I have several dessert recipes that use whipping cream as an ingredient. I've noticed that in the last few years, cookbook authors have been condemning the rise of ultra-pasteurized whipping cream, which doesn't whip as well nor taste as good as "regular" whipping cream. Problem is, I am having a terrible time finding "regular" whipping cream that does not have such a ridiculously long shelf life. Makes you wonder if there's still real cream in there! Do you know of any sources, particularly in St. Petersburg? -Rebecca Connelly, St. Petersburg.
Since the beginning of their mass production in the '50s, milk, butter and cream have evolved in shape, color, content, packaging and, of course, taste.
All this time, we have not paid attention. In their quest for consumer safety and longer shelf lives, dairy companies have left out what interests us most: the taste. And through our slightly paranoid eyes, we thought "ultra" just was better. It's not. As a result, most creams on the market today are ultra-pasteurized.
Ultra creams are heated to 300 degrees for a short time (as opposed to 170 for regular pasteurized cream), killing microorganisms that cause milk products to sour, hence an ultra-extended shelf life (up to 60 days unopened and up to a week opened).
Rebecca Connelly is right. Ultra-pasteurized cream doesn't whip as well or taste as good. It tastes bland with a light taste of cooked milk. It does not whip as well because the heating process destroys some of the proteins that promote whipping. It does whip, but will take you more time and energy, two things I suspect you'd rather save.
For nice and smooth whipping, ultra or not, fat rules. Since whipped cream is really a stable foam made of tiny air bubbles and fat clumps, the fat content is important. Heavy whipping cream (40 percent fat) is the creme de la creme. It whips great, holds its shape and has the smooth, satiny texture you are looking for. Great for filling or decorating pastries.
Whipping cream (30 percent fat) is less forgiving and will require, especially in Florida, some basic precautions.
Make sure the cream is cold, and chill the bowl and whisk or beaters in the refrigerator for one hour, or in the freezer for 15 minutes. Beat the cream at medium speed until the cream starts to thicken.
For soft peaks continue to beat until the cream, when the beater is raised, droops slightly from the ends of the beater. For stiff peaks, beat cream until it holds its shape and clings to the end of the beater when raised. If the cream is beaten too long it becomes grainy, and eventually turns into butter.
Whipping cream is not used for decorating pastries because it usually ends up being too soft for that.
In both cases, add a little sugar to taste when the cream is whipped and beat for another 10 seconds to "seal" the cream and tighten it.
Please note that half and half, a mix of milk and cream, does not whip. But surprisingly, high-fat cheeses, such as Brie or Camembert do. Chefs from trendy restaurants have created killer dishes with whipped cheese. I encourage you to experiment with it.
Apart from whipping, cream has other culinary uses such as in sauces, souffles and soups. Keep in mind, when you reduce sauces, that cream is nothing more than a precise emulsion of fat and water particles. Like all emulsions, it is fragile. Heat, acidity or salt content can make the cream curdle.
You will need, again, to pay attention to the fat content. Heavy cream is a clear winner, always producing a smooth, velvety sauce. But whipping cream is fine, and so is creme fraiche, which is harder to find. Sour cream, on the other end, is a recipe for failure as it curdles quickly and separates.
Sometimes, if a cream sauce is boiled for several hours, it will separate anyway. Running a hand blender for a couple of seconds will restabilize the emulsion.
In any case, for the purpose of a better taste, try to find pasteurized cream and avoid ultra-pasteurized. It is available in gourmet stores around Tampa Bay, and you should be able to find it. During your search, focus on labels. The ingredient list should be short: cream.
- Chef Gui Alinat welcomes questions about cooking and will respond to those of general interest in his monthly column. Sorry, he can't take phone calls or answer individual requests. Send questions to him in care of Taste, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org Please include your name and city of residence.