Whipped cream gets a lot of face time during the holidays. Sweet potato pie would be lost at sea without it, and even those who are "staying away from dessert" can't turn down a bowl of whipped cream-topped fruit.
This entertaining season, ditch the aerosol cannister and vow to make your own whipped cream. We check in with Veronica Rivera, pastry chef at Restaurant Marc Forgione in New York City, to get her whipped cream secrets. The most important thing, she says, is to make it by hand—the effort is more than worth it. "The product comes out smoother and lighter to where it practically melts in your mouth" and is far superior to mixer-made cream, which can be grainy.
It helps to make sure everything is cold (whisk, bowl, ingredients) and use a small amount of cream in a large bowl to speed up the whipping and shorten your arm workout. Also, rather than dumping everything into a bowl and whisking it to oblivion, start with just the cream. Once it's gained some structure, add the rest of your ingredients. Rivera says that will help to avoid deflating your cloud-like pie topper.
Now that you have the basics down, here are four ideas to whip your cream into shape.
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① Herbs: Add a fragrant and savory touch to dessert with woody herbs, like lavender, thyme, or rosemary, or soft herbs, like basil or mint. For basil whipped cream, add your cream and a large handful of fresh leaves to a small saucepan, using about half a cup of herbs for one cup of cream. Heat the mixture over a medium flame until it starts to simmer, then remove it and cover the pan. Let the basil steep for 30 minutes (or fewer, for a less intense flavor), then strain and chill the cream until you're ready to whip.
② Booze: Use a sweet spirit like elderflower liqueur (which is best over a dark chocolate mousse), and you won't have to add as much sugar. Dana Loia, founder of macaron confectioner Dana's Bakery, suggests rum for topping pumpkin pie. The deeper, brown sugar flavors play nicely together. Other options include bourbon (try it with pecan pie) and tequila for a margarita you can chew.
③ Spices: A little goes a long way when adding spices. Gently fold them in when the cream is just about finished, taking care not to burst the air bubbles you just created. Rivera has a crème fraîche ginger whipped cream on the menu right now, served with poached pears and bourbon ice cream. "The crème fraîche gives it a great texture and tangy flavor, and I use fresh ginger instead of ground for a more floral taste."
④ Chocolate: Everything's better with chocolate, and whipped cream is no exception. Loia is a fan of adding chocolate shards: "It gives it a mousse-like feel," she says, and she loves it over berries. For a smoother texture, opt for cocoa powder, which will also give your whip a uniform chocolaty taste.
Try not to overmix your whipped cream, but if you do, don't fret. Make lemons out of lemonade—you just made butter.
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