Cream is used both as an ingredient and a topping in a variety of sweet and savory dishes. It adds texture, volume, and a dense richness to whatever it is added to.
There are many types of creams used in cooking, with heavy cream being one of the most common and versatile out of the lot.
It is known for being particularly heavy and dense and is used in cakes, mousses, pasta, curries, soups, sauces, and countless other recipes.
Sometimes, you may require cream that is even heavier and denser to add more texture and volume to your food. Despite its many cooking applications, heavy cream may not suit your needs. For that, you need to thicken it.
How can you thicken cream? There are 3 simple ways you can thicken heavy cream to achieve a different texture to add to your food. You can reduce it over heat, add gelatin to it, or add flour or cornstarch as thickening agents.
Which method you choose depends on how much time you have, the available ingredients, and what seems easier for you.
Read on to find out how to thicken cream, how to determine which method works best for you, and much more.
The 3 Best Ways to Thicken Cream
Below are what we feel are the three best ways to thicken cream. Each method will depend upon your preference and application, so make sure to take a look at each method to see how it could potentially benefit you!
Heating the Cream
Heating the cream evaporates its water content and reduces it to its desired thickness.
Although the concept is a rather simple one, this method is often considered the most time-consuming and requires the most attention on your part.
Here are step-by-step instructions on how to reduce cream to make it thicker:
- Carefully begin heating the cream, making sure it stays below the boiling point.
- Avoid letting it boil since high heat can ruin its texture.
- Keep it simmering on low heat, constantly stirring it with a whisk or wooden spoon to avoid curdling and burning.
- If the cream starts to boil, immediately reduce the heat or remove it from the stove.
- Make sure to test the thickness of the cream every 10 minutes to prevent it from overcooking.
- Once you reach the desired consistency, you may turn down the heat and let it cool.
- After it has cooled down a little, you can taste the cream to check for any drastic changes in taste and whether it is suitable for the dish you need it for.
The thickness of the cream will be dependent on how long it is heated, which can be anywhere between 10 and 30 minutes. The longer you heat the cream, the thicker it will become.
You need to keep in mind that a slight change in taste is expected when you heat milk products, including cream. This is completely normal and needs to be considered when using this method to thicken cream for a recipe.
The slight variation in its taste doesn’t mean that you have burned the cream. Burnt cream (not to be confused with Creme Brulee) does have a distinct, bitter flavor, so if you do happen to burn your cream while reducing it, you’ll know it.
Adding Gelatin to the Cream
Adding gelatin to the cream is one of the easiest ways to thicken it without affecting its taste. All you’ll need is the right amount of gelatin and a few quick instructions to follow.
The most important thing here is determining how much gelatin you will need to reach the desired consistency. Once you have that figured out, it is a fairly easy task that can be completed within minutes.
Here are step-by-step instructions on how to add gelatin to cream to make it thicker:
- Once you determine the appropriate amount of gelatin required for thickening the cream, follow the instructions that come with it to prepare it for incorporation.
- Take a small bowl of cold water and sprinkle the gelatin powder evenly on top of the water (or with certain types of gelatin, submerge it if they come as gelatin sheets).
- Let it sit for 5 minutes so that it can soak up the water and thicken. This process is called blooming.
- Start by slowly pouring the gelatin mixture into the cream, making sure to not pour too much at once since it may result in a texture you do not want.
- Remember to constantly keep beating the cream to ensure the gelatin is properly incorporated so that it can thicken properly and evenly.
As a note of warning, if the gelatin and cream aren’t fully incorporated together, it may result in a poor texture and only certain areas of thickness.
This may change the cream completely from what you intended it to be and make it unusable for your recipe.
Adding Flour or Cornstarch to the Cream
Adding flour or cornstarch to cream is perhaps the easiest method for thickening it. The most complicated decision is choosing whether to use flour or cornstarch as a thickening agent.
Come to think of it, flour and cornstarch have the same effect on cream so you don’t have to worry about choosing the right one. You can go for whatever is readily available and you’re more comfortable working with.
Here are step-by-step instructions on how to add flour (or cornstarch) to cream to make it thicker:
- Start by making a flour (or cornstarch) slurry by mixing equal parts of flour (or cornstarch) and cold water.
- Make sure to mix it properly to avoid getting any clumps since it may affect the texture of the cream when mixed together.
- When the flour (or cornstarch) mixture is ready, add it to the cream gradually, about 1 teaspoon at a time, mixing it thoroughly to get a smooth and even texture throughout the cream.
- Keep on gradually adding the slurry into the cream until you have achieved your desired thickness.
- Once it is ready, you may want to do a little taste test to check for any raw flour flavor to the cream, which may be present in anything you add flour to.
- If it is there, you can get rid of it by simmering the thickened cream for 2-3 minutes and, before you know it, you will have the perfect thickened cream ready to be used for your recipe.
Now that we’ve gone over some of our favorite ways to thicken cream, let’s go over a few questions that you might’ve had while reading this article.
How do you choose the best method for thickening cream?
As discussed above, there are three different methods of adding thickness to your cream.
You may choose to reduce it by heating it, adding one of the most common thickening agents out there: gelatin, or using other standard thickening agents such as flour or cornstarch.
Heating cream carries the risk of burning it and, even if you manage to thicken it successfully, there will be a guaranteed slight change in flavor.
Using gelatin may be a little troublesome, especially if you haven’t worked with it before, and deciding on the right amount of flour (or cornstarch) may be a hit or miss until you get it right.
All three methods have their pros and cons, and there is no definitive answer to one best method for thickening cream. It takes some trial and error, along with your personal preference, to find out what works best for you.
Can you freeze cream?
Heavy cream can go bad if left unused for too long. For this reason, you need to look at ways to safely store it for later use.
Similar to milk, you can keep heavy cream in the freezer for 1-2 months. However, it may result in slight changes in taste and texture once thawed.
When freezing small amounts, you can fill up an ice cube tray with the cream and place it in the freezer. Once they are frozen, transfer the tray to a freezer bag and take out one or more cubes when you need to use them.
For storing large amounts, you can simply freeze the cream in the carton that it came in. To allow room for expansion, make sure that there’s 1 inch of empty space in the container.
Make sure to label each bag and carton with the storage date so that you don’t use it beyond the recommended time.
How to defrost cream?
Defrosting cream is as easy as freezing it. Simply transfer the frozen cream from the freezer into the fridge and leave it overnight to slowly defrost.
Once it is fully thawed, you might notice that the cream has a runnier consistency and there is some separation. This is normal.
Just give the defrosted cream a good stir to mix all the ingredients and it will be ready for use again.
Can you re-freeze defrosted cream?
No, you must never attempt to freeze cream that has already been defrosted once. Freezing and defrosting cream has slight effects on its texture and flavor. If you try to re-freeze it, it will lose its texture, flavor, and consistency for good.
Therefore, to prevent this from happening, freeze the cream in small batches so that you can take out a single portion and defrost only as much as is needed.
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