Heavy cream is called for in a huge range of recipes. But in many cases, a heavy cream substitute can serve the same purpose, whether that’s adding a creamy texture, richer flavor, or both. Peruse these suggested swaps to find the right fit if you’re vegan, cutting down on dairy, or simply don’t have the real thing on hand. Quantities and applications vary by recipe, so prepare to experiment a bit for a truly seamless substitute.
Milk and Butter
Heavy cream is essentially milk with a much higher fat content—36% to 40% instead of about 3.5—so, naturally, incorporating extra fat into regular milk can make a great substitute for heavy cream. Simply melt unsalted butter, let it cool slightly, and then whisk it into milk, using a ratio of 1 part melted butter to 3 parts milk by volume. Whole milk is ideal since increasing fat content is the name of the game here, but this hack is even doable with nondairy milks like almond and oat. The mixture won’t take well to whipping, so don’t expect stiff peaks (or any peaks for that matter). Stick to this method for baking or cooking.
Nondairy Milk and Neutral Oil
Similarly, a nondairy milk (such as soy or almond) and a neutral oil (like vegetable or canola) can replicate heavy cream in certain recipes—namely, sauces and soups, but also some baked goods. Though it’s not whippable, the mixture provides the type of richness you’d get from dairy milk and butter, but in a totally vegan heavy cream substitute. Use a ratio of 2 parts nondairy milk to 1 part oil by volume. For a more richly flavored cream alternative, swap the neutral oil for olive oil and use in any recipe where that grassy, peppery taste would be welcome.
Silken Tofu and Soy Milk
Fat adds structure to heavy cream, creating its signature rich texture. But protein adds structure too. Enter: tofu. Blended with soy milk, which has a similar protein content to dairy milk, silken tofu can mimic the texture of the real thing in certain applications. Alter the amount of soy milk based on the desired consistency.
According to Lisa Dawn Angerame, author of Wait, That’s Vegan?! and The Vegan ABCs Cookbook, this technique is best for dishes with pudding textures like cheesecake or a French silk pie; but because of all that protein, it’s not the right choice for things like sauces and soups.
Full-Fat Greek Yogurt and Milk
“Full-fat” and “Greek” are absolutely key here. Avoid regular yogurt, which is often sweetened and much runnier. Plain Greek yogurt is more neutral and structured with higher protein, making it ideal for baked goods when blended in equal parts with milk to thin out the mixture. For a whipped topping that can stand in for whipped cream—but is arguably more complex from the tang of this cultured dairy product—pull back on the milk and whisk in powdered sugar and vanilla extract. Or pop the mixture in the freezer for a twist on traditional ice cream.
This is Angerame’s go-to heavy cream alternative for most recipes. “It’s very neutral in terms of flavor, and it’s super easy to make,” she says. Blend 1 cup of cashews with ¾ cup of water in a high-speed blender until super smooth, and voilà: You’re left with a versatile heavy cream substitute that complements countless dishes. Plus, since it’s homemade, it’s guaranteed to be free of any unrecognizable ingredients or added flavors that sometimes come with the grocery store stuff. Thanks to the high fat content of cashews, Angerame says it’s fantastic for adding a creaminess to anything from Alfredo to hollandaise to Caesar dressing to a chipotle-spiked topping for tacos. “And it thickens a cream sauce instantly.”
There’s a trick to turning full-fat coconut milk into a comparably creamy, vegan, dairy-free substitute. Place a can of coconut milk in the fridge to chill for several hours—overnight is better and up to several days is better still. Open it up and scoop out the denser portion that rose to the top to use as your heavy cream substitute, saving the watery liquid left underneath to repurpose later. While the richness is spot-on, it will impart some coconut flavor, so just be mindful of the application. It can be great in soups, curries, and of course desserts (it can even be whipped).
However, “some cans work and some cans don’t,” Angerame says. There’s a chance of the liquid not separating correctly. This is typically the result of added emulsifiers in the coconut milk, which keep the fat and water particles from separating, so look for cans that contain only coconut and water. Or if you’re not already stocked with coconut milk, consider store-bought coconut cream (not to be confused with sweetened cream of coconut) instead.
Whole milk and light cream are the two components of half-and-half, so it’s not that far off from the real deal. It can work nearly as well for bringing creamy texture and flavor to sauces, soups and stews, mashed potatoes, and casseroles. In a pinch, it can even be used for whipping. While you won’t get stiff peaks, you can build volume if you work quickly. To maximize your chance of success, chill the half-and-half along with your hand mixer, bowl, and any bonus ingredients (like powdered sugar) in the fridge or freezer until they’re super cold. As soon as you take them out, start whipping. The effect will be more of a loose sauce that will deflate quickly, so serve right away. And never let on that this cream alternative was unintentional.