For cream-of-the-crop cooking, you need to use the right kind of cream. Depending on the butterfat range, cream can be classified as anything from half-and-half (ideal for stirring into coffee) to clotted or Devon cream, suitable for spreading on scones. When baking, though, it's the creams that come in between that matter the most.

Photo by Meredith

Heavy cream

Heavy cream, also known as heavy whipping cream, doubles in volume and holds its shape when whipped, making it the perfect topper for desserts. It's also the best choice for recipes that call for piping cream from a pastry bag.

Heavy cream has slightly more milkfat than whipping cream (36% versus 30%), and each cup of heavy whipping cream contains more than 800 calories and 80 grams of fat. Try heavy cream in cream puffs, creamed peas or zabaglione. And of course, don't forget the whipped cream for trifles, ice cream sundaes and pies.

Whipping cream

At 30 percent butterfat, whipping cream is just rich enough to set, but produces a lighter, less-sturdy whipped cream. It performs best as a light topping or filling, as in this summer fruit salad or lemon peach parfait. To mimic the thickening effect of whipping cream in soups or sauces, try low-fat cream cheese or a mixture of one cup of 1 percent milk and one tablespoon of cornstarch. For topping or filling sweets, fat-free half-and-half is an appropriate substitute.

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