Heavy Cream vs. Milk in Baking

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Heavy cream and milk are both creamy animal products that are common in baking. Heavy cream, also known as heavy whipping cream, comes from the fat that rises to the top of fresh milk. Both milk and cream come in pasteurized form and both are easily available. Both are used to add moisture, fat and flavor to baked goods. However, whole milk and heavy cream do have different effects on baked items.

Consistency

  • Heavy cream contains around 37 percent fat, whereas whole milk only contains around 3 percent fat. Around 88 percent of milk is water, whereas only around 58 percent of heavy cream is water. This means heavy cream is thicker than milk and in turn produces heavier baked goods than milk. This is why milk does not make a suitable substitute for heavy cream. It’s also the reason why you want to water heavy cream down if using it as a substitute for milk.

Color

  • The white hue of milk and heavy cream does slightly alter the color of baked goods. It’s the fat and protein in milk that provides this color. The heavy fat/protein and low water content of cream slightly intensifies the “white” effect over milk, making items slightly lighter in hue than they would be with milk. While this is not usually a worry, it can cause problems with colored baked goods. You may need to add a little more food coloring than called for in the recipe to achieve a deep tint when using heavy cream. This is especially true if substituting heavy cream for milk in a colored baked good.

Texture

  • Heavy cream is heavy in fat, which has a silky texture. This high fat content gives baked goods that slightly silky feel on your tongue. Milk can do the same thing, but to a far lesser degree, since it also has far less fat than cream.

Flavor

  • Milk and heavy cream have that “creamy” flavor due to many basic components they contain, such as fats and proteins. Heavy cream contains more of these, and thus it has a slightly more intense, flavor than milk. However, milk contains more sugar than cream, and provides a slightly sweeter taste. While milk's overall flavor is light enough to go unnoticed in many baked goods, heavy cream is slightly more prominent in terms of taste.

Use

  • Although heavy cream can be used as a base ingredient in baked goods, it is more often used as a filling and topping. Heavy whipping cream can double in size when whipped, hence the name. It is often whipped alone, or with other ingredients, to create fillings/topping for baked goods. Milk is used only as a base ingredient in baked goods. It does not increase in size dramatically when whipped and can't be used in the same manner for fillings or toppings.

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