Light cream is often incorporated into sauces, cream soups and desserts such as puddings and toppings. It can be replaced in cooking with several other dairy products such as diluted heavy cream, half-and-half, whole milk, or undiluted canned evaporated milk without sacrificing flavor or texture.
The amount of fat solids in dairy products helps determine which can be used in place of light cream. Heavy cream contains the highest proportion of butterfat at 35 percent, while light whipping cream follows with a fat content of 30 percent. Light cream is 18 percent butterfat, while half-and-half contains 10 to 12 percent. Substituting one for the other requires increasing or reducing the fat content by diluting heavy cream with milk or adding fat to milk, usually in the form of melted butter. Heavy cream, also used for whipping, can be used as a substitute for light cream by adding whole milk at a rate of half cream to half milk. A popular coffee creamer, half-and-half is a blend of light cream and whole milk and is roughly 12 percent butterfat. It can be substituted cup for cup for light cream without affecting a recipe's consistency.
Milk is also graded by the amount of fats it contains, ranging from no fat to less than 1/2 per cent for skim, or nonfat, milk, to whole milk, which contains roughly 3.5 per cent butterfat. Low-fat milk contains either 1 or 2 percent fat, and are generally not suited to using as substitutes for light cream, as they are too thin and may alter the consistency or texture of foods such as puddings or sauces. A good way to test this theory is to prepare two packages of pudding mix, using light cream, half-and-half or whole milk in one and skim or low-fat milk in the other. The differences in texture, richness and creaminess are distinctly noticeable between the two. Whole milk can be substituted for light cream by adding 3 tablespoons of melted butter to 7/8 cup milk, as the butter brings the fat content closer to that of light cream.
Evaporated milk is made by heating whole milk to the point where roughly one-third to one-half of its moisture is removed. It is generally sold in small 6- or 12-ounce cans and has a rich aroma and taste that it imparts to chowders, sauces and puddings. It can be used in any recipes that call for light cream by diluting it by half with whole milk. When using it in this manner, it should be used right from the can and not diluted with water.
When using light cream or a substitute in recipes such as cheese sauces or chowders, it's important to remember that all dairy products are apt to curdle if exposed too quickly to high heat. It's best to work them in gradually over low or medium-low heat, and follow recipe directions to the letter, whisking or stirring to prevent the fats from separating during cooking. While you may notice cream or milk-based ingredients separate in the bowl while mixing cake batter, this is normal, and is usually corrected once all ingredients are well-blended.
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Rachel Lovejoy has been writing professionally since 1990 and currently writes a weekly column entitled "From the Urban Wilderness" for the Journal Tribune in Biddeford, Maine, as well as short novellas for Amazon Kindle. Lovejoy graduated from the University of Southern Maine in 1996 with a Bachelor of Arts in English.