Do you shy away from homemade whipped cream because it seems complicated or fussy? Don’t! Making fresh whipped cream is incredibly easy (once you know what to look for), and the taste is far better than the canisters at the grocery store. If you’re going to work so hard on homemade pie, don’t top it with anything but the best.
Start with whipping cream that’s been refrigerated. (Tip: It doesn’t hurt to refrigerate or freeze your whisk and mixer bowl, too.) Whipping cream and heavy cream are high fat creams (35% and 36%, respectively), which means they’ll whip up nicely. Don’t bother trying to make whipped cream with a low fat milk or cream, because it won’t work.
Start by mixing on low speed (so you don’t make big splashes) until you see your cream start to get bubbly. This will probably take about a minute, longer if you’re whisking by hand. Pause, and add the sugar and any flavoring, like vanilla extract, almond extract, peppermint extract or Irish cream.
Mix again on low until you can see soft peaks starting to form. You can tell you’re getting close when the whisk begins to cut through the cream and it increases slightly in volume.
Soft peaks is a term people use when discussing whipped creams and meringues. It means the cream has increased in volume because the air has been incorporated. The whipped cream will be smooth and silky. It might drip a little, but overall, it’ll sit softly on the edge of your whisk.
If you want stiff peaks, beat a little bit longer. You may want to stop periodically as you go to make sure you don’t overbeat your cream. When the whisk starts to really pull up the whipped cream and the volume has about doubled, you’re probably at stiff peaks.
Unlike soft peaks, stiff peaks will sit upright and thick without dripping off your whisk. It’s firmer and stronger, yet remains smooth and creamy. You shouldn’t beat past stiff peaks for whipped cream as it will get grainy and eventually separate.
You know you’ve gone too far when your whipped cream starts to look more like cottage cheese. It’s no longer silky and smooth, but clumpy and peakless.
If you get to this point, don’t fret. You can keep going a little longer and make a perfectly good sweet butter. Add some cinnamon for a homemade spread perfect for thick morning toast or mashed sweet potatoes. The liquid that’s left is actually buttermilk. Pretty cool, right?