You're not using canned whipped cream, are you?

November 24, 2014

Whether whipping by hand or with a mixer, whip the cream to soft or firm peaks, but don't overwhip

The last time we talked about whipped cream, George Bush was in the White House. And if we didnít mention it then, weíre mentioning it now: itís not enough simply to take cream and whip it.

You have to whip it good.


If youíre thinking of using whipped cream ó pssst: itís the holiday season ó please, avoid that nasty canned stuff. Whip your own cream and itíll be like youíre on the road out of Gomorrah: youíll never look back.


Now, you may be thinking, "Feh. Whipped cream. Whatís to know? You whip some cream. Done."

Well, I suppose thatís true enough, in a "Brain surgery. Feh. Whatís to know?" kind of way.

OK, so maybe whipped creamís not brain surgery, but it is surprising complex, chemically speaking:

Whipped cream is a foam, and foam is a category of what are called "colloidal suspensions," something that occurs when you take two things that donít normally combine ó in this case liquid and gas ó and combine them.

The best known colloid is the emulsion, wherein two non-combining liquids like oil and vinegar form a vinaigrette. There, we physically break up oil into gajillions of teeny-tiny droplets, each of which is surrounded by vinegar, forming a homogenous liquid.

With whipped cream, weíre whipping air bubbles into cream. If we were just to whip bubbles into cream, then stop whipping, the bubbles would rise to the top and pop, allowing the air to escape. By continuing to whip, though, weíre literally breaking down the fat molecules, changing the way they interact with one another and allowing them to clump together, forming a protective coating around the air ó foam. That protective coating makes it more difficult for air to escape. The more we mix, the stronger the foam.

In order for this to happen, though, there are a couple of conditions that must be met:

First, there has to be enough fat. The more fat, the more the surrounding power.

Milk products are defined by the amount of butterfat (also called milk fat). In order to stabilize a foam, the fat content has to be above 30 percent. Whole milk is about 3.5 percent fat. Half and half, about 18 percent. Commercially available whipping cream is generally 30 percent. Heavy cream is more like 36 percent, which makes it even more stable.

The second condition is, everything has to be cold. If the cream is warm, the fat will be too soft, too limp to encapsulate the air. Chilling the fat makes it stiffer. Think about leaving butter on the counter versus keeping it in the fridge, where itís nice and cold and firm. On the hot counter, though, itís soft and melty. And just like itís easier to spread toast with melty butter, itís easier for bubbles to escape from warm cream. Dig?

Therefore, to increase your chances of whipped cream success, keep your cream in the fridge right up until the time you use it. Then, shortly before you whip the cream, put the implements youíll be using ó the bowl, the beaters ó into the freezer to get freezing cold.

Also, youíll have better luck in cooler kitchens. Generally, room temperature (around 70 degrees) is fine.

Another thing: Depending on how youíre using the whipped cream, you may want to add an additional stabilizer, like gelatin or confectionerís sugar, which has a small amount of cornstarch that helps hold the mixture together. Consult your recipe to see if itís necessary. If youíre just using it to top fresh berries or a cup of hot cocoa, I wouldnít worry about it.

Finally, you should know that, as you whip the cream, itís going to move through several stages:

Soft peaks, where the cream is slightly thick and droops off the whisk when you lift it from the bowl;

Medium peaks, wherein the cream mostly holds its shape when you pull the whisk from the bowl;

Stiff peaks, where, when you hold the beaters straight up in the air, the peaks stand like creamy white witchesí hats.

If you continue whipping past the stiff peak stage, the fat globules coalesce into larger bits, making your whipped cream grainy. (If this happens, whisk in a little milk, slowly.)

If you keep mixing past the grainy stage, the fat globules will glom onto each other, separating from the liquid, turning into butter.

One last thing: you can whip cream in a stand mixer or one of those hand-held electric beaters that make you think itís 1969. Or, if youíre feeling particularly plucky you can kick it old school, go off the grid and use a good quality hand whisk.

Regardless, hereís what you do:

1. Fifteen minutes before you need the whipped cream, place your mixing bowl and any whisks or beaters you may be using in the freezer.

2. Ten minutes before you need it, pour cream into your bowl along with a teaspoon of powdered sugar if youíre using it. If youíre using an electric mixer of any kind, start mixing on slow. If youíre using a hand whisk, whisk at a pace of about 4 downstrokes per second.

3. As the cream thickens, increase speed to quicken the process.

4. When the cream reaches the level of whippedness that you desire, turn off the machine and youíre ready to go.

There now, wasnít that easy?



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