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Substitutions for Cream Cheese
In most applications, Neufchatel cheese may be substituted for cream cheese in equal measure. To reduce fat in dips and spreads, you can substitute yogurt cheese, creamed cottage cheese, or low-fat/nonfat cream cheese for regular cream cheese, in equal measure.
For recipes requiring melted cream cheese, note that low-fat and nonfat varieties will not melt as well as regular cream cheese. Because of the lower fat content, there are more emulsifiers and stabilizers which inhibit melting.
Softening Block Cream Cheese
You may need to soften block cream cheese to mix with other ingredients or to make it more spreadable for table use.
One way to soften cream cheese is to place the foil packet or plastic container of cream cheese in a bowl of lukewarm water for 10 minutes. If you have an opened package, first place it in a plastic zip-lock bag and press as much air out as possible, seal it, and immerse it in the lukewarm water.
You can use the microwave to soften cream cheese. First, remove the cream cheese from the foil packaging and place it on a microwave-safe plate.
If you are going to mix the cream cheese with other ingredients, use 50 percent power. Microwave for 1 minute for an 8-ounce block or 30 seconds for a 3-ounce block
To soften cream cheese for the table, use the High setting. Microwave for 20 to 30 seconds for an 8-ounce block or 5 to 15 seconds for a 3-ounce block. The timing will vary depending on the power of your microwave, so you may need to experiment and microwave it for a shorter time until you get the desired softness.
Making Flavored Cream Cheese
You can cream your cream cheese together with ingredients such as herbs, fruit jelly, or spices to make your own flavored cream cheese. Place the cream cheese and other ingredients in a blender, food processor, or mixer bowl. Add a few drops of water or milk and process till the ingredients are creamed together.
Room Temperature Cream Cheese
When using cream cheese in cheesecake, it is important that the cheese is at room temperature before beginning in order to achieve a smooth, creamy result. To bring it to room temperature, simply remove it from the refrigerator for one to two hours before you will be using it in the recipe.
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For a quick party dip, bring a block of cream cheese to room temperature and top with salsa, chutney, or fruit preserves. Serve with savory crackers, vegetables, fruits, or cookies.