteurized meaning that they are treated for a specific time on a specific temperature to reduce number of microbes in them. Pasteurization is lighter than ultra-pasteurization, The latter has a stronger effect on flavor and texture of the product while time is minimum two seconds and temperature is 280 °F or above during the process.

There are also light, fat reduced, sweetened and flavored versions of creams. Nowadays you can find more organic products on the shelves too.

❓Which product is the best choice to make a dessert, cake or pastry?

A photo of strawberries with cream
A favorite: Strawberries with cream

In order to make the right decision is good to know what role the cream will play in the final dish or dessert. Higher fat content makes the structure of the cream more stable, so it does not separate, curdle or split in hot environment. Fat is also important to make an airy but stiff whipped cream. However, above 36% fat content cream is too straight to be fluffy enough for a whipped cream. Creams of 38% fat or higher are tougher with the increase of fat content and more difficult to mix them with bare hands.

Cream

Cream is a smooth liquid product from cow milk with more than 18% milkfat in both, the UK and the US. English people and regulations also call it as single cream. It is can be used to increase the creaminess of soups, as a base of sauces, added to omelets and scrambled eggs. You can use it for caramel sauce, custards, biscuits and also over pudding and fruits. It cannot be whipped and will curdle under boiling.

Whipping Cream

For whipping there is whipping cream in both countries with more than 30% of butterfat. The English version has 5% more fat regularly. Use this type of cream to make whipped cream or add smooth fat to desserts. Heavy cream whips better and keeps its volume longer time, however whipping creams are also a good base of toppings and fillings. It is the perfect choice for mousses, decorating truffles, and pound cakes. Just make sure to use it straight away after being whipped.

Whipped Cream

The basic meaning of whipped cream is the same in the two countries: result of whipping the whipping cream. Since fat content of the whipping cream is different in America and Britain, whipped cream also varies in flavor and texture. Whipped cream from English whipping cream is more stable. However, as its name shows it is possible to get a ticker whipped cream in the US from heavy whipping cream.

This whips up very easily and well, doubles in volume and holds its shape for a long time. It is important to know that ultra-pasteurized heavy cream will not create froth so you will to use just the pasteurized version. In pastry making for soft cake filling the best choice is whipped cream, which can be flavored in many ways. Whipped cream is a really good decorating and additional ingredient. The largely available pressured-packed whipped cream in stores is a liquid cream in a metal container under pressure of nitrogen oxide. When it comes out through the valve turns into a ready-to-use whipped cream. With its long expiring date and minimum 25% milk fat, it is ideal to decorate cakes, desserts and fruits quickly.

Heavy Creams

Heavy creams are almost the same in the UK and the US. Heavy cream is used for panna cotta, ganache, crème brûlée or no-bake peanut butter pie. It is the absolute base for whipped cream and to make half-and-half. When a cream has less than 18% fat, British call it half cream (above 12% fat) and for Americans it is Half-and-half (10.5-18% fat). It is used as single cream so it can be poured over desserts, fruits, used in sauces, soups and coffees. Half-and-half is ideal for panna cotta. This cream does not whip, but it can substitute single cream or heavy cream in some fat-reduced recipe.

🥣How to make it

Half-and-half is usually made and used fresh at home by ½ cup of milk and ½ cup of heavy cream. Of course, there are other possible options to create it for example mixing 3/4 cup whole milk and ⅟4 cup heavy cream or ⅔ cup skim (low-fat) milk and ⅓ cup heavy cream.

Sour Cream

Sour cream is somehow special among cream products because it is not just a fatty part removed from the top of the milk, but also fermented with lactic acid producing bacteria. Due to this treatment, lactose in it transforms to lactic acid and it gives a tangy taste to this cream. Usual use of sour cream is savory dips, but also can be a good milkfat source in cake bases. Some cheesecake recipes also call for sour cream instead of cream cheese. It is good to know that it splits under boiling. Yogurt can be an alternative for sour cream especially when fat reduction is important.

Double Cream

An image of double cream in a jar and butter
Double Cream and Butter

One of the richest cream is double cream which other name is “country style”. Due to its high fat content is really easy to whip and is ideal for decorating and icing. Be careful not to over whip it because it becomes too thick or ended like butter. It is high in fat and has more stable, spoonable texture. It is used to make some kinds of tart, cake fillings and it adds smoothness in cookies, brownies and butter puddings.

Clotted Cream

There is one thicker cream than double cream and that is clotted cream. Even without whipping has heavy, smooth, spoonable consistency like mascarpone. With scalded-cooked flavor and butter-like color it is a very special cream to use in traditional recipes for example to make vanilla fudge, puff pastry apple pies, cupcakes and truffles. When it is made with the milk produced in the county of Devon it’s called Devonshire. Clotted cream is commonly served with scones and jam as part of the classical afternoon tea. It is recommended only to use fresh.

Check our recipe Homemade Clotted Cream with Milk

Butter

this is a sing saying butter
Butter

With 80% fat butter, is a solid, sliceable whitish-yellowish grease. If somebody is not careful enough under creating whipped cream from whipping cream or whipping double cream also can get butter accidentally. Sold butter can be salty or sweet (unsalted) with or without additional coloring material. To make most of the best tart base and puff pastry you should use butter. Be aware butter can not be replaced by any other dairy product to have the same result. For cakes and cookies, it can be mixed with cream cheese. Some recipes offer butter also for mousse.

Cream Cheese

The term cream cheese means different products in England and in the USA. In Britain it is a fresh made and consumed “soft white cheese” made from a mixture of milk and cream. It is really fatty (45-65%), has a mild acidic flavor and spreadable texture. In America cream cheese is an uncured cheese. It is also made by mixing milk and cream but adding some acid too which causes coagulation and after a heating stop the process. Often used as plain or flavored spreads and dips, mixing with other ingredients can make creams and sauces. Cream cheese can replace or be mixed with butter (e.g. two parts cream cheese, one part butter) to prepare cakes, cookies and cream frostings on cupcakes. It is the basic ingredients of most cheesecakes, some pies, tiramisu and filled brownies.

Of course there are a lot of recipes which use a combination of these type of creams, or one type needed in the pastry and the other in the filling.