Last Updated on February 16, 2023 by Aaron
When it comes to cooking and baking, there are two ingredients that are staples in many of our favorite recipes: cream cheese and heavy cream. But, can you substitute one for another?
As a home cook and baker, I know how essential it is to understand the differences between these two ingredients to ensure that our dishes come out just right.
That’s why in this article, we’ll be taking a closer look at cream cheese and heavy cream, comparing their unique qualities, uses, and benefits. Whether you’re a seasoned chef or just starting out in the kitchen, understanding the nuances between these two ingredients can take your cooking and baking to the next level.
Table of Contents
What is Cream Cheese?
Cream cheese is a soft, spreadable uncured cheese that is made from a combination of milk and cream. It has a tangy and slightly sweet flavor that makes it an excellent addition to both sweet and savory dishes. Cream cheese is often used as a base for fillings, spreads, and frostings, and is a popular ingredient in many baked goods, such as cheesecake and bagel. See the ingredients below.
Philadelphia Original Cream Cheese Spread, Ingredients: Pasteurized Milk and Cream, Whey Protein Concentrate, Whey, Salt, Carob Bean Gum, Natamycin (a Natural Mold Inhibitor), Vitamin A Palmitate, Cheese Culture.
The main ingredients include milk, cream, salt, and cheese culture. Most of the commercial brands will have stabilizers and a few additives added to improve shelf life and consistency. We have previously discussed a few healthier brands of cream cheese that did not use any additives, here in this article.
For uses, cream cheese is versatile. It can be used in a wide range of recipes and can easily be flavored with different herbs, spices, and sweeteners to suit your taste preferences. Cream cheese is also available in light versions with relatively low calories compared to other types of cheese, making it a popular choice for those who are looking to reduce their caloric intake.
What is Heavy Cream?
Heavy cream, also known as heavy whipping cream (beat/whip until fluffy), is a thick and rich cream that is made from the high-fat layer that rises to the top of fresh milk. It has a smooth and velvety texture, with a rich and buttery flavor. Heavy cream cheese is widely used in making ice cream, soup dishes, and sauces.
The ingredients are simpler — just cream. Rest are usually additives like stabilizers and emulsifiers for shelf stability, see the heavy cream example by Land O’Lakes below:
Land O’Lakes Heavy Whipping Cream, Ingredients: Heavy Cream, Skim Milk, Contains 1% Or Less Of: Mono And Diglycerides, Polysorbate 80, Carrageenan.
One significant of heavy cream is its high-fat content. This high-fat content makes it great for creating rich and creamy dishes, and it is often used to add flavor and texture to soups, stews, and sauces. It is important to note that heavy cream is more related to, but not the same as half-and-half or light cream, which contains lower amounts of fat and has a thinner consistency.
The Differences: Using Heavy Cream Instead of Cream Cheese?
Cream cheese tastes like cheese but milder, while heavy cream tastes fatty and creamy. In general, cream cheese is tangier and more acidic than heavy cream due to the cheese culture (lactic acid bacteria) added — that’s why it’s called cream “cheese”.
While they can be easily substituted for one another, it actually depends on the recipe you are making. For example, if you are making a frosting that calls for cream cheese, you could try whipping heavy cream (it works nicely) until it forms stiff peaks and then folding in powdered sugar and any other flavorings or ingredients. This would create a similar texture and flavor to cream cheese frosting, but it would be rich and less tangy.
That said, if you want something mildly sweet and tangier to give your cake or dessert a nice kick, cream cheese is still the better way to go. The other good option is to use mascarpone cheese (an Italian cream cheese), which contains a much higher fat content and can go up to 75% but is usually at around 50%.
Still, both cream cheese and heavy cream contain a high amount of fat — where the regular cream cheese typically contains around 33% fat (the lite version has 15% fat), while heavy cream contains around 36-40% fat. The higher fat content in heavy cream also makes it slightly higher in cholesterol and saturated fat and is less ideal for someone mindful of health.
If you’re concerned about calorie intake and weight loss, one tablespoon (15g) of regular cream cheese block contains around 50 calories data, while heavy cream also has around 51 calories data, according to the USDA’s FoodData Central.