When milk and cream are part of recipe ingredients, it's sometimes hard to decipher exactly what product is best. This is particularly common in recipes from other countries where many dairy products have names unfamiliar to Americans. Light cream is a good example of this, as many parts of the U.S. don't sell a product with that name. The best way to choose the correct milk or cream ingredient is by the butterfat content.
Light Cream Definition
In Europe, light cream, also called coffee or table cream, has between 18 and 30 percent butterfat. It's typically used to lighten coffee or tea and for making sauces and gravies. Although it is considerably richer than whole milk, it doesn't have enough butterfat to be whipped. However, if it's labeled light whipping cream, it has between 30 and 36 percent butterfat and can successfully be whipped and used as a topping.
In most recipes, you can substitute half-and-half for light cream. Half-and-half has less butterfat, only between 10.5 and 18 percent, so sauces and gravies will be a bit lighter, but if it's used in baking or as a casserole or side dish ingredient, the difference is negligible. You can make your own half-and-half by combining equal parts of whole milk and heavy or whipping cream that has butterfat content between 30 and 36 percent.
Evaporated Milk Alternate
Evaporated milk is sold in cans and is whole milk that has half the water removed. When mixed with equal parts water, it is used to replace whole milk in recipes. Regular evaporated milk is a good alternate for light cream. However, since it has only 8 percent butterfat, it won't thicken as well as light cream. To compensate, blend a little flour or cornstarch into evaporated milk to increase its thickening power before adding it to other ingredients.
Whole Milk Replacement
If all you have on hand is whole milk, you can increase its butterfat content and use it in place of light cream. Add 3 tablespoons of butter to 7/8 cup of whole milk to replicate a cup of light cream.
Cottage Cheese-Milk Stand-In
For each cup of light cream called for, blend or process a half cup each of whole milk and cottage cheese. The butterfat in the cottage cheese replaces the butter added to the whole milk substitute.
Cream Cooking Tips
Whatever type of cream or cream substitute you use, always heat it over very low heat, and don't leave it unattended as it scorches quickly and easily, giving the recipe a burnt, off-putting taste. To avoid this mistake, always heat cream in a double boiler over water that is just below simmering. Don't let cream-based sauces come to a boil as this encourages breaking, which makes the sauce lumpy and unattractive.