You’ll notice some recipes list different dairy products like buttermilk, sour cream or heavy cream but are they interchangeable? Let’s go over the most common dairy ingredients to see!

Various dairy products: carton of half and half, a container of milk, a can of evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk, sour cream, and heavy cream.


Dairy products like milk, cream, and half and half are used mostly for adding moisture, flavor, and richness to baked goods. You can mix and match some dairy ingredients interchangeably but it’s important to know when you can make substitutions and when you can’t.


A container of 2% milk and milk in a measuring cup

The main function of milk is to add moisture and richness to baked goods. The higher the fat content of the milk you are using, the more rich and tender your baked good will be. The percentage that you usually see with milk types, for example 2% milk, means that the milkfat is 2% of the total weight of the milk in that container. Milkfat is the fatty portion of the milk. Whole milk has 3.25% milkfat.

In general, if your recipe calls for low fat, 1%, or 2% milk you can substitute it with what you have on hand or even dairy-free milk with little consequence to the final baked good. If the recipe calls for higher fat milk like whole milk, half and half, or cream, you need to be more careful with making any substitution. 


Heavy Cream in a measuring cup

Heavy cream, whipping cream, and double cream are unique in that they have a fat content of at least 30% which allows them to be whipped into a foam. These products are often used for moisture and richness in baking.

However, they can also be used to help lighten and aerate when folded into a filling or something like a mousse. Light cream has less milkfat at about 20%. Although it can be whipped to a foam, it won’t hold its shape for as long and as well as heavy cream.

Half and Half

A jar of half and half and the carton.

Half and Half is exactly as it sounds! Half cream and half milk. It’s less thick and decadent as heavy cream but richer than milk. You can use it in most recipes that call for heavy cream if you are looking for less calories and to add lightness. Or you can use it in place of milk to add richness.

Although half and half is pretty versatile as a substitute for cream and milk, one important thing to remember is that half and half can not be whipped up! Due to its lower fat content than heavy cream, it won’t whip up no matter how hard you try. Another thing to watch out for is fat-free half and half, it’s essentially milk thickened with corn syrup. It’s not creamy and has an artificial taste. I don’t recommend this for baking or cooking – although it would be fine to use as a creamer for coffee and tea.

If you don’t have a carton of half and half on hand, you can easily mix up your own batch by combining equal parts milk and heavy cream. Mix it well or give it a good shake in a mason jar.

combine equal parts milk and heavy cream = half and half

Buttermilk, Sour Cream, and Yogurt

A glass of buttermilk, yogurts, and sour cream.

Buttermilk, sour cream, and yogurt are all cultured dairy products which means they are acidic in nature. These products are used frequently in baking to activate baking soda in addition to adding moisture and flavor to baked goods.

If you don’t have buttermilk on hand, you can easily make your own! You can make a buttermilk substitute by combining other ingredients such as milk and vinegar, water and sour cream, or water and yogurt.

Evaporated Milk and Sweetened Condensed Milk

A can of evaporated milk and a can of sweetened condensed milk.

Don’t get the two confused! Evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk both come in similar looking cans found in the baking aisle of grocery stores. Evaporated milk is simply concentrated milk where the water has been evaporated off leaving a creamy, thick substance. Sweetened condensed milk is evaporated milk but with added sugar. You do not want to mix up the two in a recipe.

Various dairy products: carton of half and half, a container of milk, a can of evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk, sour cream, yogurt, and heavy cream.