For people who care about their food

Confused about cream?

With all the various types of cream on the market and in recipes, it’s easy to lose sight of what they’re all for…

Can you substitute whipping cream for single cream? Or the other way round? Can you use half the amount of double cream if you don’t happen to have single? What about crème fraîche – isn’t that’s just French for ‘fresh cream’? And what about UHT cream, cream substitutes and all of those things?

I’ve had a dig around to find out exactly what’s what.

Basically, cream is the part of the milk that contains more dairy fat than the rest – the layer that rises to the top in the traditional milk bottle. The cream can be used for different purposes depending on how much fat it contains, and to make things easier for consumers, different names are given to creams to show their fat content.

The confusion comes in when you’re living in one country but using a book intended for another – for instance, if you’re living in the UK but using an Australian book, you might find yourself desperately trying to whip single cream and wondering why you’re not getting anywhere! ‘Single cream’ in the UK contains about half the fat that Australian ‘pure cream’ does and won’t whip no matter how long you spend trying.

United Kingdom

The terms defined by British law are:

Single cream

This is unsterilised cream containing a minimum of 18% fat. It’s a general-purpose cooking cream and is also suitable for pouring over desserts and using in coffee.

Sterilised cream

Must contain a minimum of 23% fat. Use as for single cream.

Double cream

This cream can be either sterilised or fresh, but must contain at least 48% fat. It whips easily, and the thickness means it can be piped.

Whipping cream/Whipped cream

Again, it can be either fresh or sterilised, but must contain a minimum of 35% fat – the only difference between the two is that whipping cream is ready for whipping, whipped cream has already been whipped. It doesn’t whip up as thickly as double cream, so you may have trouble piping it.

Clotted cream

Clotted cream is clotted by slow heat treatment – causing it to partially evaporate and thus become thicker. It’s even thicker than double cream – it has to contain at least a whopping 55% of milk fat, nearly as much as some home-made butters. (Commercially produced butter typically contains over 80%.) Very much a specialist cream, for use with traditional recipes like scones and stargazy pie.

Half cream/Sterilised half cream

Has to contain no less than 12% dairy fat.

Other creams, dairy or otherwise

UHT cream

UHT can stand for ‘ultra-high temperature’ or ‘ultra-heat treatment’. Either way, it involves raising cream way above the usual temperature for sterilisation, but for a much shorter period of time – so the change in taste and colour is much smaller than is involved with sterilised cream. It’s a good standby if you can’t get fresh.

Sour or soured cream

This is cream with a similar fat content to single cream, which has been soured and thickened by the controlled action of lactic acid bacteria.

Crème fraîche

Not, as you might think, fresh cream at all! It’s another sour cream, but with a higher fat content – typically more like 28-30%.

Artifical or imitation cream

This is a substitute for cream, made using non-dairy fat or oil. Some of it, like Elmlea, can be quite good, with a similar taste and mouth-feel to cream. It also lasts a lot longer than fresh dairy cream, so – like UHT cream – it can be worth keeping a tub or two to hand just in case you’re stuck for the real thing.

The synthetic whipped ‘cream’ used in some cheap commercially produced cakes, on the other hand, is disgusting. You can generally tell it by the colour; whereas real whipped cream generally has a yellowish tinge to it, the synthetic stuff is usually brilliant white, almost bluish tinged by comparison.

You can find out about cream in the US here, and I’ve looked at cream in Australia and New Zealand here.

On the other hand, if you’re wondering what to do about cream that’s on the turn or gone off altogether, here’s what the Dairy Council has to say about it.

28 Responses to “Confused about cream?”

  1. Mike the curry fiend

    One I have come across in recipes before is “pouring cream”. I have absolutely no idea what that is. I think I’ve used double cream for this when I’ve come across it.

  2. Not Delia

    I would have taken “pouring cream” to mean “whipping cream”. But there again that’s the only kind of cream I can easily get where I live so I use it for just about everything – even when double cream is called for.

    I looked for a second opinion on this and found:
    http://gourmettraveller.com.au/ExpertAdvice_200851_142.htm

    Of course, that’s an Australian magazine. (Actually a very good one – I subscribe to it.) So now, perhaps, you’ll be even more confused about cream. 🙂

  3. Dairy cream | BritishExpat

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  4. PABinBardowie

    THANK YOU…US expat living in Scotland have been so disappointed not to find half and half for my coffee but took a gamble on Single Cream after your explanation and am now enjoying the creamy coffee again. CHEERS

  5. Emily

    I live in France and have a nightmare whipping cream. Having lived here for more than 7 years I still don’t understand fully their creams. I tend to get the best results from UHT chef’s cream that I’ve chilled but even so it froths rather than whips and doesn’t last long.
    I’ve looked in the fresh section and they have crem epaisse which is thick cream but doesn’t whip like double cream. I think it’s more like creme fraiche. There is literally nothing that I can find with a high fat content.
    I also find that using a small amount in a wide bowl to get as much air in as possible is best but even so it’s a very pathetic best.
    Can you do a section on French cream?

