Change the Way You Bake

A One-Ingredient Trick to Make Any Cake 1,000 Times Better

Get out your whisk.

January 25, 2019
Photo by Bobbi Lin

Want to Change the Way You Bake? We do. And no, we’re not talking about adopting eight sourdough starters or making cakes with a sous vide machine. We’re talking about smart, savvy, and totally simple tricks that change everything. Or, you know, at least your next batch of baked goods.

A dollop of whipped cream is just about the easiest way to top off any baked good. Pound cake? Add whipped cream. Fudgy brownies? Add whipped cream. Shortcakes? Add whipped cream. But all of these are an afterthought.

Why not add whipped cream to unbaked goods—you know, before they go in the oven?

Probably because most recipes don’t tell us to. In fact, out of all the cakes and brownies and shortcakes and muffins and quick breads I’ve baked (of these, there are a lot), not one ever told me to stir whipped cream into the batter instead of dolloping it on top.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“And it is a LOT cheaper than whipped cream as well. Maybe 2 tsp if more than 2 cups of flour in the recipe. I have an amazing recipe for chocolate tea cake. I added vinegar to it and was absolutely amazed at the difference in the texture, lightness, and crumb of the cake. Almost doubled in size of the rise as well. So nice. ”
— judy

Then I read BakeWise by Shirley O. Corriher. This work won the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Baking and Dessert Cookbook in 2009, so it’s no surprise that it’s stuffed with aha! moments.

Like wringing whipped cream for all its worth. If you discovered this cookbook when it was first released, then maybe you already know all about this trick. (Psst: Tell us how you’ve put it to good use in the comments!) Or maybe you’re just like me and still wondering:

Wait, whipped cream in cake batter? But why?

Funny enough, Corriher herself was just as surprised about whipped cream in cakes—because she didn’t think of it herself. She learned it from pastry chef Heather Hurlbert and her standout pound cake: “It turned my whole world upside down,” Corriher writes in BakeWise. “This was the best pound cake that I had ever had!”

The secret? You already know.

I reached out to Hurlbert and asked about how she took the leap from cream to whipped cream in her baking recipes: “I have come across recipes where liquid cream is added to a cake batter,” she said. “By whipping the cream, the end result is a lighter consistency (due to natural leavening like steam—in this case, air) and lighter texture (larger air pockets in the structure of the cake).”

The best part? Going from cream to whipped cream is pretty dang easy—especially if you own a hand or stand mixer. (For by-hand tricks, look no further.)

As Hurlbert put it: “Just a simple and quick technique can make such a difference in the texture, flavor, and enjoyment.”

And that’s what Corriher loves about it, too—low effort, big reward: “You are introducing more air for a slightly lighter cake, and the texture of whipped cream introduces a softness and a moistness,” she writes in BakeWise.

Which is to say, the air is an additional leavener in the baked good. I got in touch with Corriher to talk cake and she explained this even further: “The difference in cream and whipped cream is the bubbles in the fat. Baking powder and baking soda do not make a single bubble in a dough. They only enlarge existing bubbles. This is why the bubbles in the fat (and in the whipped cream are so important. Whipped cream is a major leavener.”

In other words: a major game-changer.

Of course, it’s not totally new. Nothing ever is, right? There’s a whipped cream–based cake in the 1975 edition of The Joy of Cooking. And in Rose’s Heavenly Cakes by Rose Levy Beranbaum, there’s a recipe for Whipped Cream Cake—no butter, just whipped cream (which is sort of funny since whipped cream is halfway to butter).

When I got in touch with her about the recipe, she told me, “My version of this cake is one of my all-time favorite cakes in texture and flavor.” And coming from Beranbaum, that means a lot.

“By whipping the cream you are adding structure and air bubbles,” she said. Moreover, cream itself has a purer, brighter flavor than butter: “Processing always destroys some flavor, so by churning cream into butter you still have delicious flavor—but you sacrifice some of the lovely floral notes resident in the cream.”

And, surely, there are other whipped cream cakes out there. Do you know ’em? Share in the comments so we all can have an excuse to bake something else.

What fascinated me most about the whipped-cream technique wasn’t just the lighter texture—or the moister crumb or lovelier flavor. What fascinated me most was Corriher’s unabashed excitement that this unusual ingredient “changes everything” when it comes to baked goods.

Hurlbert’s recipe calls for 1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped—so Corriher started adding just that to other recipes: her own pound cake, and yellow cake layers, and pear-walnut muffins, and French-style fruit cake.

“There is a whole world of cakes and other baked goods that may be improved by folding in 1/2 cup (118 ml) heavy cream whipped to soft peaks,” Corriher writes.

Cue: Me scurrying to the supermarket, buying all the cream, scurrying back home, and turning on my oven. You with me?

