Food & Drink

A lesson in heavy cream: What you need to know

Spicy hubbard squash soup with crispy sage leaves, on Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. (Jessica J. Trevino/Detroit Free Press/TNS)
Spicy hubbard squash soup with crispy sage leaves, on Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. (Jessica J. Trevino/Detroit Free Press/TNS)

Q: When a recipe calls for heavy cream, what product do you use? — Marjorie Ciszewski, Clinton Township, Mich.

A: Heavy cream is commonly found at grocery stores labeled “heavy whipping cream.” You might find some products labeled “heavy cream.” They are the same. Heavy whipping cream is cream that has a milk fat content of 36-40 percent.

Heavy whipping cream is used in many dishes that call for a cream sauce, in soups and in baking. Because of its milk fat content, heavy whipping cream can be whipped up to soft peaks and used as a dessert topping. It’s sold pasteurized and ultra-pasteurized. While the latter has a longer shelf life, the pasteurized cream whips up better.

Heavy whipping cream, once whipped, should double in volume. It’s important to make sure everything — the cream, mixing bowl and the beaters — is well-chilled. For best results, put the beaters and the bowl in the freezer for at least 30 minutes before you start whipping.

Because of the high milk-fat content, the cream is high in fat and calories. For that reason, you might want to substitute other cream products in soups and some sauces. There’s light cream, coffee cream or half-and-half. You can also use regular or reduced-fat milk. Their fat contents vary.

Here’s how some creams and their percentage of milk fat measure up:

• Heavy cream, 38 percent or higher

• Heavy whipping cream, 36 percent

• Half-and-half, 12 to 18 percent

• Coffee cream, 12 percent

Be sure to read labels as some of these products contain corn syrup or added sugars. Though the amount of corn syrup is trivial, it’s added to give a bit of sweetness and in place of cream. Some products also list carrageenan — a natural thickener made from red seaweed.

Products with milk fat percentages lower than 36 percent will not whip up into soft peaks, but can be used as a cream thickener for sauces. You might need to help it along with a small amount of cornstarch to reach the desired thickness.

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To thicken a sauce, whisk about 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch into the cream substitute before adding it to sauces or soups. If you do it after, the corn starch can clump. Heat the mixture just below boiling, doing so gently. If you bring it to a full boil, you risk the mixture curdling or separating. You can thin the sauce or soup with more liquid if needed.

Those who follow ketogenic diet often refer to heavy whipping cream as HWC. It’s used in many keto recipes, including soups and sauces, because it’s ultra-low in carbohydrates. They also HWC in coffees and lattes in place of milk.

Many products will list the carbs as 0 g for 1 tablespoon on the label, but it could have trace amounts that will add up. That one tablespoon of heavy whipping cream also has 50 calories, 5 g of fat (with 3.5 g of the fat being saturated fat).

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