All you need to know about … cream

Cream – just the word evokes a feeling of decadence and indulgence.  It is often the crowning glory of a cake or dessert, the finishing touch to a sauce, or sometimes the hero of a dish all of its own, like ice cream or panna cotta. There are lots of types of cream available in the shops these days.  Do you know your clotted cream from your crème fraiche? Which cream is best to cook with? Which one whips up to perfection?  Read on to find out.


What is cream?

Cream is made of the higher-fat layer of milk, separated from it before homogenisation. Cream is categorised by its fat content.  Cream must contain at least 35% milk fat.


So which cream?

Pure cream is your ordinary, every day cream with nothing added. It contains about 40% milk fat. Depending on the brand, it will be labelled cream or pure cream and in US recipes is called whipping cream.

Best for: whipping, adding to sauces, mashed potatoes, and scrambled eggs.


Double cream, with 48% milk fat, is thicker than normal cream, but doesn’t contain any thickening agents.

Use for:  a dollop on top of a cake, scones, pie or crumble and in sauces  – due to its higher fat content, it’s less prone to separating when cooked than pure cream.


Thickened cream contains about 35% milk fat as well as thickeners like gelatin or vegetable gum.  Called heavy cream in US recipes, it whips well and is less likely to separate. But reduced-fat thickened cream only contains 18% milk fat, and is not good for whipping.

Use: any time you would use pure cream. You can pour it directly onto cakes and desserts as it is a little thicker.


Clotted cream is made from slowly heating and cooling cream, and then skimming off the thick clotted cream from the top.  It has a slightly caramelised flavour and a minimum of 48% milk fat. 

Best: on scones with jam.


Sour cream is made by heating cream to about 20C for 12-14 hours after adding a culture.  This produces lactic acid which gives it is characteristic slightly sour taste and thicker consistency. Due to its lower fat content of 20%, it will curdle if cooked – so it’s best used at room temperature or stirred into a hot dish once it’s off the heat.

Great for: a dollop on very sweet desserts, or on top of tacos or baked potatoes.


Crème fraiche is sour cream’s more decadent cousin, made in a similar way. It has between 38% and 48% milk fat and a slightly less tart, more nutty taste than sour cream.

Good for: soups and sauces, as it won’t curdle if boiled, and in desserts.


Cream tips & tricks

·      Cream can be frozen for up to 3 months.

·      Chilled cream beats up quickly and lightly. You can also chill the bowl and beaters in the fridge for 15 minutes.

·      Start beating slowly and only add flavourings such as sugar or vanilla extract once it starts to thicken a little. Beat until soft peaks form. This will ensure the perfect dollop. 

·      DO NOT look away or walk away while beating cream. Only a few seconds of overwhipping can result in a grainy, clenched, or even separated cream.

·      You can rescue overwhipped cream by adding one or two tablespoons of cold milk to the cream and whisking it in to return to a looser consistency.

·      If your cream-based sauce curdles, add a generous splash of water and reheat to a simmer, whisking constantly.

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