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Real Whipped Cream: Keep It Real, Keep It Whipped

by Elizabeth Skipper | July 2nd, 2014 | Ask the Chef
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whipped-cream-354174_640I saw a recipe that has whipped topping (non-dairy) with blueberries and strawberries to make a flag design.  I personally detest whipped topping.  However, I think that homemade whipped cream won’t hold up as well at a cookout.  Any suggestions on what I could use as a topping? The base of the dessert is a simple yellow cake.

I’ve seen this cake – didn’t it originally come from an advertisement? It’s perfect for any patriotic occasion, and with July 4th coming up, what a great dessert for a cookout. Of course, it’s hot in July; and using whipped topping makes sense except for two things. The stuff’s bad for you and tastes awful.

Whipped cream being a natural and perishable food, it definitely won’t hold up like the fake topping will. What’s a cook to do? There really isn’t any wholesome substitute for whipped cream that’s less perishable, so the answer is to prepare the best possible whipped cream and stabilize it. There are a number to ways to prepare and treat it so it will last longer and won’t separate as quickly.

If you can find it – difficult, but worth the effort – buy heavy cream that’s not ultra pasteurized. There are so-called “whipping creams” which contain from 30-36% butterfat and while they will whip, the result is fragile. True heavy cream, with a butterfat content of from 36-42%, whips up more solid and doesn’t tend to separate as easily. Ultra pasteurized cream of either fat content doesn’t whip or hold up as well as pasteurized, or better yet, raw cream. I have memories of standing in a client’s kitchen swearing silently at a brand name ultra pasteurized whipping cream as I tried to fluff it up properly to top a lovely apple dessert. It refused to form nice peaks and slid off the tart in an unlovely slump – frustrating.

You probably already know a couple of other things to keep in mind when preparing whipped cream. The cream needs to be very cold. Chill the bowl and beater in the freezer beforehand if possible. Work quickly. A hand mixer works well, but the fluffiest whipped cream is produced by hand. If that sounds like too much whisking for you, do the bulk of the work with an electric mixer and finish it by hand. It’s easy to over-do it, and end up with butter, which is irreversible.

As for how to stabilize it, there are several ways. I was taught two, with cornstarch or unflavored gelatin, in culinary school. Of the two, I prefer gelatin. When my teacher revised her cookbook, in the new edition she had this to say, “After many tries over many years, I have come to the conclusion that the best stabilizer for satisfactorily textured and natural tasting whipped cream is the addition, per cup of the plain cream, of 2 level measuring teaspoons of nonfat dried milk.” Not a fan of nonfat dried milk, nor wanting to buy any in order to obtain this small quantity, I’ve never tried this. If you want to try it, simply mix the non-fat dried milk into the cream and proceed as usual.

To use cornstarch, mix together 1/3 cup cold milk and one teaspoon cornstarch in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until the mixture thickens. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Whip 1 cup of heavy cream to the Chantilly, or soft, stage and mix one-quarter of it into the thickened milk. Continue beating the remainder of the cream until stiff, and then fold it into the base.

To use unflavored gelatin, mix one teaspoon of it in ¼ cup of cold water in the top of a double boiler. Melt over simmering water; then let it cool slightly. While the gelatin is cooling, whip 1 cup heavy cream to the Chantilly stage. Pour the gelatin in a thin stream into the cream while continuing to whip the cream until stiff. Chill.

There are commercial products like Whip-It, which consists of dextrose, modified corn starch and tricalcium phosphate, an anti-caking agent. King Arthur Flour offers a similar one made of gelatin and dextrose. Xanthan gum and guar gum are possibilities, too, but I don’t think any of these choices is any better than what you may already have in your kitchen cupboard. They’re more costly, too.

If a slightly different taste is OK with you, try beating four ounces of room temperature cream cheese or mascarpone (Italian cream cheese) until it’s well softened. Whip one cup heavy cream to the Chantilly stage, add the cream cheese, and continue whipping until it’s stiff. This also thickens and stabilizes.

All these methods work well to keep whipped cream from breaking down and weeping liquid. That doesn’t mean your cake can sit out for hours on a hot day. Keep it refrigerated until serving time, and keep it out of the sun. Enjoy your real whipped cream, and Happy 4th of July!

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