What Can I Substitute If I Don't Have Light Cream?

Light cream is nothing more than regular milk combined with cream, so finding a substitute isn't difficult. For a healthier alternative, stick with nondairy options or lower-fat dairy choices. In baking, you can probably get away with whole or 2 percent milk, although sauces and desserts will taste better with a higher fat product.

Melted butter with milk is a substitution for light cream when baking. Credit: zkruger/iStock/Getty Images

Light Cream Explained

Light cream contains about 20 percent milk fat and is generally used in coffee or for thin sauces. It can't be whipped and lacks the rich flavor of heavy whipping cream, which contains 36 to 40 percent milk fat. Light cream, also known as coffee cream, is heavier than half-and-half, but lighter than light whipping cream or whipping cream. It is similar to table cream.

Dairy Substitutes

The simplest substitute for light cream is probably already in your refrigerator. Half-and-half, which contains 12 percent milk fat, can be used as a substitute for light cream, although it won't taste quite as rich. Combine heavy whipping cream with milk at a ratio of 1 1/2 parts heavy cream to 1 part milk. Another option is to use canned evaporated milk. Evaporated milk has been heated to remove 60 percent of the water in the milk, creating a thick, creamy product that's relatively low in calories, while high in nutrients. For baking, combine 3 tablespoons melted butter with a scant cup of milk. The fat in the butter mimics the fat in light cream to tenderize baked goods and add flavor.

Nondairy Options

If it's a nondairy alternative you seek, you'll find several options, such as almond milk, rice milk or coconut milk. These nondairy products vary in the amount of fat they contain, and because of this, their creaminess. Canned, full-fat coconut milk is generally the creamiest, and also contains the most fat. Another option is nondairy liquid or powdered coffee creamer. Although none of these products exactly replicate light cream, they make reasonable substitutes, although coffee creamer products generally won't work in baked goods.

Using Substitutes

Most dairy and nondairy substitutes can be used interchangeably for light cream in coffee, sauces or baked goods. Dairy products are prone to curdling, though, if they're heated at high temperatures, so always use low heat and don't let them boil. The lower the fat content, the more likely the product is to curdle and separate. Use a thickener, such as cornstarch mixed with cold water, if a sauce isn't thick enough due to using a lower-fat dairy product. A cornstarch slurry whisked into an almost simmering sauce can also help prevent or fix curdling.

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