Fresh unpasteurised milk quickly separates and the fat rises to the top. This fat layer is then skimmed off and is known as cream.
Cream has long been a versatile ingredient in the kitchen and can form a base to desserts, such as posset, or can be added to both sweet and savoury sauces to create a rich, smooth texture. Cream is also served just as it is, poured or spooned over hot or cold puddings and used as a garnish for soups.
Choose the best
It’s important to choose the right type of cream depending on what you are making. As a rule the higher the fat content the easier it will be to use, as the fat will holds the liquid elements together. A higher fat cream will therefore be less likely to split or curdle when incorporated with hot ingredients and will also whisk up well to an airy whipped cream.
Single cream is a richer version of milk, with around 18% fat content. You can use it for pouring or adding to coffee. Single cream will not whip and will curdle if boiled, so it can't be a substitute in recipes that call for whipping or double cream.
Whipping cream has around a 36% fat content, which allows air to be trapped when whipped, roughly doubling the volume. Once whipped, it can be used to top desserts or fill cakes and pastries.
Double cream is the thickest with around a 48% fat content. It makes an ideal pouring cream, such as when serving with fruit, or it can be whipped and piped for decorating desserts. It can also be used to add richness and creaminess to savoury dishes. Extra thick double cream is made by heating then rapidly cooling double cream - this creates a thicker cream.
Soured cream has been treated with lactic acid, which gives it a tangy taste. It has a thick texture but only around an 18% fat content. Use it for making cheesecakes, dips, topping nachos, and in soups and sauces - but it cannot be boiled or it will spilt.
Créme fraîche is similar to soured cream but with a milder taste. It is traditionally made from unpasteurised cream that has been left to ferment, but nowadays, pasteurised cream is thickened and soured with the addition of bacteria. It has around a 48% fat, which means it does not curdle when cooked. Serve with fresh fruit and in soups, casserole and dips. Low or half-fat crème fraîche is readily available and this means some of the fat is replaced with natural thickeners and stabilisers so that it will still hold together in cooking.
Clotted cream has the highest fat percentage of all creams at 55%. It's made by baking double cream until a delicious crust forms on the surface. This silky, butter-coloured cream is a speciality of Devon and Cornwall where it is served with scones, butter and jam.
Always store fresh cream in the fridge and use within one or two days of purchase. Créme fraîche will keep for 10-14 days in the fridge. Cream with a fat content of more than 35% can be frozen. Remember to pour a little from the top as it will expand when it freezes.
Lower fat creams like single cream will separate when thawed but can be frozen when already incorporated into a dish.