With the holidays at hand, and desserts on the table, the topic of whipped cream, as in real whipped cream, has been on my mind.
What I’ve been suspecting is that lots of people, maybe millions of people, don’t even know that you can actually make whipped cream yourself, yet the process is a total no-brainer. This notion was confirmed to me last week when we had some friends over for dinner. For dessert I just made fresh berries and whipped cream. Our friends—both of whom grew up in Wisconsin (diaryland, remember) and are about 30 years old said, “We decided we’re going to start doing real whipped cream, we never knew you could make it yourself. It’s so good.” Hmm.
The thing about real whipped cream is that, for me, going with something fake, like Cool Whip, signifies something greater than trading one whipped white thing for another. It gets to that whole idea of the mediocratization of our culture. And somehow, whipped cream seems to really embody this because making whipped cream is so super simple and so good, that to accept the trade down to Cool Whip because it’s even easier and can keep indefinitely in the freezer…I dunno, it just kind of freaks me out.
They say it takes one generation to lose a skill from a culture. I know it sounds absurd to even call standing with a mixer and a bowl a skill, but you get the idea. As my friends illustrate, it’s actually plausible that we are losing the skill of making real whipped cream. This would be a tragedy. If you are wondering if you have the capability to whip cream, I’m here to tell you: Yes, you can! My mom taught me how when I was about 8, not because she wanted me to learn some kind of Martha Stewart cooking technique, but because it was the easiest thing possible to do in the kitchen, and she had more important things to finish to get the holiday meal ready. The extent of the instructions were something like, “hey, stand here and hold this beater until it makes whipped cream.”
So I’m doing my part right here to let you in on the how to, because actually, there are a couple of things to know that do make whipping cream a little faster, easier, better.
First, I have found whipped cream sets up faster if you use cold beaters and bowls—you may have heard this. So what many people do, and what I do, is put the beaters and bowl in the freezer until you are ready to do the whipping. I take this one step further and freeze two bowls that can nest into one another, then when I’m ready to whip the cream, I put ice in the bottom (bigger) bowl so the mixing bowl stays nice and extra cold. As my friend said when he saw the setup, “oh, kind of like the opposite of a double-boiler.” Right. I developed this bowl-in-a-bowl technique on my own—it’s probably the most advanced cooking thing I’ve ever thought of—feel free to use it.
So, you just dump the whipping cream into your cold bowls and turn the mixer on high and stand there a while. At some point add some sugar (some people insist on confectioners sugar, but I’m not sure that’s necessary); I add a heaping tablespoon or two per cup. Then add a capful of vanilla or two. Whatever you like—this isn’t tricky.
After a little bit, maybe a little longer than you think it should take, the whipping cream starts to set up. And then suddenly voilà, you’ve got yourself one of the earth’s simple, real and special treats just calling out for a taste test.
When my oldest son first tasted whipped cream when he was two, he just stopped and looked at me and said, “mmmm, I’m so happy about that.” I assure you that you and your family and friends will be too.
Jeff Smith is editor of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine