Can You Substitute Cream for Milk?

 No matter where you go in the world, chances are at least one of the traditional dishes contains cream. Think about it, anything that contains whipped cream has cream and most cultures have something like that as a dessert. 

The unfortunate part about heavy cream is that most of the time when you buy it you have to buy a large container. Once opened this container will need to be used in a matter of days or it will spoil. This may leave you looking for creative ways to use up the cream and asking yourself can you substitute cream for milk?

You can use heavy cream as a substitute for milk in many cases. However, the flavor and texture will be different. Cream contains a lot more fat and is much thicker than milk. If used in baking, this can cause the baked goods to be denser than usual and you may need to add extra water to make up for the lack of moisture.

What is the Difference Between Cream and Milk?

Before you decide whether or not you want to substitute cream for milk, you’ll want to understand what the difference between the two is. Technically, cream and milk starts out as the same product but they are quickly separated.

As most people know, the milk that is most consumed in the world is cow’s milk. The cow is milked and the milk is strained and purified. At this point, you have regular, full-fat milk. It can be consumed like this with all of the fat or some of it can be removed to create 2% fat or skim milk that has almost all of the fat removed.

Cream is made as a byproduct of the process by which fat is removed from the milk. If you want to make skim milk it would normally be allowed to sit at room temperature. Over the course of a couple of hours, the fat will all rise to the top of the milk. From that point it can be skimmed away, hence the name “skim milk,” and can be stored separately.

This fat is known as cream. It is much thicker and has a much higher fat content than regular whole milk. You can either purchase regular cream or heavy cream which is cream that has been reduced to make it even thicker. This is the cream that is typically used to make things like whipped cream. 

Can I Substitute Heavy Cream for Milk? 

In a lot of cases, you can substitute heavy cream for milk. However, depending on the recipe that you’re using you may need to make some modifications. For example, in some recipes, you may want to dilute the heavy cream with some water. This will help to rebalance the ratio of fat to liquid.

You may also find that you can’t substitute cream for milk in some cases like when you’re making a bowl of cereal or drinking a glass of milk. The flavor of the cream is so fatty that a lot of people find it difficult to eat in large quantities without other flavors to help cut down on the fattiness.

How Do I Substitute Cream for Milk in Cooking?

If you use heavy cream as a substitute for milk in cooking, you will want to make sure to dilute the cream beforehand. In most recipes, especially in baked recipes, the ratios and percentages of different ingredients are very important to ensure that your food comes out with the right texture and flavor.

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Compared to milk, cream has a significantly higher fat content and much less water for every gram of fat. This will make your recipe denser which could be great in some cases, like with a batch of brownies, but it could be your worst nightmare with some other recipes. Foods like angel food cake or other light sponge cakes would easily become dense and unappealing.

Fortunately, there’s a way to mitigate this problem, diluting the cream. Diluting the cream will increase the amount of moisture in the cream compared to the amount of fat. This won’t completely restore the cream to the proportions of milk, it will still be lacking in protein, but it can greatly improve how the cream interacts with your recipe.

For every half cup of heavy cream, you will want to mix in one half cup of water. This will bring the mixture to a similar fat percentage to whole milk. If your recipe calls for skim milk or reduced-fat milk you will want to add a little bit more water to make it just a bit thinner. This will be especially important for light and fluffy recipes where too much fat weighs it down.

It may take some trial and error to figure out the exact best ratio, but a 1:1 ratio is a good place to start for a whole milk substitute.

Additional Milk Alternatives

If cream doesn’t sound like it will work for your recipe, there are several other options that you can try out. All of these will work best for different recipes so make sure to consider their advantages and disadvantages before making a final decision. 

1. Half and Half

Another good substitute that you can use as a milk alternative is half and half. If you’re not familiar with this product, it is basically a mixture of half heavy cream and half whole milk that is sold commercially. It is most often used as a creamer in coffee for people who want more fat than whole milk but less than heavy cream.

Since it doesn’t contain quite as much fat as heavy cream you can sometimes use it directly in a recipe. You’d probably have a lot of luck using it in dense recipes like brownies or blondies since the fat will help to make it richer and denser. 

If you are using it in a light recipe, you’ll still want to dilute the half and half. Since the cream is already partially diluted by the whole milk you won’t need to add quite as much water. Instead, you can add ¼ cup of water for every ¾ cup of half and half. This should bring you to a pretty similar fat percentage to regular whole milk but you can adjust the ratio as you go.

2. Powdered Milk

Another great option if you don’t have regular milk on hand is powdered milk. This product is especially useful if you live in an area without refrigeration or where you experience frequent power outages. It is shelf stable and you only make as much as you need at a time so you don’t have to worry about spoilage as long as it is stored correctly.

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Powdered milk is pretty much just milk that has been dehydrated and processed to create a powder. Once water is added, it turns back into regular milk. The flavor won’t be the exact same since it has been extensively processed, but it will have the same nutritional profile making it great for lots of different recipes.

To use powdered milk you will want to follow the instructions on the container regarding how much liquid you should use. Some brands will require more liquid and others will need less.

3. Evaporated Milk

Evaporated milk is another great substitute that you can use. It is usually sold in a can and has a much thicker, almost caramel-like consistency. Sometimes you can even find it pre-sweetened making it a good option for baking desserts. 

Evaporated milk is also shelf-stable making it another great option if you are not able to maintain consistent refrigeration.

Just like with powdered milk you will want to follow the instructions on the can to rehydrate the milk to its regular consistency.

4. Non-Dairy Milk

The last substitute that you can use for milk in a recipe is any type of dairy milk. These kinds of milk are designed using plant-based ingredients as a milk alternative for those that choose not to or cannot consume milk.

In most cases, soy milk will be the best milk substitute. It has the most similar texture to regular cows’ milk making it a great option to drink out of a glass and use in different recipes. Out of all the non-dairy kinds of milk, soy milk also has the most similar nutritional profile to dairy-based milk. This allows it works well in most recipes that depend on the fat and protein content of the milk.

If you are intolerant or allergic to products made with soy you should try out pea milk. This milk is made using pea protein and also has a very similar nutritional composition to regular dairy-based milk. This can make it another great option for anything from a bowl of cereal to your favorite cake recipe.

Final Thoughts

The next time you run out of milk and don’t have time to run to the grocery store just check your refrigerator. Chances are you have something in there that can be used as a milk substitute. If you have heavy cream, it is super easy to make a whole milk substitute using heavy cream and water. All you have to do is dilute the cream using a 1:1 cream to water ratio.

If you don’t have heavy cream or don’t like the flavor it provides, there are a couple of other alternatives that you can use. Powdered milk is a great shelf-stable option that you can use in the exact same quantities as regular milk once it has been mixed.

If you prefer to avoid dairy, try using soy milk or pea milk. Both of these have very similar nutrients to regular cows’ milk and make great substitutes in almost every scenario.