Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Amazing World of Whipped Cream

Whipping cream is an almost dead gustatory art, gone the ways of Beef Wellington, puff pastry, and home-made demi-glace. Probably has to do with the availability of imposters, and a generation who have never savored real whipped cream.

Since my dietary changes a few months ago, the only dairy I can have is either real butter or cheese, and fermented products like yogurt... with one exception: I can have heavy cream in my coffee (as long as it is not ultra-pasteurized) and it is extremely difficult to find.

One of my small treats that's becoming a rite, is whipping some of that heavy cream for my coffee on Sunday mornings. I fondly remember reading in The Little Prince many years ago about the fox, and rites: "Rites are actions too often neglected. They are what make one day different from other days, one hour from other hours."

I have always loved whipped cream. As a youngster in high school (and the oldest grandchild), I was permitted to whip the cream for our extended family's Thanksgiving pumpkin pies. My grandfather still had my grandma's old tall and somewhat narrow thick glass container, barely wider than the old hand beater we used. The jar (and the beaters) went into the freezer for several hours before whipping the cream; it is essential for success that everything be well-chilled. One small half pint of real cream when whipped would fill the jar, and be just enough for everyone to have a dollop on top of their slice of pie.

Cream with a milkfat content of 30% or more (light cream is 30%-35%; heavy cream is 36% or more) will double in volume as air bubbles are captured into the network of fat droplets by whipping. You just have to be careful not to over-whip the cream or you will have butter for your pie! It was my job to also add the correct amount of powdered sugar as I was whipping. Just enough sugar will stiffen the mixture, and help reduce the risk of over-whipping as long as you are careful. Too much and the whipped cream will weep. I use just over a measured tablespoon, and taste... it sometimes needed a bit more, depending on the sweetness straight from the cow.

Did you know whipped cream with sugar added is known as Chantilly Cream, or Crème Chantilly across the pond, and sometimes also has a bit of vanilla added? I didn't, but I may try a bit of vanilla whipped in my whipped cream since I cannot have sugar.

You can also make a chocolate whipped cream by adding a tablespoon of cocoa to the cream before whipping. That might be interesting in my Sunday coffee too!

The internet offers up ways to save left-over whipped cream, or keep cream you have whipped in advance and placed in the refrigerator from weeping. I cannot imagine either... we had the anticipation of the pie while the cream was being whipped at the table, and we never had any left over! However, if you must, you can add a half teaspoon of cornstarch to a cup of heavy cream before whipping. (Powdered sugar contains a bit of cornstarch; it may be enough.) Old cookbooks say you can keep left-over whipped cream up to 2 days by putting it in a small strainer over a bowl to catch the drippings, and cover well before placing in the refrigerator.

Whipped cream for a frosting is possible if you stabilize it with gelatin. For each cup of cream, you need 1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin and 2 tablespoons cold water. Mix the gelatin and water in a small saucepan with a heavy bottom over low heat, and stir until melted. Cool, set aside, and start whipping the cream. When the cream barely starts to mound, slowly drizzle the gelatin mix into the cream with the beaters running. Beat until it is stiff enough to frost your cake or pipe through a pastry tube.

I always heard you cannot freeze whipped cream, but a couple of sites say you can as long as it is sweetened and flavored first. But why would you want to?

The imposters
Reddi-wip, from Con-Agra Foods, actually uses real cream in their ready-to-use pressurized containers (Original, Extra-Creamy, Light, Fat-Free, Non-Dairy, and Chocolate), and is propelled by nitrous oxide (and approved by the FDA), the same gas that is used as a weak anesthetic by dentists. I'm not sure how the Fat-Free and Non-Dairy versions can possibly be made from real cream, though.

Cool Whip is a brand of imitation whipped cream named a whipped topping my its manufacturer. Cool Whip Original is made of water, hydrogenated vegetable oil, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, skim milk, light cream, and less than 2% sodium caseinate (a milk derivative), natural and artificial flavor, xanthan and guar gums, polysorbate 60, sorbitan monostearate, and beta carotene (as a coloring). In some markets, such as Canada and the United States, Cool Whip is available in an aerosol can using nitrous oxide as a propellant. Cool Whip was formerly marketed as non-dairy, but in Jewish dietary traditions, Cool Whip was classified as dairy rather than parve (non-meat and non-dairy) because of the sodium caseinate (which is derived from milk). Some Cool Whip now also contains milk and cream.

According to a Wired Magazine article, Cool Whip consumers are paying 41 cents per ounce for mostly water and air: twice the cost of homemade whipped cream. “A delicious blend of sugar, wax, and condom lube.”

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