Standing in front of the dairy case can be a daunting experience—who knew there were so many different types of cream? What's the difference between heavy cream and whipping cream? And what the heck goes into half and half, anyhow?
If you've read many candy recipes, you have no doubt realized that dairy makes up a big percentage of many candies. From the cream that goes into truffles, to the evaporated and condensed milk in many fudge recipes, dairy is an important building block in lots of different recipes. Dairy products contribute moisture, texture, and in many cases, even flavor! You might not think that milk or cream has a distinctive taste, but when dairy is cooked for extended periods of time, it goes through a process called the Maillard reaction, where it browns and takes on an almost caramelized flavor.
So dairy is an important part of many recipes, but not all dairy is created equal! Due to regional and national differences in labeling, there is not a uniform or consistent standard when it comes to dairy products. What one country might label "light cream," another might call "single cream." It is definitely confusing!
Here, then, is a quick primer on the different types of cream and dairy products used in the candy recipes on this site. Understanding the differences between different types of dairy is key to selecting the right kind for your needs.
Cream is obtained by skimming the top layer of butterfat from milk, and it is categorized by its fat content below.
- Half and half: half milk and half cream mixed together, with a fat content between 10 to 15%. It is commonly sold in America, and less commonly seen in other countries. It is used when recipe writers do not want all of the fat in the cream, but want a richer mouthfeel than one would get with plain milk. It is not thick enough to replace cream in recipes that call for cream, and it will not whip like cream, either. If you have a recipe that calls for half and half and you don't have any, just mix equal parts of milk and cream together and you will get a suitable approximation.
- Light cream: is what many countries have instead of half and half. It has a fat content between 18 to 30% and is sometimes known as coffee cream. It will not whip like heavy cream.
- Whipping cream: is cream made specifically for whipping, and it contains 30 to 36% milkfat. It often contains stabilizers and emulsifiers to ensure it keeps and holds its form when being whipped. If a recipe just calls for "cream," chances are you can use any variation of whipping or heavy cream you can find.
- Heavy cream: also called heavy whipping cream, has a fat content between 36 to 40%. Again, if a recipe just calls for "cream," heavy cream is appropriate to use.
- Manufacturing cream: has a fat content over 40%, and is primarily used in professional foodservice and restaurants. In most recipes, manufacturing cream is fine to use if a recipe calls for cream, but if you have problems with curdling or any texture issues, try using heavy or whipping cream instead, in case the higher fat content of manufacturing cream is to blame.
- Aerosol cream: comes in aerosol cans and contains cream, emulsifiers, stabilizers, and nitrous oxide, the propellant used to squirt it out of the cans. Although it has its uses in dessert preparation, it is not used in candy making.
- “Whipped topping” or “dessert topping”: usually does not contain cream at all, but instead is a mixture of hydrogenated vegetable oils. Absolutely avoid using these unless a recipe specifically calls for them.
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