Light and airy, there’s nothing quite like a dollop of freshly whipped cream topping a bowl of cut fruit, strawberry shortcake, pumpkin pie, hot chocolate, or . . . (dream on) to turn ordinary into extraordinary! Whipped cream simply makes every dessert special!
Once you learn how to whip cream, you’ll never have to resort to that store-bought, non-dairy, who-knows-what, frozen topping again. Further, you can flavor it with vanilla, cocoa, cinnamon, liquor, strawberry, or anything else that sparks imagination.
In a scientific nutshell, whipped cream is a foam created by incorporating tiny air bubbles into a fatty liquid where the fat molecules line up around the air bubbles and cling to each other. Cream must have a fat content of at least 30 percent to hold a stable, unseparated foam when whipped. Dairy products sold as ‘heavy cream’ or ‘heavy whipping cream’ contain between 30-36 percent fat. The higher the fat content, the denser the whipped cream.
The King Arthur Baking Company has a great tutorial on how to whip cream beginning with a cold bowl (preferably stainless steel), beaters, and cream to keep the fat in the cream in a microscopically solid state. Ordinarily, it takes a very short time to whip cream and it’s very easy to go from a soft, billowy foam to butter! And even perfectly whipped cream can be close to butter by the time it is stirred, spread, or piped as any additional manipulation has the same result as whipping. Therefore, it is best to slightly under whip cream to be used as a frosting, filling, or piped decoration.
Whipped cream topped desserts, frosted or filled cakes, or desserts made with whipped cream, are best served the day made. If the whipped cream needs to stand up longer, the whipped cream needs to be stabilized by adding ingredients containing protein or carbohydrate to give the foam more structure enabling the whipped cream to stay fluffier longer. Stabilized whipped cream adds 24-48 hours of additional life and holds up better at room temperature. This gives one the ability to prepare a day in advance without loss of loft or body, or releasing any of its liquid when stored in the fridge like standard whipped cream will.
Here are 7 common ways to stabilize whipped cream. Each has its own merits or weakness.
Gelatin. Gelatin is commonly used and works very well but is the most complicated of stabilizers and is also not vegetarian. It does offer the option of making a non-sweet whipped cream. To use gelatin, pour 1 tablespoon of cold water into a heatproof cup. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon unflavored gelatin. Let it soften without stirring for 5 minutes. Place the cup in simmering water until the gelatin is melted and the liquid is clear. Let cool to room temperature. Add to the whipped cream as the cream begins to thicken.1 When stabilized with gelatin, the whipped cream needs to be used right away as it sets from the gelatin. It will not be smooth again unfortunately. During refrigeration, the gelatin may form small lumps in the cream resulting in a marshmallow-like consistency.
Dry milk powder. Dry milk powder is a great stabilizer and adds no change in flavor or texture to the whipped cream. To 1 cup of heavy cream, add 1 tablespoon of dry milk powder2 at the same time that sugar would be added. Dry milk powder and powdered sugar make a great combination.
Instant Clearjel. Instant Clearjel is a modified food starch made from corn that thickens instantly when it comes into contact with liquid. Instant clear gel powder imparts no flavor and leaves no granular feeling. Mix 1 teaspoon Instant ClearJel with the sugar (2 Tablespoons) and add to the whipping cream (1 cup) 2 when the whisk or beaters start to leave trails in the bowl. It is recommended that Instant Clear Jel be thoroughly blended with sugar before it is added to liquids in order to prevent lumping and to insure smoothness. The presence of sugar acts to control the rate of the hydration of the starch. Instant Clearjel is not readily available but can be purchased from online sources.
Cornstarch. Cornstarch is an easy way to thicken and stabilize whipped cream. To one cup of heavy cream, add 1 teaspoon cornstarch3 mixed with the sugar. The cornstarch can leave a slightly gritty texture to the whipped cream and a bit of a starchy taste.
Confectioners or powdered sugar. Replace the granulated sugar with powdered sugar to take advantage of the starch (usually cornstarch) in the confectioners sugar.
Instant pudding mix. Instant pudding, made with modified starches, adds strength, flavor, and sweetener. Additional sugar may or may not be needed. To one pint of cream, add 1 tablespoon of INSTANT pudding mix. 4 Pudding mix is added to the cream at the beginning of the whipping processes.
Cream of Tartar. Cream of Tartar is an acid commonly used to stabilize egg whites for whipping. It also helps to thicken and stabilize whipping cream but also adds a slightly sour taste to the cream. Add a 1/4 teaspoon of Cream of Tartar to a cup of cream.5
Last but not least, remember that cream is perishable and stabilizing whipped cream does not prevent it from becoming a food safety hazard if left at room temperature for too long. TWO HOURS is the max at room temperature!
Once whipped cream is mastered and the preferred method of stabilizing is found, that artificial non-dairy whipped topping will never again be a ‘go to’. Over time, I have experimented with all of these methods. For everyday toppings, I like stabilizing with powdered milk and powdered sugar. For cream cake fillings and cake frosting, I prefer using the Instant ClearJel. Cooks Illustrated also experimented and, over all, chose gelatin. No matter the method, homemade whipped cream is always worth the effort. Enjoy!
1 Joy of Cooking, 2019 edition
2 Stabilized Whipped Cream, University of Wyoming
3 Tip: Stabilized Whipped Cream, theKitchen.com
4 Easier Stabilized Whipped Cream, Food.com
5 Decorator’s Never-Fail Whipped Cream, FineCooking.com