  6. Not Delia

    @PABinBardowie

    Thank you so much for your kind comment. I’m glad you can enjoy your coffee again. By the way, I’m Scottish so I hope you like my country and aren’t feeling the cold too much, given the recent weather.

  7. Not Delia

    @Emily

    I’ll do my best but I can’t promise anything. An article on French cream is a really good idea, though. Let’s see what we can make of it!

  8. amanda

    Please can I concur with Emily re France and creams.
    I would like to put fresh cream between the sponge layers of my cakes – but I cannot find anything suitable here in France at all! What do the French use in their gateauxs? This is supposed to be the home of ‘haut cuisine’!
    I have tried creme fraiche with sugar, creme epaisse, uht creme but nothing is suitable. Also wanted thick cream for irish coffee but again nothing. Have spent or rather wasted a lot of time in front of the refrigerated counters in the supermakets, asked the shopkeepers and spoken with the (french) customers, still got nowhere. The only thing I have come up with is the artificial sweetened cream that comes out of aerosol cans – something that I would never even look at in UK… Cannot understand why it is impossible to get fresh cream, single, double or whipping, here in France which is said to be the country of fine dining! Have found a lot more choice in the UK – I cannot understand why the French scoff at the UK food – certainly the supermarkets (and specialist shops) in the UK have far more choice and much cheaper! The only place I have found anything vaguely resembling fresh cream UK style (at a price which hasn’t caused my bank manager to blush) is in the German supermarket Lidl which sells a bottle of (medium) cream which is still not cream. Alternatively, if you want to spend a lot of money, I have found a very expensive (nearly 2 euro) 20 fluid oz box of what is called cream in a french supermarket which is again still not cream as we Brits know it.
    Please, could you advise a now desperate person what I oould purchase in France as real natural thick cream for my cakes, gateaux, irish whisky or any of the other recipies requiring cream.
    France is full of cows, the French farmers receive lots of european subsidies, the butter here is akin to the butter in UK or Ireland, so why is there no real cream here?
    I am based in southern France so I don’t know if the situation is different in the north. Having travelled nearly all over however I have as yet not found cream in the shops.
    Please, please publish this with any advice possible and yes, as Emily suggested, an explanation of what is on offer in France. I expect there are many ex-pats calling out the same war cry – bring on the cream!
    many thanks amanda

  9. Not Delia

    Hi Emily

    Thanks for taking the time to write in about this.

    Oh crikey! It does seem to be a problem. Why can’t you get decent cream in France? I’ll pull out all the stops to try and get this answered for you.

    By the way, we have a new forum at http://tinnedmince.co.uk and I have a contact at The Dairy Council (UK). Perhaps she can help.

    It seems that a lot of Brits in France are having similar problems. Like you, I really don’t understand why. Even in SE Asia you can get various kinds of cream quite easily. Why not in France?

    We must uncover this secret!

  10. Linda Robertson

    Hi
    I also live in France and cannot understand why it is impossible to get cream that whips. I chill the bowl and use cream recommended for Creme Chantilly (which like Amanda I find disgusting) and still after beating forever have runny cream, which ruins the appearance of deserts. There must be something here that works? Apparently they have cream that whips in Spain just seems to be France that doesnt!

  11. Lou

    if you gradually whip uht cream, the brand with the green and white checks is ok (usually near the eggs in the supermarket) into good quality marscapone, not the supermarket brand, you should be able to get a fairly stiff whipped cream, almost good enough to pipe and will hold in the fridge once whipped. the trick is to add cream to marscapone slowly.

  12. christina

    thank you so much for this! i was in tesco just now, buying strawberries. they currently have an offer on: if you buy 400grams of strawberries, you get a pot of single cream. being from sweden i had NO idea what this meant! so thank you so much, i didn’t know if i had to whisp it or not (in sweden, if something has the word “cream” in it, it generally needs to be whisped). so you cleared it out for me! cheers!

  13. Not Delia

    It just means “all the same”. In the case of dairy products you can buy bottles of milk where the cream has risen to the surface. Homogenisation is where they put it through a process so that the fattier cream particles are mixed with the rest of that milk and then all the content of that milk bottle, carton, etc, is all the same – ie no cream floating separately on top.

  14. Betty Grant

    If I require some single cream and I have none to hand, can I convert Creme Frache which I have plenty of, into single cream ? ( I need the single cream for a cream of mushroom recipe)

    Looking forward to your reply

    Betty Grant

  15. Sara in Lyon

    My husband, who is despairing as to how to make whipped cream to fill his victoria sponge, is just off to Intemarche to buy some marscapone. I will pass on the tips I have read and let you know if it works.

    Lyon – Ville de gastronome NOT!

