In college, I worked as a server at a family-run Italian restaurant in Baltimore. From night to night the menu would change, showcasing different Italian dishes, but one dessert never changed: Poached Pear in Chianti Wine Sauce with Chantilly Cream. (Psst: Chantilly cream is just a fancy name for whipped cream.) The concept was simple, much like this poached pear recipe, but it was probably our most popular dessert.
On a particularly busy evening, one of the prep cooks asked me to make a batch of whipped cream for the dish. I stared at the bowl of cream and sugar before me and confessed that I had no idea what to do. The cook scoffed, snatched the bowl, and began to whisk feverishly, by hand. Within moments, the liquid ballooned into airy whipped cream.
That was it?
When I tried it at home, I learned it wasn’t quite as easy as he made it look. So for this article, I’ve enlisted help from our Test Kitchen cooks.
Test Kitchen’s Secrets to Perfect Whipped Cream
Keep the cream and your equipment cold.
Cream simply whips better at a lower temperature, so it’s best to chill the bowl you’re creating it in, and the beaters (or whisk), too.
Machines make it easy (and extremely quick).
Your stand mixer or electric beater can churn out stiffly whipped cream in a couple minutes.
Whisking by hand is possible. Consider it a workout.
Don’t own an electric beater or mixer? Grab a big balloon whisk, pour the cream into a deep bowl (remember, it’ll grow), and start whisking. Flick your wrist so you don’t tire out your arm. Stick with it! It will take several minutes, but you’ll feel totally gratified (and buff) when you’re done.
You can customize your whipped cream’s texture.
If you want softer cream, to serve with berries or custard, stop when the cream begins to form soft peaks. (This means they’re thick and creamy, but if you hold up a whisk-full of cream, it’ll sort of slump off.) If you want traditional whipped cream to stand proudly on a slice of cake or pie, then beat to stiff peaks (if you hold up the whisk, the cream will hold its shape and won’t slump).
Be careful not to over-whip.
It’s actually possible to overbeat the whipped cream, especially if you use a mixer. If the cream starts looking grainy and curdled, you’ll know you overdid it. Check on the status of the cream throughout the beating to make sure you’re on track.
Test Kitchen Tip: If you overbeat the cream, you don’t have to throw it away. Keep beating and you’ll make butter!
Our Recipe for Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar. (You can also use granulated sugar, honey or maple syrup.)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Chilled mixing bowl
Chilled beaters or whisk
Test Kitchen Tip: Chill your bowl and beaters by putting them in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes.
Step 1: Begin to whisk the cream
In a chilled small glass bowl, beat cream until it begins to thicken. It should begin to have some body, but won’t form a stiff peak.
Step 2: Add the rest of the ingredients and beat
Once slightly thickened, add the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla. Continue beating until soft peaks form. The recipe will double in size and become a mound of smooth and sweet whipped cream.
Test Kitchen Tip: To make whipped cream in advance, slightly under-whip the mixture. Then cover and refrigerate for several hours. You can beat it briefly to the right consistency before using.
Once you’ve mastered homemade whipped cream, you can experiment with many flavor variations. Try swapping out the vanilla extract for these substitutions:
- Nutty whipped cream: ½ tsp almond extract
- Pancake-lover’s whipped cream: ½ tsp maple extract
- Boozy whipped cream: 1 tablespoon bourbon, rum or Irish cream