Heavy cream, also known as whipping cream, is a fat-rich, thick cream used frequently in baking because of it's silky, creamy texture. It's possible to swap out heavy cream for another dairy or non-dairy product, but it depends on the application. Since heavy cream has a fat content of 36 to 40 percent, you need something equally thick and fatty.
What is Whipping Cream
Heavy whipping cream gets its name from its fat content. It comes from the fatty-rich portion of milk that has been skimmed off the top when its fresh. Heavy creams need at least 36 percent fat to be considered a heavy cream and in order for it to whip properly. General whipping cream, which is about 30 percent butterfat, can whip, but it doesn't whip as well or hold its shape as well as heavy whipping cream. Most creams have been pasteurized and sterilized, which means they take longer to whip.
For Fluffy Toppings
Whipping cream is commonly used to top off desserts after it's been whipped up. If you don't have whipping cream, try evaporated whole milk. Chill the evaporated milk and use chilled utensils to whip it up like heavy cream. You'll need to use it right away since it doesn't have the same stable structure as heavy cream. If you want a dairy-free whipped topping, chill a can of coconut milk and then remove the fat layer that forms at the top of the can -- leave the liquid behind. Whip up the fat just like heavy cream for a dairy-free whipped topping that has a slight coconut flavor. Creme fraiche has a sour, nutty taste that can be used to top off berries, puddings and cobblers -- and it doesn't need whipping first. Use creme fraiche to top off pastries and desserts in equal proportions to whipped cream.
In Baked Goods
Baked goods might use heavy cream to add body and richness. You can substitute equal parts evaporated milk for heavy cream in baked goods recipes and you'll still get that thick, creamy taste and texture. Or, you can try 2/3 cup whole milk and 1/3 cup melted unsalted butter for every 1 cup of heavy cream. For dairy-free options, try using equal proportions almond, soy or coconut milk. These dairy-free milks have a thick texture similar to heavy cream, but they don't have the same fat content, therefore your baked goods might not be as tender as if they were made with heavy cream. Use non-dairy milks in equal proportions and note your baked good might have a different taste depending on the non-dairy milk used.
In Pastry Sauces
Heavy cream adds body and richness to pastry sauces, such as ganache. Replace heavy cream with double or rich cream, which has a 48 percent butterfat content and adds richness to your sauces. For a dairy-free option, pureed tofu or equal proportions of non-dairy milk -- such as almond or soy -- can be used. Low-fat dairy substitutes in sauces tend to curdle when introduced to high heat, so keep your pastry sauce on a low heat setting and never bring it to a boil. Your sauce might also be thinner, due to the lower fat content of these substitutes.