Julia

Editor

Whether you’re craving an extra creamy cheesecake or just want to add a rich finish to a savory pan sauce—when it comes to cooking and baking, different cream products lead to different results, and it often pays to think twice before casually swapping one for another.

The large selection of cream products in supermarkets (and maybe even in your own fridge), might have you asking: Just what is the difference between sour cream, heavy cream, whipping cream, double cream, and crème fraîche? Which kind of cream is the best for which recipe?

Ponder no longer, we’re here to unleash all the secrets and answer your questions with our ultimate guide to cream!

What is crème fraîche?

Crème fraîche (French for “fresh cream”) is a (bet you didn’t see this coming) French dairy product. It’s a soured cream, which means bacteria has been added to ferment it, has a thick texture and contains up to 30% butterfat (yes this is an actual term). In supermarkets, you’ll also find crème fraîche with lower butterfat called low-fat or half fat crème fraiche, which contains 15–20% fat. Common crème fraîche contains about 300 calories per 3.5 oz (100 g) serving, while lighter versional have around 150 calories for the same sized serving.

Best alternatives for crème fraiche

If you can’t find or simply don’t have any crème fraîche on hand, you can use sour cream instead. It contains almost the same amount of sugar and just a little less fat. Since fat is an indicator of taste and flavor, add more than what the recipe calls for if you substitute sour cream for crème fraîche in order to get the right consistency and richness. For cold dishes you can even use cream cheese, though it’s less sour than crème fraîche. Add some lemon juice for a hint of acidity.

Make homemade crème fraîche

If you have sour or heavy cream at home, you can easily make your own crème fraîche . Here’s how:

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Homemade crème fraîche

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Recipes with crème fraîche

Due to its high butterfat, crème fraîche doesn’t curdle (clump up and separate) when added to warm dishes. Therefore, you can use it to enrich sauces and soups, like this carrot and pear soup. The slightly sour flavor of crème fraîche also adds a tangy finish to hearty dishes like loaded baked potatoes and is a great creamy base for the salty bacon and sweet onions in this shortcut tarte flambée. When it comes to baking, crème fraîche helps to create deep, flavorful, and creamy cake fillings like in this fruity zebra cheesecake.

What is double cream?

Double cream (also known as crème double) owes its thick, silky texture to its (deliciously) high fat content—which is at least 45%! It’s extremely rich and is made from sweet cream (the cream skimmed directly from milk), giving it a mild, slightly sweet flavor.

With approx. 400 calories per 3.5 oz (100 g) serving, double cream is the heavyweight (literally) champion of cream styles and because of its richness can be used sparingly—though second helpings are hard to pass up!

Best alternatives for double cream

If you can’t find double cream, mix mascarpone cheese and lightly sweetened whipped cream in equal parts. Double cream is not a common style in the US—of local cream products heavy or whipping cream has the highest fat content on the market at 36% (that’s about 10% less than double cream).

Recipes with double cream

Just like crème fraîche, double cream can be used to enrich sauces and soups, for baking, and for creamy desserts. Thanks to its high fat content, it doesn’t curdle when added to most warm dishes (be wary of acidic sauces) and makes an excellent base for ice cream. Double cream can be used just whipped cream, as a sweet topping for cakes, fruity desserts, and the like—and is often thick enough that it doesn’t need to be whipped, but simply spooned on.

What is sour cream?

As its name suggests, sour cream is a type of cream that, like crème fraîche has been soured and thickened with bacterial cultures. It’s smooth and silky and contains at least 10% fat which makes it the lightest of the cream products. This is also reflected in the nutritional values: Sour cream has about 190 calories per 3.5 oz (100 g) serving.

Best alternatives to sour cream

Depending on the recipe, there are multiple options for substituting sour cream in both sweet and savory dishes and baked goods, from Greek yogurt to cottage cheese, coconut milk to buttermilk, even our newfound friend, crème fraîche. If you’re using thicker cream products (like some cottage cheeses or crème fraîche), whisk in some liquid to get the desired silky texture.

How to make homemade sour cream

Making homemade sour cream is easier than you might think. All you need is heavy cream or half-and-half and a starter culture that contains the bacteria needed to thicken and sour the cream. These cultures are available in some organic markets, online, or in plain old buttermilk. First, add the heavy cream (or half and half) to a saucepan and heat until it reaches approx. 145°F (63°C). This makes sure to kill all other bacteria so that the starter culture can do its job properly. Keep it heated at the same temperature for approx. 45 minutes, then let it cool down to 75°F (25°C).

Now stir in the buttermillk (or starter culture) until it’s well combined or dissolved—2 tablespoons of buttermilk per cup of heavy cream or 1 package of starter culture for approx. 4 cups of cream. Transfer the mixture into a clean jar and cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel or cheesecloth. Let rest for 16–18 hours in a warm place—and voilà! Use sour cream immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Recipes with sour cream

Sour cream curdles quickly when added to warm mixtures, so it’s best used for cold dishes like dips, dressings, or even cold soups like this green sauce. Its mildly sour flavor is also a great addition to baked goods like this impressive, but straightforward dinner party dessert: Speculaas cake with plum compote.

To garnish dishes and add richness, add a dollop of sour cream right before serving—this chili con carne provides the perfect opportunity.

What is whipping cream?

Whipping cream is a liquid cream that contains at least 30% or up to 36% fat (often called heavy cream or heavy whipping cream when at least 35% fat) which makes it easier to whip to soft or stiff peaks. Because it can also contain added sugar (check the label), it can often have about 300 calories per 3.5 oz (100 g) serving. Given its thin texture whipping cream is not the best choice for giving a soup an extra velvety texture. It is however, a great base for sauces and can simmer for long periods of time without curdling. But, savory uses aside, whipping or heavy cream still might be best known (and used) as a sweet topping for cakes and other baked goods.

To substitute whipping cream or heavy cream, coconut milk is a good option in both taste and texture. lf seasoned well, it’s more than just an ingredient for Indian- or Asian-inspired dishes. There are also plenty other plant-based options like soy, rice, or cashew cream that you can use instead.

How to whip cream

Whipping cream means getting as much air as possible into the liquid parts of a cream. The fat molecules come together and stabilize—causing the volume to double or even triple. The colder the cream is, and the more milk fat it contains, the easier it is to whip it and the longer it will hold its shape, but (be warned) you can overwhip cream, causing the cream to separate into liquids (buttermilk) and fats (butter). Check out our How-To video to learn how to whip cream perfectly, every single time:

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How to freeze cream

You’re probably familiar with the situation–you’ve made a recipe, but there’s still some cream leftover. What can you do with it? In the refrigerator, it can go bad pretty quickly, so freeze it in an ice cube tray instead. This way, you can have it on hand in smaller portions for later use. The more fat a cream contains, the better it will freeze.

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