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Why did the cream in the gratin break......again?

I made a basic 'gratin'. The cream broke again! I used half and half milk. Should I be using whipping cream? Is there something in onions or potatoes that causes the milk to break?

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  1. It's the half and half. Use cream=no breakage when heated. You *can* add less milk fat but only at the end to finish. No heating or boiling. Of course that doesn't apply to a gratin.

    1 Reply
    1. +1 on the heavy cream- but also another thought: Your heat's too high. What temp/time are you cooking at?

      1. You can get away with 1/2 heavy cream and 1/2 half and half--usually. But yes--just half and half can't stand up to heating.
        I know I've read a more specific and scientific directive than this somewhere--if I can dig it up I'll post it. Maybe Harold McGee...

        3 Replies
        1. re: splatgirl

          Thanks. I'll use whipping cream next time. I am probably over heating the dish in order to get a nice browning on the potatoes. I''ll keep the heat down too.

          1. re: Puffin3

            My best luck with gratin is 325 degrees, for about 25 minutes (2 lbs potatoes, 3 cups cream). Then I take it out and let it rest because I need the oven for other things. For me, this makes a huge difference in the texture of the potatoes, and allowing the starch to thicken the cream. Then I'll put it back in for a 10 minute warmup before serving. I haven't had any problem getting the top to brown, but I go for a more golden brown than anything darker than that.

            1. re: Puffin3

              My best gratin recipe is cooked at 400 degrees, no breaking. It uses heavy cream, butter and a lot of shredded gruyere.

          2. Not knowing what you did, it's impossible to say what you did wrong.

            My guess is you added the cream to a sauce that was too hot. Try to temper the two.

            4 Replies
              1. re: monavano

                I've seen people add some of the cream (or milk) halfway through the baking process.

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  My favorite gratin recipe calls for heating the cream with the butter and the chopped garlic, then adding to the gratin after assembly/layering.

                  1. re: mcf

                    IIRC, the Joy of Cooking uses the "put cream, butter, and potatoes in a large pot and simmer until the cream starts to reduce" method. Personally, I just layer, and if I'm feeling it for some reason or another (does there have to be a rhyme or reason? maybe if my potatoes feel "wetter than usual" as they're coming off the mandoline?) I'll sprinkle a bit of flour over one or two layers of potatoes, probably no more than a teaspoon per sprinkle)

            1. If you want to lower your calories you could use milk but in combination with flour. Use about 1/4 cup of flour with a cup and a half of milk and you will have a thickened sauce with less calories and it will not break. I use this in chicken pot pie but also add chicken stock.

                1. Maybe because half and half isn't cream.

                  There really is no need for heavy cream,though -- light cream works just fine.

                  14 Replies
                  1. re: linguafood

                    FWIW, I've never seen light cream in the U.S.

                    1. re: splatgirl

                      Seriously? I've seen it everywhere -- right next to the heavy cream.

                      1. re: linguafood

                        I just read a recipe today calling for light cream and thought "I've never seen that before!". How funny. What region of the country do you live in? I'm in the Southwest...although I don't think I've ever looked for it.

                          1. re: linguafood

                            What percentage of fat is considered light. In Quebec we have 5% 10% 15% 35%?

                        1. re: linguafood

                          We don't have light cream where I live in the Midwest. I recall seeing it years ago back east.

                          1. re: linguafood

                            I think it's very regional. In years past, I've also seen New Englanders on CH talk about light cream, but in the areas where I've lived - NYC and California - I've only ever found heavy and/or whipping and half and half. Never seen light for sale anywhere.

                              1. re: linguafood

                                Nah, I guess if you wanted it you could just blend it, right?

                          2. re: splatgirl

                            I haven't seen it. Just heavy/whipping and 1/2 and 1/2.

                            1. re: sandylc

                              Yeah, I'm in metro NY and I can't recall ever seeing light cream.

                              1. re: mcf

                                PA here, and it's everywhere. Fat content is probably 15% (is heavy 30?), but don't hold me to it as I don't have any in the fridge right now.

                                1. re: linguafood


                                  1/2 & 1/2 is about 12%
                                  light cream is about 20%
                                  heavy cream is 36-38%

                        2. I'm looking at my little carton of Lucerne Table Cream, which is light cream.