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The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

How To Make Real Whipped Cream

Wholesome, Delicious Whipped Cream In Two Minutes Or Less

I cringe whenever I pass the freezer section in the supermarket and see somebody reaching in for the “whipped topping.” I just want to wail, “Nooooooo! You can do so much better!” But it is what it is. For better or worse, nowadays when people think “whipped cream” they automatically reach for the “Cool Whip.” (Sigh)

Here comes the old codger in me: “Back when I was a boy, we didn't have 'Cool Whip.' We just went out in the field and chased the cow around in circles until she gave whipped cream.” Well......actually, we went to the grocery store and bought a can of old-fashioned “Reddi-Wip.” “Cool Whip” and other “non-dairy” products were still a few years in the future.

A food scientist named George Lorant can be credited/blamed for the existence of “Cool Whip.” He created it while in the employ of General Foods back in 1966. The marketing hook was the shelf life: unlike real whipped cream or even the popular canned product, “whipped topping” – as the manufacturer likes to call it – will keep for-freakin'-ever in your freezer. Even out of the freezer, the stuff is practically indestructible. I know of people who conducted “science experiments” in which they left a scoop of “Cool Whip” out in a bowl on the counter for as long as two weeks without observing any apparent change in the integrity of the substance. Some reported that it did eventually harden into a plastic-like state. Yum, yum! Just what I want on my All-American Apple Pie; a lump of All-American Plastic.

Wanna know what it is you're slathering on your dessert? Here goes: water, hydrogenated vegetable oil, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, skim milk, light cream and less than 2% sodium caseinate (a milk derivative), natural and artificial flavor, xanthan and guar gums, polysorbate 60, sorbitan monostearate and beta carotene.

BTW and FYI, polysorbate 60 is an oily liquid used as a thickening agent, emulsifier, and stabilizer in cosmetics and skin care products. And sorbitan monostearate is a synthetic wax primarily used as an emulsifier to keep water and oils mixed. See why I feel like screaming when I see somebody reaching for the stuff? As I frequently say, I'd prefer to be embalmed after I'm dead, thank you.

The whipped cream sold in a pressurized can – of which “Reddi-Wip” is still the most popular – is a little better. At least there you've got a shot at a few natural ingredients: nonfat milk, cream, sugar, corn syrup, maltodextrin, inulin (chicory extract), cellulose, mono- and diglycerides, polysorbate 80, artificial flavors, and carrageenan. Of course, polysorbate 80 is yet another emulsifier employed, in this case, to help keep the whipped cream from separating. It's also used as a surfactant in soaps and cosmetics. And carrageenan, an emulsifier extracted from red seaweed, has raised a lot of red flags in health circles.

So rather than topping your dessert with a spray of chemically enhanced foam from a can or a scoop of plastic-like substance from a plastic tub, why not do the smart, tasty, and healthy – or at least healthier – thing and make your own whipped cream from scratch? It's really easy.

I admit to never having had real whipped cream until I began my culinary education. My mom was one of the convenience-addled zombies of the '60s who sprayed from a can or scooped from a tub because it was just what everybody else did. Using anything that didn't come out of some sort of package or container in those days marked you as a kind of throwback to an earlier, unsophisticated, less “modern” era. But since I turned out that first batch of homemade whipped cream, I have never gone back and now I look with pity upon those who choose, through simple ignorance, to continue using horrid, unnatural substitutes.

Please do yourself a favor and try this the next time you want to dollop some whipped cream on top of your favorite dessert: bypass the freezer case and go to the dairy section. Don't reach for a spray can. Instead, pick up a carton of heavy cream or heavy whipping cream.

Contrary to what some would have you believe, you don't have to have a $400 stand mixer to make whipped cream. In culinary school they make you do it with a whisk. That's fine if you're young and energetic and have a lot of elbow grease. I'm old and lethargic and my elbows aren't nearly as greasy as they used to be, so I use an electric hand mixer.

You're going to need a metal or glass mixing bowl; plastic won't work nearly as well. Some schools of thought say this is because plastic ions leach into the cream and inhibit its ability to whip. I know this can be true of egg whites, but I'm not so sure about cream. I think it's more a matter of temperature: cream whips better in a cold bowl. Heavy cream contains lots of fat. In the whipping process, that fat is broken up into tiny droplets that disperse evenly and begin to stick together, forming a matrix that traps air. But the whipping action also generates heat which can cause the matrix to fall apart. When you're working in a cold bowl, the cold helps counteract the buildup of heat. In fact, everything should be as cold as possible, including the whisk or beaters and the cream itself.

Okay, so you've got your chilled equipment ready; now you just need some cream. Make sure you get the heavy stuff; light creams contain less fat and don't whip as well. Unless you're in need of insane amounts of topping, a small carton – a half-pint or a pint – will suffice. Since cream doubles in volume when whipped, a pint – or two cups – of liquid cream will produce four cups of whipped cream. And unlike the plastic topping in the plastic tub, real whipped cream will break down fairly quickly, so don't make a lot more than you need.

Depending on what you're going to do with it, you might want to sweeten or flavor your whipped cream. Easily done with a little sugar and some vanilla extract. Some people insist that powdered sugar is best because it blends easier than granulated sugar. Also, there's a touch of cornstarch in powdered sugar that may help stabilize the whipped cream after it's whipped. But either one is fine as far as taste is concerned. And some say clear vanilla extract is better from an aesthetic viewpoint because regular vanilla will slightly color the finished product. Meh. Or you can just go with plain unsweetened, unflavored cream. It's up to you and your taste buds.

The process is simplicity itself. After thoroughly chilling all the components – about fifteen minutes in the freezer is good – pour the cream in the bowl, set your mixer – or your mixing arm – on “high,” and have at it. Add in the sugar and the vanilla – or lemon, or orange, or rum, or whatever other flavoring you choose – and whip until stiff peaks form. Don't go crazy and overwhip or you'll wind up with sweetened, flavored butter. Maybe it's not as simple as pushing down the nozzle on a spray can or scooping out of a plastic tub, but it's a whole lot better.

There you have it; wholesome, delicious whipped cream in two minutes or less. On the downside, I suppose, you'll have to give up the “poor man's Tupperware” you get with the “Cool Whip” containers, but believe me, it's worth the sacrifice. 

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