“Heavy cream,” sometimes labeled as “heavy whipping cream,” has the highest butterfat content, typically 36% to 40%, which is higher than “whipping cream” (30%-36%); thus, when learning how to whip cream, the first step is to read the labels and buy what is specifically labeled “heavy cream.” This is because the higher the butterfat content, the easier it will be to whip, meaning that the cream will actually expand in volume, take on a whipped consistency and then hold this texture for a period of time. “Whipping cream” with its lower butterfat content can seem to resist whipping, despite its name.
As an aside, there is a product called Manufacturing Cream, which often has a butterfat content of over 40% and is usually only available within the professional foodservice realm.
These suggestions are for whipping cream to serve alongside a dessert. If the whipped cream is incorporated into a recipe, such as being folded into a mousse, we recommend always using the specific type of cream listed in the ingredients. One exception would be if the recipe calls for “whipping cream”, and you are not getting enough stability in your dessert, it could have been an editing error and you might try “heavy cream” next time and see if it improves the outcome.
The second aspect to note is that most cream found in the supermarket is “ultra-pasteurized” and this will be harder to whip than just “pasteurized,” so again, read the labels. The process of ultra-pasteurization flash heats the cream to 280 degrees F, while regular pasteurization heats the cream to 162 degrees F. Not only do ultra-pasteurized dairy products taste “cooked”, but the process affects the proteins, which is why stabilizers such as guar gum are then often added. In other words, it’s not just fresh cream anymore. Add to that the fact that it is harder to whip and we say, why buy it? The manufacturers love it because ultra-pasteurtization means longer shelf-life.
Cream should be very cold (preferably chilled in the refrigerator overnight) and if you have room, chill your bowl and beaters (or whisk) as well.
Place cold cream in cold bowl and add sugar to taste, if using. Granulated sugar will give a clean taste; confectioners’ sugar will have a slightly powdery flavor for some palates, but the added cornstarch in commercially prepared confectioners’ sugar will help stabilize your whipped cream. The choice is yours, or use what is called for in recipe.
If using a hand mixer, use a deep bowl to minimize splattering; if using a stand mixer, attach the wire whisk. In either case, turn the mixer on only after the beaters are immersed in the cream and start on a low speed, increasing to high. If you are beating by hand with a balloon whisk, we wish you and your biceps luck. Or hopefully you have a friend you can take turns with.
Your recipe should specify whether to whip the cream to soft or firm peaks. Stop the mixer and lift the beaters out of the cream. Both peaks will keep their shape but the soft peaks will gently flop over a bit at their apex, while firm peaks will stay standing straight up. Going from soft peaks to firm happens quickly, so err on the side of caution and test the texture early. If you whip too much, you will literally make butter (but that’s a separate article to be addressed another time).
If the recipe doesn’t specify soft or firm peaks, here are some guidelines: if you are serving whipped cream alongside a dessert, then go for soft peaks as the texture will be at its silkiest. If you are folding the whipped cream into a recipe, such as for a mousse or Bavarian cream, then a firmer texture will help the finished dish, especially if it is to be unmolded.