Whipped cream in desserts
Cream is a superb ingredient in all cooking, not just in desserts. But in main courses, it’s mostly used as a silky-smooth flavor enhancer in sauces, soups and casseroles. In desserts, (whipped) cream plays a more varied role:
Always buy cream with a high fat content
There’s no reason to buy cream with a fat content lower than 35% to 40%. The high content makes it last longer naturally and gives it the properties you want cream to have, like being able to whip it.
Remember that 40% fat cream is perfectly edible several days after its best-before date. Test it by smelling and tasting it.
Lumps of fat in cream
When cream is left to stand, the fat tends to gather at the top. This is because natural cream is an emulsion (a “forced” blend of fat, protein and water), not because the cream has gone sour.
Fatter the better in cooking
Cream with a higher fat content doesn’t curdle as easily and is therefore better even for main courses. If you’re afraid of fat in your food, use less of it.
The art of whipping cream
You need a fat content of at least 30% for whipped cream. However, anyone who has whipped cream more than once will know that sometimes it is easier than other times. Some professional tips:
- For a more stable result that is quicker to beat, the cream needs to be fridge cold, 5°C/41°F. The bowl should be cold as well.
- Angle the bowl to get maximum air into the cream.
- Slower beating – lowest speed on an electric whisk or by hand – produces more air and more stable whipped cream.
- Estimate that the volume will double.
- The cream is whipped when you can easily create peaks with the whisk.
- Whipping cream that is too warm. In the worst case it can go straight to “butter” without passing “fluff”.
- Cream that has been frozen can’t be whipped (but it’s great for other things).
- Beating cream too hard and too quickly, e.g. with a hand-held mixer, which doesn’t add enough air. And:
- Don’t whip the cream extra hard just because it will have to sit around before it gets eaten. All that will do is make it collapse more quickly than cream that was whipped more gently.
Extra stable whipped cream 1
To be honest, fresh cream in pastries is often fresher than butter cream or ganache. But you need extra stable cream for that. One trick is to add custard powder in the cream. You need about 3 tbsps custard powder to 500ml cream. Method:
- Chill the cream and the bowl.
- Beat the cream and the custard powder on a low speed (to get in more air).
- The cream should be stiff enough that the bowl can be turned upside down.
Extra stable whipped cream 2
The aim is to beat the cream until stiff but without it turning into butter. Adding a little baking powder allows you to beat the cream for longer but still with a light and airy result. It won’t change the flavor of the cream as it doesn’t need much baking powder. About 0.5ml to 500ml cream (1/8 tsp to 1/2 quart).
Extra stable whipped cream 3
Pastry chefs often use gelatin to extend the lifetime of cream on a cake, for example. One recipe:
550ml whipped cream/1/2 quart
1.5 leaves of gelatin
- Put the gelatin in cold water until it softens.
- Drain off the water and microwave the gelatin for about 20 seconds on full power until it is liquid.
- Beat the cream on a reasonably low speed and spred the warm gelatin through it evenly. Fill a piping bag with a nozzle with the whipped cream.
- Chill the piping bag with the cream for an hour before using.
Whipping cream without a whisk:
You need a bowl with a lid that is big enough for the cream plus a bit of air. Close the bowl and shake it as if you were making a cocktail. This is a good way of avoiding unnecessary washing up, or to whip cream in the middle of a picnic. And it comes with a free workout...
Flavored whipped cream
There are fundamentalists who think cream with sugar in is anathema, but the bitter truth is that a pinch of sugar or vanilla sugar makes cream taste even better.
Mix with crème fraîche
Whipped cream can be mixed with a bit of crème fraîche for a sharp, fresh combination of sweet and sour (and fat). Excellent with freshly baked scones.
Whipped cream in the UK and US
If you’re following English recipes from both sides of the Atlantic, it can get confusing. A little guide:
- Heavy cream – contains 38% fat. Also called “heavy whipping cream”. In the UK, “double cream” has 48% fat and “clotted cream”, which is solid and great on scones, has 55% fat.
- Whipping cream (in both countries) – 35% fat. Enough fat to be whipped and so as not to curdle if you heat it. For cakes, sauces, etc.
- Light cream (US) – contains 20% fat. Single cream (UK) contains 18% fat. It might curdle when heated. You can’t whip it, but you can pour it over sweet desserts, for example.
- Half-and-half (US) contains 12% fat. This is half milk and half cream and is said to be the best choice in coffee.
Different kinds of cream
Dividing cream into different types is more to do with marketing than cooking. You can sell twice as much cream if it has half the fat content, and you get more in-store exposure if you have several varieties on the shelf.
Cream with a low fat content – especially if it has a long shelf-life – will contain things like carrageenan, stabilizers, pectin, monoglycerides and diglycerides of fatty acids, modified starch and cellulose.
Homogenization reduces lumps
Homogenization is used to prevent the fat in the cream forming lumps. This technique breaks up the droplets of fat in the cream, making them even smaller. This is especially used for cream with a low fat content. Proper cream copes on its own and is harder to whip if it is homogenized.
Carrageenan is a substance that forms a mesh of thin gel which makes it harder for the fat droplets in the cream to clump together. It also goes by the name E407 and is made from red algae.
Whipped cream for nerds
Cream is a natural emulsion. At a microscopic level it consists of droplets of milk fat in a state of suspension in water. There are proteins on the surface of the droplets that act as an emulsifier so that the fat and water can mix.
Mechanical beating breaks up the droplets of fat. And this removes their surface layer of proteins, so the droplets clump together and take on a new structure that encloses the water and air from the beating process. The more the cream is beaten, the more this happens.
If you beat too quickly – e.g. in a carbonation system – the foam will soon collapse again because the stabilized network of fat hasn’t been created mechanically.
The fat in the cream must be as solid as possible when whipping. At higher temperatures there is a risk that part of the fat will clump together without forming stabilizing layers around the air in the foam. In practice particles of butter will form in the cream. (If it’s butter you want, it’s better to beat warm cream...)