How to make whipped cream

Rachel Boller

Whipped cream is luxurious and simple to make. Just be sure to start with very cold cream for the fluffiest result in the shortest amount of time.

Homemade whipped cream

Making whipped cream can feel like magic. With a little time and agitation, you can transform a liquid into a solid right before your eyes. Learn how to make frothy, billowy whipped cream from scratch (whether you’re mixing by hand or machine) and how you can make whipped cream ahead of time without ruining it. Find out what ingredients to use and what temperature will produce the most beautiful dollop over your dessert.  

Let’s start out with a few key points that are applicable, no matter which mixing method you use.

Start with heavy whipping cream

A carton of liquid cream can be labeled many different ways — light cream, heavy cream, heavy whipping cream or creamer. For making whipped cream, you need a dairy cream with at least 36% butterfat. This is usually labeled “heavy,” regardless of whether the word “whipping” is on the label.

While non-dairy “creamers” can be great in coffee and other recipes (like soaking French toast), by its nature it doesn’t have enough fat to whip up into fluffy whipped cream. Half-and-half will not work either.

Chill cream and bowl thoroughly

Recipes often recommend that you put the mixing bowl (and even your whisk and beaters) in the refrigerator or freezer at least 15 minutes before whipping your cream but rarely explain why.

Whipped cream is an emulsion — air suspended in liquid and held together by fat, similar to vinaigrette — which is why you need cream with a high fat content. When you whisk the cream, you introduce millions of tiny bubbles and these fat globules rearrange themselves to create a stable foam. But the fat needs to be cold to create a strong network.

The science-minded cooks at America’s Test Kitchen put this theory to the test by conducting an experiment. They whipped a cup of cream at different starting temperatures from 40-72 degrees. Sure enough, the coldest cream whipped up to 50% bigger. They found warmer cream takes longer to whip and will never reach the same volume.

Granulated sugar vs. powdered sugar

You can use either granulated or confectioners’ sugar (also known as powdered sugar) to sweeten whipped cream. If making a large batch, ultra-fine granulated sugar or powdered sugar is easiest to incorporate.

Some bakers are devoted to powdered sugar for making whipped cream. This may be because of the smooth texture but also the small amount of cornstarch it contains. This makes the finished cream a bit more stable.

Add sugar gradually to the mixture, starting with about 2 tablespoons per cup of liquid cream. Then taste and adjust to your preferred sweetness.

Aim for soft peaks

If you want soft, delicately textured whipped cream that is easy to dollop on top of a dessert, you need to be careful not to over whip the mixture. Besides having cold cream, this is the most important thing to remember.

No matter whether you’re using a whisk or an electric mixer, the cream will start out as liquid, turn to frothy bubbles, and gradually start to thicken and increase in volume. Once you start to see lines in the mixture, stop whisking and pull your mixing tool straight up. You want to see a soft peak that slumps over at the top, like a floppy bird’s beak.

What to do if you’ve overbeaten

If when you pull your mixing tool out of the cream, it stands straight up, you’ve probably gone too far. Don’t worry. It’s usually possible to save over whipped cream by adding some unbeaten cream back to the mixture, a spoonful at a time.

Whipping cream by hand or machine

Many people use a stand mixer or electric mixer to make whipped cream but it's certainly not necessary. For an average amount of whipped cream (less than 2 cups) it may be easier to whip by hand in a mixing bowl.

The main reason for this is because the most common mistake is overbeating whipped cream, not under beating it. The beefy motor of a stand mixer or even a handheld electric mixer, is so powerful that it's quite easy to overdo it.

Using a stand mixer

Unless you need to whip a very large amount of cream, a smaller stand mixer like this Hamilton Beach model might be best suited to the job.

Place the bowl and whisk attachment of the stand mixer in the freezer for at least 15 minutes before beating. Starting at a low speed, increase it gradually to beat cream until it’s past the frothy stage and approaching soft peaks. Add sugar gradually, and vanilla if desired.

Using a handheld mixer

A cordless handheld mixer is perfect for small jobs like whipping cream and easier to tuck away (or take with you) than a stand mixer. To prevent splatter, use a deep stainless steel mixing bowl like this well-designed Sur La Table bowl.

Using a whisk

Place a stainless-steel mixing bowl in the freezer for at least 15 minutes. This handy set of bowls has a nonskid base (with lids) so you can hold your cream in the fridge or freezer without worrying about a spill.

Using a whisk with a comfortable handle, whisk the mixture while turning the bowl, beating cream until past the frothy stage and approaching soft peaks. Add sugar gradually and vanilla if desired. A balloon whisk is great for building volume by hand.

Using a whipped cream dispenser

If you’re tired from all that whisking, you can invest in a gadget that does all the whipping for you. Whipped cream dispensers allow you to fill with cream and sweetener once and enjoy freshly whipped cream on demand for up to 2 weeks (or whenever your cream expires).

How far in advance can you make whipped cream?

Plain whipped cream will only hold up for a short time. It’s best to serve it immediately after whipping. After a few hours, even if stored in the refrigerator, whipped cream will separate, losing its texture and volume, sometimes known as “weeping” or “watering out.”

One trick is to under whip the cream and hold it for up to 4 hours in the refrigerator. Then when you’re ready to serve, gently whip to bring the cream to a light and fluffy texture.

However, if you’re looking to make whipped cream for a dessert in advance (like decorating a cake with whipped cream or having a batch ready for topping Thanksgiving pies), you can prevent weeping by making stabilized whipped cream.

How to stabilize whipped cream

  • Cornstarch: It’s by far the easiest method of stabilizing whipped cream. Add a small amount of cornstarch or tapioca starch (about a tablespoon per liquid cup of heavy cream).
  • Cream cheese or mascarpone: Replace up to half the cream with mascarpone cheese, but whip cheese with the sugar first before adding the cold cream. This should hold for 6 hours in the fridge.
  •  Gelatin: This is the gold standard for stabilizing whipped cream. This method will allow you to keep whipped cream moist and billowy for up to a full 24 hours. You’ll need to dissolve unflavored powdered gelatin in water before whipping your chilled cream and add the gelatin mixture when the whisk or beaters start to leave a visible trail in the cream.

Adding flavors to whipped cream

You can also incorporate flavors into your whipped cream. Most classic is vanilla extract, which is usually added toward the end of mixing. Since whipped cream has so few ingredients, any flavor you add will be noticed.

Imitation vanilla extract (vanilla) is much cheaper than pure vanilla extract, so it might be tempting to use it. While imitation vanilla extract is often indistinguishable from authentic vanilla in baked goods like banana bread, it has an off flavor that is obvious in something uncooked like whipped cream. For the best flavor, use a high-quality vanilla extract.

For vanilla bean whipped cream with bright flavor and tiny speckles, you can scrape the seeds from a whole vanilla bean with the back of a paring knife. If your beans are dry and rigid, try steaming them in the microwave wrapped in a damp kitchen towel for 20 seconds. Or skip this step by buying vanilla bean paste or sugar that has been infused with vanilla.

Rachel Boller is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.

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