Are regular cream cheese and whipped cream cheese interchangeable in recipes?
Many of us are as likely to have tubs of whipped cream cheese in our refrigerators as the more traditional blocks. To find out if the two are interchangeable, we used both types (measured by weight) in our Foolproof New York Cheesecake (see related content) and in cream cheese frosting.
Though some tasters found the frosting made with whipped cream cheese slightly less tangy than the one made with block cream cheese, all found it acceptable. In fact, it had a lighter, smoother texture that many preferred. The cheesecake was another story. While both cakes looked the part, the one made with whipped cream cheese had an unacceptably granular and slightly wet consistency in comparison with the dense, creamy texture of the one made with block cream cheese.
These differences can be explained by the manufacturing process. Block cream cheese is made by adding a cheese culture to milk and cream, which causes the proteins to coagulate slowly and produces a rich, smooth mass. Whipped cream cheese is coagulated with lactic acid, a process that is quicker (and less expensive). It forms a tight network of small, dense protein particles, which gives the cheese a grainier texture. But because the cheese is whipped, this graininess isn’t very noticeable when eaten as is or when used in uncooked applications like frosting (additives also help it maintain that lighter, spreadable consistency). But when baked, the tight networks will tighten up even more and expel water. Hence, a cheesecake that is grainy and watery. And finally, a test using our pH meter confirmed why the whipped cheese tasted less tangy than the block style: The whipped product has a higher pH, an indicator that it contains less lactic acid, a result of being coagulated much more quickly.
THE BOTTOM LINE: In recipes for which cream cheese is cooked, we recommend sticking with the traditional block. In cases where it is not heated, the whipped product is acceptable provided you substitute by weight.