Memorial Day marks the beginning of strawberry season for many Long Islanders. For me, it's also the start of whipped cream season.
Not only will I enjoy this simple pleasure with local berries during the month of June, but I'll use it to make blueberry semifreddo in July and to garnish peach cobbler in August. Every warm day will be an opportunity to top ice cream with freshly whipped cream and homemade hot fudge.
Whipped cream is quick and easy to make from scratch, so there's no excuse to buy it in a canister at the supermarket. A few things to know before you start:
Buy real cream. Whipping cream has about 30 percent butterfat and heavy cream has about 36 percent butterfat. When cream is whipped, fat molecules join to form cells that trap air, and these cells inflate. Don't try to whip half-and-half or milk, because neither has enough fat for this process to take place.
Almost all cream sold in supermarkets is ultrapasteurized (UHT), meaning it has been heated to 280 degrees and then chilled. It will stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to two months. Pasteurized cream, which has only been heated to 168 degrees, has a shorter shelf-life, two to three weeks. If you can find pasteurized cream, buy it, because it will have a fresher dairy taste and will whip up taller and more quickly than ultrapasteurized cream.
Chill your cream and your bowl. Cold cream will whip to a greater volume than room-temperature cream because cold fat molecules link together more easily than warm fat molecules. To keep cream cold during whipping, use a chilled bowl.
Pull out the mixer. You can whip heavy cream with a large balloon whisk, but it will take time and muscle. A stand or hand mixer will do the job in seconds.
Whip to soft peaks. You know you've whipped your cream to this perfect stage when you lift the whisk or beaters from the cream and the peaks become rounded and droopy instead of standing straight up (that would be "stiff peaks"). The reason you want to get to soft peaks and no further is that once the cream is stiff it is only seconds before it will become grainy and begin to separate. For stiff peaks, continue to whip the cream with a whisk by hand.
Whip in advance. There's no need to whip cream at the last minute. Keep your whipped cream in the refrigerator for a few hours and whisk it a few times to fluff it up just before serving.
Some people use quick-dissolving confectioners' sugar to sweeten whipped cream. But I have found that granulated sugar does eventually dissolve as the cream is whipped, without the chalky aftertaste confectioners' sugar can leave.
As for flavoring, a little vanilla extract enhances the sweet dairy flavor of whipped cream. Or you can replace the vanilla with ¼ teaspoon of almond, rum, coconut, maple or peppermint extract to suit your taste. Liqueurs are another way to go. Add a tablespoon of coffee, hazelnut, orange or raspberry liqueur before whipping. For cocoa whipped cream, add 1½ tablespoons of sifted cocoa powder. For coffee whipped cream, add 2 teaspoons of instant espresso powder.
Folding some sour cream into your whipped cream is optional and will give it a slightly tangy flavor and nice shine.
Once you've mastered the skill of whipping cream, you can put together many simple summer desserts, including fruit fools, fruit shortcakes, and ice cream sundaes. You also can use your whipped cream in more elaborate creations, such as chocolate mousse, zabaglione, and English trifle. Or you could just spoon it into bowls, spoon some strawberries on top, and enjoy.
PERFECT WHIPPED CREAM
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
2 to 3 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ cup sour cream, optional
1. Place a large mixing bowl in the freezer for 15 minutes.
2. Combine the chilled cream, sugar and vanilla in the chilled bowl. With an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, whip for a minute or less on low speed, until the cream begins to thicken (if you start on medium-high, your cream may splash out of the bowl). Turn the speed to medium-high and continue to whip a minute or two, until the cream holds soft peaks. Stop frequently to check. Do not overwhip. If stiff peaks are desired, use a whisk to continue to whip by hand another minute until the cream holds stiff peaks.
3. Gently whisk the sour cream by hand into whipped cream, if using.
4. Use immediately, or cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 6 hours. Whisk several times by hand for a couple of seconds just before serving. Makes 8 generous servings.