Now is the time to talk of whipped cream -- before the last stone fruits of summer disappear, and we can still have a hurrah or two with plum cake and nectarine slump.
But it's also high time we armed ourselves for the next few months of apple and pear pies and crisps. We're going to need a lot of whipped cream.
Of course homemade is always better than anything squirted out of a can -- and almost as effortless -- but we still tend to worry over it. Because overwhipping the last pint of cream in the house, or seeing perfect tufts collapse into puddles, can feel as if they might lead to our undoing. It's a good thing Nancy Silverton, L.A.'s most beloved pastry chef, has our back.
In her 1997 cookbook The Food of Campanile, Silverton walks us through her foolproof methods, both by hand and in an electric mixer, and tells us how to salvage the overwhipped stuff -- but the biggest coup is in the simple way she resolves that pesky deflating issue, freeing us to whip cream hours before dessert without worry.
Others have tried all kinds of ways to shore up whipped cream. Gelatin is common, but tricky. Rose Levy Beranbaum likes cornstarch. There's a "Never-Weep" recipe bobbing around the internet that swears by instant vanilla pudding. Shirley Corriher has even been known to whip a melted marshmallow (a ready source of gelatin) into hers.
But Silverton's technique wins big points for taste -- in fact, you might already be doing it, just because it tastes good. She mixes in a modest scoop of crème fraîche, which not only breathes tang and depth into plain whipped cream, but makes it more resilient too.
You see, the only real difference between heavy cream (which, at 30% butterfat and higher, will whip admirably) and milk (which won't) -- is the fat. Fat globules are sticky and sturdy, capturing and cloaking the air bubbles that are whipped into them. And crème fraîche tends to have even more fat globules than heavy cream.
Though McGee cautions that liquid with 30% butterfat is ideal for whipping -- too much fat will eventually weigh down and collapse the fragile house of bubbles -- here, we get a pass. It turns out that swirling in just a bit of smooth, glossy 42% butterfat crème fraîche after the cream reaches soft peaks is just right for adding one last protective layer to the architecture of a pudgy pile of whipped cream.
So now the only question is -- why wouldn't you just lace every batch of whipped cream with crème fraîche? Don't forget: the countdown to pumpkin pie is on.
Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].
Photos by James Ransom
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I'm an ex-economist, ex-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."