A dollop of whipped cream atop a piece of pie is decadently delicious — but not so good for your health or your waistline. Just 1 tablespoon of whipping cream has more than 50 calories and 3.4 grams of saturated fat.
Fortunately, if you want a different topper on your pie — or in a rich cream-based sauce — you can whip up several easy substitutes with ingredients already in your kitchen.
When You Want a Dessert Topper, Try...
Heavy cream whips into high-peaked fluff because of its fat content. You can make something similar — although not quite as thick — when you blend skim milk with a few ice cubes. The ice crystals give the milk structure and blending incorporates air into the liquid. Use half a cup of milk, along with a small handful of ice cubes, and add a drop or two of vanilla or orange extract for a hint of flavor. This treat packs in fewer than 50 calories!
For a vegan alternative, combine soaked cashews with a little bit of nut milk to dilute the purée, suggests Palak Patel, a chef at the Institute of Culinary Education. You can also use any dairy-free milk you have on hand or even water. Use your blender to mix the two together, and add a bit of lemon juice to the mixture. Use about 1 cup of cashews with a half cup liquid and adjust as necessary until you get the desired consistency.
Canned coconut milk is another delicious dairy-free option, says Julie Harrington, RD, a chef and culinary nutrition consultant. "Only use the solidified coconut fat at the top of the can," says Harrington, adding that it will result in a smooth and creamy topping. Add powdered sugar for additional sweetness, suggests Harrington.
If you're watching your cholesterol levels, note that coconut milk — much like dairy-based heavy cream — is high in saturated fat, which is linked to increasing LDL cholesterol, according to the American Heart Association.
For the best results with these whipped cream alternatives, keep everything cold. Start with a cold stainless steel bowl and whisk, recommends Harrington. (You can just pop them in the freezer before you bake.)
“The fat in the cream helps trap air bubbles that make whipped cream light and fluffy. If it gets too warm, the fat melts and the air escapes,” explains Harrington.
Heavy Cream Substitutes to Cook and Bake With
Heavy cream is a lot easier to replace when you don't need it whipped. Always think about an ingredient's purpose when you are replacing it in a recipe, recommends Harrington. "Whipping cream is going to add fat, moisture and leavening properties," she says. So you'll want to look for options that provide those elements to your dish.
Skim Milk and Cornstarch
If you need a substitution in a sauce, whisk together equal parts skim milk and cornstarch, combining thoroughly to remove lumps, Harrington says. "Whisk the slurry mixture into the sauce one tablespoon at a time and heat it for about a minute or two. Continue to add, until the desired consistency is reached," Harrington says. The cornstarch acts as a thickener, helping the low-fat milk gain a similar texture to whipping cream.
Tofu and Soy Milk
For a vegan alternative, blend equal parts silken tofu with soy milk. You can do a one-to-one replacement. So, if the recipe calls for a half cup of whipping cream, sub in a half cup of the silken tofu and soy milk mixture. Blending the two ingredients together removes any potential lumps from the tofu, leaving you with a super smooth heavy cream substitute.
Read more: Is Tofu Good to Eat for Weight Loss?
Greek Yogurt or Cottage Cheese
For baked goods, use low-fat, plain Greek yogurt or cottage cheese whisked together with non-fat milk powder. This combo will provide some of that rich thickness that whipping cream offers, but with less fat.