    Time to go home for a good honest cream cake

  16. Bob, Lyon

    About half a tub of mascarpone (approx 130 gms), add about 100 to 150mls of 35% whipping cream and whip; add about 8gms of vanilla sugar, continue until it does not move when the bowl is at an angle. works a treat.
    whipping cream is UHT Alsace Lait 35% from Intermarche.
    regards

  17. Bob, Lyon

    About half a tub of mascarpone (approx 130 gms ), add about 100 to 150mls of 35% whipping cream and whip; add about 8gms of vanilla sugar, continue until it does not move when the bowel is at an angle. works a treat.
    whipping cream is UHT Alsace Lait 35% from Intermarche.
    regards

  18. liggy

    I live in Southern Spain, and same problem here, their cream is basically of two types, both longlife, one says its for cooking (so i dont know if i could use it to pour over desserts or not, and it is of quite a thick consistency) and the other is for whipping for cakes etc…, occasionally you will find a small pot of fresh cream, again it states for cooking….and we can get Elmlea at an extornionate price, but I have never seen fresh single creams/double cream/whipping cream

  19. Victoria

    I also live in Spain and I have only found the UHT whipping cream which is so thin and does not whip and hold, and the cooking cream, which is ok for sauces. I make a lot of cheesecakes and i have not yet dared to try using it instead of buying the extremely expensive English cream. I am always too afraid to try it in case it does not set! It think the problem is that they both say “30% less fat”? I will have a go as it will save me a fortune.

  20. lizzy

    hi, could someone please tell me where to get all these different creams in pakistan? i’m confused as to whether i can use simple cream because for desserts and icecream, i haven’t been able to find double or single cream. could someone please help a stranded cook?
    can i use some kind of substitute for them?
    i thank you so much if you can help me out here.

  21. Rachel

    Hi. In Spain the”cooking cream ” has added starches. The “whipping cream ” is 30% fat. It is Uht, but quite nice. It should be 24 hours in fridge before whipping, and whipped in cold bowl.Works fine for cream cakes and pavlovas. It is also quite nice poured in place of single cream. For making baked cheesecakes and ganache, I use Nata fresca (creme fraiche) .

  22. Not Delia

    Thanks for all the comments and suggestions here. Sorry I’ve neglected the blog recently – and thanks to the builder from Hell we don’t currently have a kitchen. I hope we will soon, though. Then we’ll be cooking with gas again!

  23. Joseph

    So does double cream in the UK have about the same thickness as sour cream? I ask because a friend of mine got me a couple of cookbooks but one of them seems to be UK in origin as it uses terms like “beef mince” for ground beef. Anyhow there’s a recipe in this cookbook for fettuccine carbonara that calls for “double cream” and from the pictures of the steps the double cream does look to be thick enough that you would have to spoon it out. So Since I live in the states where UK double cream products aren’t readily available I was thinking that for the carbonara (a savory custard sauce for pasta) I could use fat-free Greek yogurt (which has the same consistency as sour cream) instead if it has about the same thickness as double cream. I know that would add a little tang since yogurt is acidic but I was thinking that I could balance that out with a little bit of splenda if necessary. Another idea might be to use Campbell’s condensed cream of chicken soup since that might also be of a similar thickness to double cream if indeed double cream is normally a product that needs to be spooned out. and wouldn’t have the potential to add acidity to it like Greek yogurt would. So This is why I was asking about the thickness of double cream since I’d like to know if either Greek yogurt or condensed creamy soup might be a good substitute to use here in the states. Thank you.

  24. Not Delia

    Hi Joseph,

    Happy New Year!

    Yes, double cream in the UK is thick enough that it needs to be spooned out, ie it’s not runny. It has a fat content of about 40% and is the equivalent of American “heavy cream”.

    According to the “Pasta Bible”, mascarpone “is a full-fat cream cheese with a smooth silky texture, often used in sauces instead of cream. It melts without curdling and has a slightly tangy flavour.” Funnily enough, the same book uses creme fraiche in their recipe for carbonara. On the other hand, “Leith’s Cookery Bible” calls for single cream in their carbonara recipe. Therefore, it seems as though you can use pretty much anything according to taste and thicken it, if necessary, with grated Parmesan.

    Personally, I’d think that condensed soup would spoil the clean, fresh flavour of the dish, but if you like the soup, then why not? After all, it’s you who’s going to eat it.

    Good luck!

  25. Not Delia

    Hi Stephanie,

    It’s all about the fat content. US heavy cream contains not less than 36% milkfat. So it’s at least as thick as UK whipping cream, but may be considerably less thick than double cream.

    For a translation of USA creams into their British equivalents please look at this page which has more details.
    http://www.notdelia.co.uk/confused-about-us-cream/

    I’d say which to use depends on what you want to use it for, personally I’ve found that whipping cream can be used for most purposes, either poured or whipped, but double cream can give a richer-tasting result.

    Good luck and do let us know how you get on or if you need any more help.

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