The Experiment

I selected four very different recipes to get a lay of the land:

Marian Burros’ Plum Torte. A buttery, fruit-studded cake that’s as legendary as they come. Food52 Co-Founder Merrill Stubbs describes it as “arguably the most famous recipe ever to grace the pages of the New York Times.” But can it get even better with whipped cream? (Oh, and since it’s not plum season in N.Y.C., I used apples instead.)

Nigella Lawson’s Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake. The word dense is in the very title (in a proud way!), making this a prime candidate for a lil’ whipped-cream aeration. Will the whipped cream make the cake lighter and fluffier? Plus, how will the trick fare in chocolatey situations?

Nancy Silverton’s Bran Muffins. “A bran muffin that's somehow both more wholesome and more delicious than the rest,” writes Genius recipe–hunter Kristen Miglore. Unlike the other three here, this one is oil-based. Will that have any effect? And can the whipped cream stand a chance against something as sturdy as bran? (P.S. I used oat bran instead of wheat. Just for fun!)

The Easiest Shortcakes. The wild card test: This recipe already has cream—dun dun dun!—1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons to be exact. Instead of adding more cream (that’d be crazy, right? But also, if you want to try it, please let me know how it goes), I want to see what happens if I whip the amount called for. Will the shortcakes turn out even lighter and fluffier?

The Results

Left, original. Right, whipped cream. Photo by Emma Laperruque

Marian Burros’ Plum Torte. This was my favorite makeover of the bunch. After one bite of each, all I could say was, “Wow!” Such a noticeable difference here. The whipped-cream cake has a domed center (while the original is flat), shrunk more around the edges (I suspect from the additional fat), and has a bouncier consistency when gently poked. After being sliced, the whipped-cream version showed off a higher rise and fluffier crumb. And it’s significantly more tender and moist. Okay, okay, one more bite to triple check. Verdict: Whipped cream made me love this cake even more.

Left, original. Right, whipped cream. Photo by Emma Laperruque

Nigella Lawson’s Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake. “Don’t worry if it sinks in the middle,” Lawson writes in the recipe. “Indeed, it will do so because it’s such a dense and damp cake.” Which is to say, if you add more liquid, the middle will sink even more and the sides will scrunch up . Should I have seen this coming? Maybe. Did I learn something from it? Totally. The original is as moist as a cake can be without turning into pudding or fudge, which is what the whipped-cream version reminded me of. My coworkers loved it, though, and couldn’t care less about its appearance. “Honestly, it doesn’t even matter,” Assistant Buyer Louise de Verteuil said. “I would just fill the canyon with more whipped cream.” Verdict: Whipped cream threw off the structure of this already-moist-as-can-be cake—but who are we, to judge a cake by its looks?

Left, original. Right, whipped cream. Photo by Emma Laperruque

Nancy Silverton’s Bran Muffins. Coming out of the oven, these looked pretty dang similar. The original recipe had more cracks in its top, while the whipped-cream version was smoother. Coming out of the muffin tin, both had sound structure, and slicing them in half revealed nearly look-alike crumbs. But the taste and texture was where they differed: The whipped cream version had a, well, creamier flavor, and a noticeably softer consistency. If you’re feeding a bran muffin skeptic (everyone should love bran muffins, there I said it), the whipped cream made these even more convincing. Verdict: Whipped cream lightened up these bran muffins—both in the nutty, wheaty flavor and hearty, grainy texture.

Left, original. Right, whipped cream. Photo by Emma Laperruque

The Easiest Shortcakes. I had no idea what to expect here. The good news is: The whipped-cream variation totally worked. In fact, it worked so well that, at first glance, I could barely tell the two apart. If I looked closer, the whipped cream shortcakes had bumpier tops—curious since the whipped cream bran muffins had smoother tops. After many bites, I decided that the whipped cream shortcakes were lighter and more tender in texture. If you listened closely when you broke one apart, you could even hear an exhale of all that air! Verdict: The whipped cream made some small, but positive changes here. But is the difference enough to warrant the extra effort? You tell me.

The Takeaway

Whipped cream is a baking secret weapon—not just a last-minute garnish. But, like any secret weapon, you have to use it strategically. Here are the big dos and don’ts:

Don’t try this with a recipe that you haven’t made before. If you aren’t familiar with a recipe, then how can you anticipate how it will react to a new ingredient? Try it with an old favorite that you want to give a new spin. Or a cake you are really into, but wish were a little more fluffy, moist, or tender.

Don’t use this on already-moist cakes. Or do! It all depends on how moist you like your cakes. If the batter is runny and pourable—like that chocolate loaf cake or Maialino’s famous olive oil cake—it’s a proceed-at-your-own-risk candidate. These recipes have moisture covered, so the structure will likely suffer. But maybe the ultra-fudgy consistency will be just what you want.

