A topping or filling of whipped cream brings a decadent touch of richness to baked desserts, from souffles to cakes. While aerosol whipped cream from a can is certainly convenient, savvy home cooks know it takes only about five minutes to make a batch of fresh whipped cream from scratch. You can also incorporate sweeteners -- or not -- as well as flavors to whipped cream to further enhance your baking.
The additives and stabilizers in aerosol whipped cream change its taste and texture, and you may prefer homemade. Cold speeds the whipping process, so start with chilled heavy cream and put the bowl in the freezer for about 15 minutes before using. If you can, use pasteurized, rather than ultra-pasteurized, which doesn’t whip as easily. Beat with a wire whisk or an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Be careful not to over whip -- the cream can become granular and curdled-looking in a matter of seconds. One cup of heavy cream will yield about 2 cups whipped.
Adding a stabilizer will give whipped cream a firm, mousselike texture that will help it hold its shape even if baked treats are sitting out for a while at a party. The most common stabilizers are powdered sugar, cornstarch, pudding mix, unflavored gelatin and decorator’s piping gel. Each stabilizer adds its own flavor and texture, so you may want to experiment to see which you prefer.
Stabilized whipped cream can be piped from a pastry bag, just like buttercream frosting. If you plan to pipe whipped cream, beat the cream until stiff peaks form to give it extra body. Load the whipped cream into a bag with a decorator’s tip, and store what you aren’t using in the fridge. Another idea is to whip heavy cream together with softened cream cheese, adding a bit of sugar and vanilla, to make a whipped topping that has the sturdiness of heavier icing but the light texture of whipped cream.
Fresh whipped cream can easily incorporate different flavors to complement baked goods. Add powdered sugar and flavorings to the cream just before whipping. Vanilla, spices or citrus extracts are classic additions. Consider adding 1 teaspoon of espresso powder to whipped cream to top chocolate lava cakes; stir in 1 to 2 tablespoons of molasses when topping gingerbread; make vanilla whipped cream for strawberry shortcake; or add peppermint extract to whipped cream to top a holiday chocolate and peppermint tart.
Plain whipped cream is will not last much more than eight hours in the refrigerator if not stabilized. If you use whipped cream as a topping for baked desserts, make it at the last minute while the after-dinner coffee is brewing. Whipped cream that loses its volume can be re-whipped and used again, even after a day or two. Always refrigerate whipped cream and anything you make with it.