I was making a cream sauce last night to put over tortellini. My choices of cream at the store were heavy whipping cream and half and half. I used both and it turned out watery. Which should I have used?

  • 1
    I agree with what @Escoce says in his answer. However, there could be other reasons depending on other ingredients, cooking time, etc. If you could edit your answer to give us more details we may be able to give you more help. For what it's worth, I use cream if I have it on hand, but more often use half and half simply because we always have it on hand.
    – Cindy
    Commented Jan 12, 2016 at 14:14
  • 3
    In most cream sauces, there's some sort of a thickener -- a roux, eggs (carbonara), cheese (alfredo), etc. In some cases, you finish cooking the pasta in the sauce, so you'll get the starch from the pasta as the thickener. You generally want to thicken it 'til it coats the back of a spoon. (even better, if you can swipe a line with your finger across the spoon, as the line stays)
    – Joe
    Commented Jan 12, 2016 at 14:58
  • 1
    What were the other ingredients in your recipe?
    – Erica
    Commented Jan 12, 2016 at 15:00
  • Why would you use half and half? It's half milk... Which isn't cream.
    – Catija
    Commented Jan 12, 2016 at 15:33

3 Answers 3


Tortellini is a typical pasta from the region on Emilia in Italy, a stronghold of Italian dairy. It is the region where Parmigiano cheese and the company Parmalat originated, for instance. It is also the region of Parma ham. No surprise this recipe brings all of that together.

The traditional recipe asks for Panna fresca liquida, which in Italy would look something like this, and would be in a refrigerated area in the supermarket. It has between 20-30% of fat and is fairly liquid.

The traditional recipe asks for cooked ham (optional), butter, Panna liquida fresca, Parmigiano, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Thus no flour. The trick for consistency is on the right quantity of Parmigiano (a lot!). After cooking the tortellini, drain well and mix in the sauce over low heat in a hob until the right consistency. The starch coming from the pasta will also help to thicken the sauce. One way to gauge is to first cook the pasta, add to the cooked cream and add Parmigiano over the low fire until you get the desired consistency.

The consistency is of course a question of taste. For example, in this recipe the famous Emilian chef Massimo Bottura uses 300g of Parmigiano (24 months) for 200g of cream. Very intense!


I can only guess based on what happened to you, but usually when a recipe calls for "cream" and don't distinguish, it usually means heavy whipping cream.

  • Why would it be whipping cream, if the recipe is not about whipping? The whipping cream I've seen in my supermarket tends to have extra stuff to ease the whipping, like thickeners. Though maybe this depends on the country...
    – hmijail
    Commented Jun 28, 2020 at 6:51
  • The only reason heavy whipping cream is stabilized is to prevent clotting in shipping and storage.
    – Escoce
    Commented Jun 30, 2020 at 14:03
  • I said thickeners, not stabilizers. In my experience, the creams that are sold as "whipping cream" have additional, specific additives, different to those in other creams. So it is not about "preventing clotting in shipping and storage".
    – hmijail
    Commented Jun 30, 2020 at 22:46

I use 35% whipping cream or 35% heavy cream for sauces (dairy section as well). If you want a thicker consistency, I have found adding arrowroot powder or flour is the best. You only need very little.

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