Do add whipped cream to thick-batter baked goods. Like the plum torte or a pound cake or sturdy muffin. One easy litmus test: Will you have to fold the whipped cream into the batter? (That is to say, incorporate it super gently, so you don’t deflate the whipped cream.) If the batter is so thin that you only have to stir it in, see the above paragraph.

And do have fun experimenting. Can I promise that it will always go perfectly? Course not. But if reading BakeWise taught me anything, it was this: Be curious. Try something new. See what happens. Maybe you’ll make one of your go-to recipes even better. And if not, there will still be cake. And even when cake isn’t great, it’s great. Plus, you’ll have some leftover cream—to whip and dollop on top.

What recipe would you want to try this trick on first? Tell us in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • mbobden
  • Tammy Torrence Lavalley
    Tammy Torrence Lavalley
  • Debbie
  • Marylou
  • Suzanne Nash
    Suzanne Nash
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


mbobden February 27, 2022
I reread the article and many comments without coming up with when to add the whipped cream. Am I assuming correctly that this whipped cream addition is folded in at the very end.
Tammy T. January 6, 2021
If I am making four 8 inch round cakes, do you think 1 cup would be the right amount or more?
Debbie March 8, 2020
I baked the Swedish Visiting Cake from Dorie Greenspan and I went ahead and added the one-half cup of whipped cream. I believe it improved the cake if you can believe that is possible because it is such an amazing cake. I felt the added whipped cream definitely made the cake rise higher and it was fluffier but not at all extra wet or gooey. I will definitely be trying this trick out on other baked goods as well. Thanks for the wonderful tip!
Emma L. March 8, 2020
Yay, so glad to hear it went well!
cosmiccook May 29, 2021
What kind of cream did you use? Did you find a difference between cream w NO gelatins vs. pure heavy cream (which is VERY hard to come by)?
Debbie March 7, 2020
If the cake is a one layer 9-inch cake like Dorie Greenspan's Swedish Visiting Cake, would you still add one-half cup of whipped cream, or would you adjust it down to say between one-fourth to one-third cup since it is just one layer? That cake is one of my absolute favorites and I am thinking about trying this addiction with that cake but did not want to over saturate it.
Emma L. March 7, 2020
Hi Debbie! 1/2 cup cream should work for that. I did that amount for a single-layer plum torte (more on that above) and it was great.
Marylou February 15, 2020
HI everyone. I've been given this recipe from an excellent baker! She has successfully doubled this recipe and also added other flavours! I'll be baking this asap after recovering from my R hand surgery tomorrow am.

"This is a delicate white cake. Heavy cream is used instead of butter."


2 eggs
3/4 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease one 9x9 inch square pan.
2. Beat eggs in a small bowl until very thick. Add the sugar and the vanilla, beating well.
3. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. In three parts add the flour mixture alternately with the whipping cream to the egg mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
4. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 30 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.
HAPPY BAKING from Tasmania Australia.
Shana February 27, 2020
Thank you for sharing Marylou :-)
Suzanne N. February 7, 2020
Still not sure if the whipped cream is a total addition to the recipe or a swap. Can you please clarify this and is the rule of thumb - add 1/2 cup whipped cream to the recipe.
Marylou February 7, 2020
It's an addition. You'll benefit from reading the entire original article though.
Suzanne N. February 7, 2020
Thank you - yes I have but just wanted to make absolutely certain before I tried this. Thanks again for your reply.
Marylou February 7, 2020
No worries. 😊
Marylou February 6, 2020
Please share the Italian cream cake recipe on small step to the keyboard, one giant step for bakers worldwide🤣
from Tasmania Australia.
Smaug February 6, 2020
There are any number of recipes available on line(Google it), though I can't vouch for any of them. The one from Allrecipes ( always the most dependable site) looks pretty good, and includes a video.
Marylou February 6, 2020
Yes, but none of them i've found have cream in the actual cake batter. I thought Katie was suggesting it was a recipe that already had the cream.
Smaug February 6, 2020
So it does, though the article (best I remember) is touting it as an easy addition to existing recipes. It's true that finding a recipe you want to depend on from random internet sources can be time consuming and uncertain.
Nansy C. February 6, 2020
Loved reading about the whipping cream addition, but I’m making the assumption that it is a total add on not a substitute for the butter, etc, in any recipe, but you are not specific. Please clarify. Also Katie, I would LOVE to have your Vintage Italian Cream Cake recipe as well. Please send to [email protected]
Donna February 6, 2020
I am gonna try this with Italian Cream Cake. I think it will be amazing.
Roe February 6, 2020
Wondering if adding coconut whipped cream would have the same result??
Lin February 6, 2020
Katie, you're a popular girl! May I also have the recipe for your Italian Cream cake? My address is: [email protected].
Thanks, Lin
Shana March 9, 2020
Morning Lin:-) Was curious if you were able to get the recipe for the vintage Italian cake?
I'd like to have it too, if you were able to access it.
thank you
Marylou November 4, 2019
Recently, for a friend’s 70th birthday, I made a lemon curd cake that I had made many times and doubled the recipe:
3oz(85g) butter, 4oz (110g) sugar, 5Tbl lemon curd 3eggs 9oz (250g) Self Raising flour and pinch of salt.
I FORGOT to put the eggs in after cream BnS and adding the curd, and put in the flour..... I then had to beat in the forgotten eggs🤦‍♀️
SO remembering this post I whipped up 1/2 cup of cream and folded it through cake mix!
Unbelievably even though I had to freeze this cake and thaw and ice for the day it was incredible. (I had a backup cake in case!) The crumb was firm but superb! It even had a few air pockets. SO A:this recipe withstands an assault, and B: 1/2 cup whipped cream will be going into my other go to cakes!
Ps I made a lemon buttercream and put a thin filling of passion fruit curd and buttercream.
Marylou November 4, 2019
Because i’d doubled the recipe I used a cup of cream whipped!
Buttons B. October 23, 2019
I thought the trick was going to be buttermilk! My grandmother Nana was famous in our family for her French Chocolate Cake...always with buttermilk. It gives cakes and old times taste!
ndj8603 October 23, 2019
Any baked item will be very thrilled with a Tbs of Mayo, not the wimpy "lite" crap.
from grandma's books M.Game d.1988
Beth E. September 21, 2019
My easy biscuit recipe is 2 to 1 S/R flour to heavy cream. I just whip the cream and it
makes them lighter.

