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.
The terms defined by British law are:
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.
Must contain a minimum of 23% fat. Use as for single 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.
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 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.
Has to contain no less than 12% dairy fat.
Other creams, dairy or otherwise
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.
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.
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.
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.