Well, all, the Powers That Be have decreed that today, January 5, is National Whipped Cream Day. One questions the wisdom of scheduling a day dedicated to a delicious, though hugely fattening food while most people are still cramming their eggnog-soaked keisters into the gyms.
If you do want to celebrate it, please be aware that amazingly, Hallmark didn't come out with cards to commemorate the occasion; you will have to celebrate the sweet dessert foam that might as well be the national symbol of Denmark as a purist.
This year, try to avoid the cans of Reddi-Wip™. I don't trust anything that's deliberately illiterate. While it does actually contain cream, it's got a laundry list of ingredients that don't belong in whipped cream, and it's charged with nitrous oxide, which leaves open the possibility of your kids huffing the propellant and laughing hysterically.
First of all, let's get it right from the get-go: Cool Whip™ is not whipped cream. Cool Whip™ is a disgusting blend of water, corn syrup both regular and high-fructose, oil, a sodium milk derivative, xanthan and guar gum and colorants. It is one of the few "foods" banned utterly from my house (the other major offender is pancake syrup that is not real maple syrup).
Real whipped cream, what fancy-pants pastry chefs call crème Chantilly, is ridiculously easy to make. Take a half a pint of heavy whipping cream and whip it in a metal or glass bowl with a wire whip until it is frothy and starts to thicken. Then sprinkle over a teaspoon of sugar and half a teaspoon of pure vanilla extract and whip it until it looks like, well, whipped cream. Cookbooks tell you to have both the bowl and the whip very cold; while this is true in a steamy industrial kitchen, your average home kitchen doesn't get hot enough to deflate whipped cream and you needn't bother. The entire process takes maybe three minutes of vigorous whipping; if this is too much bother, feel free to use a hand or stand mixer.
If you're both lazy and well-heeled, you can go to any kitchen supply store (or Sur la Table or Williams-Sonoma, which are far more likely destinations for the lazy and well-heeled) and buy a frothing canister. Insert cream, sugar and vanilla, shake a little bit, put a CO2 cartridge in the top, and you will have instant whipped cream. It will be but a tasty golem, however, with no soul, and you won't have worked off any of the calories you're about to consume.
Now you've got delicious whipped cream: what do you do with it?
Well, if you read our recipe for tiramisù a few weeks ago, you'd know that you can beat zabaglione (also shockingly easy to make) into mascarpone cheese and fold the whipped cream into it to make the custard filling.
Whip some egg yolks into some melted chocolate and butter, then fold in egg white and later, whipped cream, and you've got chocolate mousse. Recipes abound--but abound--on the Internet.
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Let's bring back dacquoise, a dessert that was as prevalent on menus in the 70s and 80s as crème brûlée is today. It's disks made of almond and hazelnut meringue, layered with (you guessed it) whipped cream. It's hidden long enough in obscurity that almost nobody knows what it is or can pronounce it ("dah-KWAHZ", incidentally).
If you whip in a little bit of unflavored gelatin (dissolve a packet of it into a little bit of very hot water, then whip into the cream), you will have whipped cream that is stable enough to use as cake frosting. Add some instant hot cocoa (you know, from the packet) to turn it into chocolate whipped cream frosting (but leave out the sugar in the original recipe).
And, of course, you can use it for purposes other than in the kitchen...