All the creamy secrets, revealed: Use half-and-half cream to break free from the ordinary and add a creamy twist to your recipe.
Caught in the middle of your baking spree, only to discover an empty milk carton?
With half-and-half nestled in your refrigerator, you might contemplate if it could serve as a milk substitute.
In this guide, we’ll explore the differences between milk and half-and-half, discuss when and how to substitute half-and-half for milk, and arm you with practical tips for making the substitution a success.
The Difference Between Half-and-Half and Milk
When it comes to dairy, there’s an abundance of options to choose from, from regular milk to sour cream to dry ingredients like powdered milk.
Today, our spotlight is on two staples:half-and-half and milk.
So, What Exactly Is Half-and-Half?
Half-and-half, true to its name, consists of equal parts milk and cream.
The resulting mixture boasts a creaminess that outshines whole milk, yet falls short of the decadence of heavy cream.
We often see half-and-half stepping up as a creamer in coffee or tea, but don’t be fooled — half-and-half is equally adept in the kitchen, adding its signature touch to dishes and baked treats alike.
When it’s a face-off between milk and half and half, the key is to weigh in the fat content and texture difference that each of these two dairy products brings to the table.
How Does Milk Stack Up Against Half-and-Half?
A quick skim of the facts unveils that milk, with a modest fat content of around 1-3%, presents a fluid consistency. Half-and-half, on the other hand, claims a more substantial fat content — between 10-18% — and a richer, creamier texture.1U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2023, March 28). Part 131 – Milk and Cream. CFR – Code of Federal Regulations Title 21. Retrieved May 20, 2023, from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=131.180
This means that when you swap half-and-half for milk, your culinary creation could take on a more thicker, richer character.
That said, the fat content in dairy products isn’t cast in stone. It can vary based on the brand and the specific product variant.
For instance, some brands of half-and-half may be leaner than their counterparts, so it’s a good idea to check the label on the back of the packaging.
How to Substitute Half-and-Half For Milk
Half-and-half, with its creamy richness, is an incredibly flexible ingredient that can enhance a plethora of recipes.
But if you’re not quite sure how to use half-and-half instead of milk, you should know that there are a few factors to mull over.
Substituting Half-and-Half For Milk in Baking
In baking, half-and-half can readily substitute for milk.
Its higher fat content has the potential to bless you with a denser, more moist cake — an absolute win if you’re on the quest for indulgence.
But remember, a switch to half-and-half might influence the mouthfeel of your baked goods — start small and adjust to find that perfect balance.
For instance, if your recipe calls for 1 cup of milk, experiment by using ½ a cup of milk blended with ½ a cup of half-and-half.
Suppose your recipe demands 1 cup of milk. Try a mix of ½ a cup of milk coupled with ½ a cup of half-and-half.
You could also consider a full substitution, though this might call for adjustments in the remaining ingredients to balance the higher fat. As a rule of thumb, blend ¼ cup water and ¾ cup half-and-half to replace each cup of milk.2Wilton (2020, April 17). Everyday Milk Substitutes for Baking When You Run Out of Milk. Wilton Blog. Retrieved May 20, 2023, from https://blog.wilton.com/everyday-milk-substitutes-for-baking-when-out-of-milk/
Substituting Half-and-Half For Milk in Sauces and Soups
Half-and-half can be a game-changer when you’re cooking up a sauce or soup.
It imparts a rich body to the dish without invoking the need for heavy cream. Be ready to play with the liquid and seasoning proportions, as the intensifying effect of half and half might demand a recalibration.
If a creamy pasta sauce recipe suggests milk, dare to diverge with half and half. Given its creamier constitution, you may have to use a ⅓ to a ½ of half-and-half than the amount of milk demanded by the recipe (use less half-and-half if the recipe calls for skim milk and more if it calls for whole milk).
The heightened flavor might also call for a lighter hand with salt and other seasonings. Do a taste-test after adding in the half-and-half to the cooking liquid, and adjust the amounts of salt and seasonings to your liking.
Making Smoothies and Shakes With Half-and-Half Instead of Milk
Subbing half-and-half for milk in your smoothies and shakes can yield a more indulgent, creamy result.
It’s a delightful way to treat yourself, but bear in mind that the extra fat content could tip the scales towards a more calorie-dense, satiating drink.
Per the USDA’s FoodData Central, 100 grams of half-and-half contains 131 calories and 11.5 grams of fat. In contrast, 100 grams of whole milk contains just 61 calories and a modest 3.2 grams of fat.
Provided you understand this difference, for a sumptuous smoothie, blend together half-and-half, your chosen fruits, and a sweetener that hits the right note.
Feel free to add components like protein powder or nut butter for a filling drink-on-the-go or a post-exercise pick-me-up.
Using Half-And-Half Instead of Milk in Drinks, Hot and Cold
Half-and-half can lend a touch of luxury to both hot and cold drinks, including coffee, tea, and hot chocolate.
The rich creaminess of half-and-half can tame the bitterness of coffee or tea and add a layer of sophistication to your hot chocolate recipe.
However, as we already touched on when discussing the use of half-and-half in smoothies, its indulgent personality could be a concern for those keeping tabs on their calorie and fat consumption
If you’re seeking a leaner option, you might opt for skim milk or a non-dairy alternative like almond milk.
Tips for Successful Substitution
Adjusting for Body
When substituting dairy products, it’s important to consider the consistency and thickness of the ingredient.
If a recipe calls for milk, but you’re using half and half, you may need to adjust the amount of liquid or flour to achieve the desired texture.
Balancing Flavor Profiles
Substituting dairy products can also affect the flavor of the final product.
If you’re using half-and-half instead of milk, you may need to adjust the amount of sugar or other seasonings to balance the richer flavor.
Considering Shelf Life and Storage
The longevity and storage instructions for dairy products vary.
When swapping one dairy product for another, it’s crucial to check the use-by date and storage instructions to guarantee your ingredient stays at its best.
Guidance from FoodSafety.gov’s FoodKeeper app advises that milk, if refrigerated from the time of opening, will stay good for a span of 5 to 7 days. On the other hand, once opened, half-and-half should be used within 3 to 4 days.
Yes, you can substitute half-and-half for milk in both baking and cooking.
You can even substitute one for the other in your drinks, though you should be aware of the difference that makes in terms of calorie content and fat intake.
The keys to a successful substitution?
Use less half-and-half than the amount of milk the recipe calls for, or to dilute the half-and-half with water (½ cup half-and-half and ½ water for whole milk, less cream and more water for skim milk) to balance out its richness.
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U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2023, March 28). Part 131 – Milk and Cream. CFR – Code of Federal Regulations Title 21. Retrieved May 20, 2023, from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=131.180
Wilton (2020, April 17). Everyday Milk Substitutes for Baking When You Run Out of Milk. Wilton Blog. Retrieved May 20, 2023, from https://blog.wilton.com/everyday-milk-substitutes-for-baking-when-out-of-milk/