Thursday, 14 April 2011 | Tags: ,

From alfredo sauce to a whipped topping for fruit or a decadent dessert, cream is one of those ingredients that can't be beat when it comes to flavour. Here's what we learned about cream for an episode of Anna & Kristina's Grocery Bag.

The Basics

  • Cream comes from the butterfat layer skimmed from the top of raw milk.

  • The amount of butterfat in the cream determines its grade. The more fat, the thicker it is and the better it whips.

  • Higher fat creams also tend to taste better, have a richer texture, and don’t curdle as easily when used in cooking or at higher temperatures.

  • Creams in North America are generally either pasteurized or ultra-pasteurized. Pasteurization is the process of heating milk to a temperature that kills and delays any pathogenic bacterial development. Unpasteurized cream is available in Europe and other countries, but in North America, it’s always pasteurized.

  • Pasteurized cream provides a better flavour, whips up fluffier, and holds up longer in desserts and as garnishes.

  • Ultra-pasteurized creams have been heated to around 140°Celsius to extend their shelf life. However, they can have more of a burned flavour and are more temperamental when it comes to whipping.

  • When choosing a cream, consider what your end product will be. If the recipe also contains flour, you can use any range of creams. If you need to whip up some peaks or heat up the recipe, a full fat cream is best.

  • As a general rule, the more fat cream contains, the better it stands up to heat. Conversely, the lower the fat, the more quickly the cream breaks down under heat.

  • In Canada, the highest fat cream available is between 30-36% milk fat, but in countries like the UK, you can purchase creams containing as much as 55% fat. This variety is called Double Cream or Devonshire Cream and is generally found in jars at the grocery store.

Cooking Tips

  • If you’re looking for heavy cream but can’t find it, add a bit of icing sugar (not granulated sugar) to whipping cream. This helps stabilize the whipped cream and keep its shape if it is going to be sitting out of the fridge for awhile.

  • When a recipe calls for “cream”, it generally refers to “whipping” cream.

  • Always use cream in a cold state unless a recipe tells you specifically not to.

  • For best results with whipping cream, keep your cream as cold as possible without freezing, and pre-chill your bowls and utensils as well. This gives you smoother, lighter and fluffier finished product with a greater yield.

  • If your cream has separated during cooking, you can reconstitute it by emulsifying it with a hand blender. This essentially works the fat back into the liquid and makes it smooth again.

  • Be careful when you are whipping cream that you don’t overwork it, as this will separate the fat from the milk and you’ll end up with butter! If it is only a little bit overworked, adding a small amount of 15% cream will usually correct this.

  • When whipping cream, there should be no liquid left in the bowl. If there is, this is an indication that you need to keep on whipping until the fat thickens up.

  • You can use lower fat creams in cooking but you need to be mindful of your heat. If you heat lower fat cream at a high temperature, it may curdle, so keep it on low so that it doesn’t break down.

Types of Cream

Light Cream* (also called Coffee Cream, Cereal Cream, Table Cream, Cooking Cream, or Half and Half)

  • Depending on the manufacturer, this category of cream can be known by many different names but contains roughly the same quantities of butterfat.

  • It can also be used to smooth out cream that has been over-whipped.

  • Fat Content: 10-18%

  • * In Canada, “light cream” refers to a low-fat cream which contains only 5-6% fat.

  • Uses: Because this category of cream is richer than milk but not as thick as heavier creams, it’s perfect for soups, sauces, purees, and baking.

  • When called half-and-half, it is a popular cream used for coffee, tea, and barista drinks.

Sour Cream

  • Sour cream is made by adding mesophilic lactic acid bacteria to cream to thicken and sour it.

  • If adding sour cream to hot dishes, sprinkle it with a bit of flour to keep it from curdling, or add it at a lower temperature until completely blended in.

  • Fat content: 14-18% (also available in light and non-fat varieties)

  • Uses: Used in baking, as toppings for foods like potatoes, and as a base for creamy dressings and dips.

Light Whipping Cream

  • Light whipping cream is not technically lighter in calories. Instead, the “light” refers to the amount of butterfat in the cream.

  • Fat Content: 30-36%

  • Uses: An exceptional cream for finishing soups and whipping, and is comparable to Heavy Whipping Cream.

Crème Fraîche

  • Crème fraîche (French for “fresh cream”) has a nutty, slightly sour taste produced by culturing pasteurized cream with a special bacteria.

  • In France, where it originated, the cream is unpasteurized, so it naturally contains the bacteria necessary to make crème fraîche.

  • Crème fraîche found in specialty stores in North America is pasteurized and expensive.

  • Try making your own by gently heating heavy whipping cream and blending in some buttermilk. Leave the mixture to sit, slightly covered, in a warm draft-free place for around 24 hours, or until thick.

  • Fat content: 30-40%

  • Uses: In savory and sweet dishes and to make a wonderful topping for berries, cobblers, and other desserts.

Heavy Whipping Cream (also called Whipping Cream or Heavy Cream)

  • Heavy whipping cream is more widely available in North America than extra-heavy cream and is found at most grocery stores.

  • It can also be added to hot dishes, and because of its high fat content, doesn’t curdle when heated.

  • Of all the creams, it’s the easiest to whip because its consistency is so dense and it has a high enough fat content to trap air bubbles when beaten.

  • Fat content : 36-40%

  • Uses: Ideal when you want to form nice stiff peaks as a garnish and in desserts.

Extra-Heavy Cream

  • Extra-heavy cream is one of the heavier creams available in the US but is typically found only in specialty grocery stores.

  • Fat content: 38-40% or higher

  • Uses: If you can find it, extra-heavy cream is good for decorating desserts and other recipes that call for a garnish with structure and form.

Devonshire Cream (also known as Devon Cream, Clotted Cream, or Double Cream)

  • A staple in the UK, Devonshire cream is a type of clotted cream that is produced when unpasteurized milk is heated until it forms little clots of cream on top, which then scooped off.

  • It’s as thick as whipped butter but has a slightly toasted flavour.

  • Fat content: 45-60% or higher

  • Uses: Best known and used as a spread for biscuits or scones (especially with jam), similar to a butter spread.


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