Yvonne September 21, 2019
Just wondering if you substitute anything for the whipped cream or just add 1/2 cup of whipped cream at the end?
Lorraine F. July 13, 2019
Thanks Emma: Great tip. I will try it out on some of my cake recipes.
Janet L. February 15, 2019
Many years ago my Mom taught me her secret for great cakes. Not always, but I normally make box cakes and she said to never overbake any cake. If a cake says to bake 30 minutes, I will probably take it from the oven by about 25. No one ever believes that I use box cakes and I am always the person asked to bring cakes, so I guess Mom's secret was a great one. Love you Mom!!
Emma L. February 18, 2019
Aw love this! Also feel this way about cakes—and cookies, too!
SandyDeeOH February 6, 2020
I have a friend who makes the best white cake. We're talking cake that tastes like wedding cake. Everyone wants her to bring them for pot luck dinners. I asked her secret once. She said boxed cake! What she does is she sifts the cake mix through her flour sifter, then mixes it up and bakes it. Somehow it makes the cake lighter and softer. I do that with all boxed cake mixes now.
Leslie V. February 7, 2020
Janet, I am high altitude, and i also take out at around 25..put on a rack cover with a tea towel..for 10-15 min. I stays moister maintaining the heat inside. I then take out of pans and back on rack, still cover while it cools. If I am in a hurry, after out of pans put cake on rack then in freezer covered so I can frost it quicker.
Meg O. February 15, 2019
You have a mistake in the discussion. I am a chemist, and I can assure you that both baking soda and baking powder (which contains baking soda) DO indeed make bubbles in the food. The substance in these is sodium bicarbonate, and that reacts with any acidic ingredients (which are in the recipe, trust me) to create carbonic acid which is the same compound that gives bubbles to soda pop. Carbonic acid isn't stable at room pressure, so immediately decomposes in the food to release carbon dioxide gas (the bubbles) and water. (In a can of soda pop, it is under pressure, so the carbonic acid doesn't decompose due to the added pressure, until you open it and release the pressure, allowing the carbonic acid to decompose.)
If you want a reminder of the bubbling, think of baking soda and vinegar (a dilute acid) reactions that children often use for volcano models. Baking soda and any acidic ingredient will definitely cause bubbling.
Baking powder contains another ingredient that will bubble only if acid and heat are added, so it won't bubble prematurely, as baking soda can, but only in the oven, where it will provide the leavening.
Meg O.
Smaug February 15, 2019
Yeah, that was a little odd- may have been talking about the chunks of fat in a pastry dough? Baking powders contain acid salts- usually two nowadays (double acting baking powder), so only need moisture and (for one of them)heat to be activated.
judy October 10, 2021
I thought that was an odd statement as well. I always thought that baking soda and powder added bubbles. Though not a chemist, I learned this years ago. Thanks for confirming and educating.
Anna February 15, 2019
If you get your hands on a copy of Bakewise I recommend the Magnificent Moist Yellow Cake and the filling Shirley uses for Boston Cream Pie. Also, there's a crazy recipe called Rooster's Firecrackers which involves putting heaps of cheddar cheese on top of Saltines, baking for a few minutes and letting stand in a hot oven for 2 hours.
Emma L. February 18, 2019
BakeWise is the best!