What is the difference between heavy cream and whipping cream?
Whipped cream is an essential for so many desserts. Us it in mousse, on top of pie, next to a brownie, or inside a roulade. Whipped cream is one of those foods that can instantly turn an adult back into a kid, begging to lick the edible cloud off of a beater.
You can make whipped cream from heavy cream, heavy whipping cream, or whipping cream. And standing in front of the diary case in the store, I’ve often wondered which one to buy.
Some recipes, but not all, specify which cream to use. Many cookbook writers specify heavy cream. On the other hand, Julia Child specifies whipping cream for mousse in the 1971 edition of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I’ve followed a middle path, specifying heavy cream but offering whipping cream as a substitute in my Chocolate Mocha Roulade, Creamy Chocolate Mousse with Orange Liqueur and Easy Lemon Chiffon Mousse recipes.
Here’s what you need to know:
The difference between heavy cream and whipping cream begins with fat content.
Heavy cream has a higher fat content than “plain” (i.e. not heavy) whipping cream. Heavy cream contains between 36 and 40% fat. By contrast, whipping cream has more than 30% but less than 36% fat according to the FDA definitions of those terms. (Whipping cream is also sometimes called “light whipping cream”, to distinguish it from heavy whipping cream.) While this difference in fat content might seem large in percentage terms, it translates to a difference of roughly 5 calories per tablespoon – 50 for heavy cream and 45 for whipping cream. The higher butterfat count in heavy cream also means that it all 50 of its calories are from fat vs. 40 calories from fat in whipping cream.
A second and important difference – ingredients
True heavy cream contains nothing but the cream taken off of the top of milk.
Commercially prepared whipping cream also contains stabilizers and other chemicals that help the cream to whip easily and stay firm once it is whipped. The whipping cream I checked out in my local grocery contains mono and diglycerides, polysorbate 80, and carrageenan.
So what is heavy whipping cream?
It is a commercial product that includes the higher butterfat of heavy cream and the stabilizers and other chemicals found in “plain” (i.e. lower fat) whipping cream. If you want to stabilize heavy cream without the chemicals, Rose Levy Berenbaum, in her Baking Bible and on her blog, provides a recipe for increasing the stability of heavy cream using cornstarch.
All three – heavy cream, heavy whipping cream, and whipping cream – whip up just fine with the right equipment (cold beaters and bowl, preferably in a cool room) and a bit of patience.
David Lebovitz, Rose Levy Berenbaum, Dorie Greenspan, and Abby Dodge all recommend using heavy cream (over whipping cream.) In her latest book, The Everyday Baker, Abby Dodge says that the heavier butter content makes heavy cream whip faster and firmer than its lower fat counterpart. But she doesn’t differentiate between “plain” heavy cream or heavy whipping cream. And she points out that “in a pinch, you can substitute whipping cream.”
Which cream do I use?
When I can find it, I use heavy cream (without the stabilizers and preservatives.) However, I have used whipping cream and heavy whipping cream on occasion and honestly, I don’t think I (or anyone I served the desserts to) could tell which cream was used. I have not done a blind taste test with each type of cream whipped and served without other flavors to mask their taste or texture. Have you?
Cream and pasteurization
In his book Ready for Dessert, David Lebovitz suggests that heavy cream from local dairies is better-tasting than mass produced, ultra-pasteurized heavy cream. Ultra-pasteurization is a higher temperature version of pasteurization, sometimes labelled as UHT (ultra-high temperature) on dairy products. It can change the taste of dairy as compared to “regular” or lower temperature pasteurization. I haven’t used locally produced heavy cream, but I checked my mass-marketed heavy cream and found that it too was low temperature, not ultra-pasteurized. (The heavy whipping cream and whipping cream that I found were both ultra-pasteurized.) I’d be interested to try a taste test of pasteurized and ultra-pasteurized cream too.
Definitions of various types of cream around the world
The Wikipedia entry for cream has an interesting chart on the relative fat content of heavy and whipping cream in several countries and also information on the names used in noted countries for various types of cream.
Which cream do you choose for whipped cream and why?