Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Whup It!

This is a good time of year for cooking, the cold weather keeps us indoors and the holidays offer an abundance of excuses to make delicacies and specialties.  This post is all about the toppings, I'm a sucker for toppings of all kinds because it takes more than a cherry to make a sundae.

It is pie season and who doesn't welcome a flaky, warm slice of apple pie with some freshly whipped cream or a bright lemon pie piled high with snowy meringue?  Here are a few tips to help keep your toppings looking and tasting freshly made.

Let's start with meringues and a stable meringue starts with a good foundation.  Room temperature eggs are the best for whipping, so get them out ahead of time.  Grease is the enemy of any food that is composed mostly of air - and air is the primary ingredient in meringue - so make sure that your bowl, beaters and spatula are grease free.  The best way to do that is to always wipe your utensils with a clean paper towel before you even start.

Even if you know for sure they are already clean.  Do it anyway.

Now, when it comes to separating the eggs, there is a good rule of thumb:  If you need just the whites, keep all the yolk OUT, if you need just the yolks, a little white is fine.  I very much recommend the dish intensive method (not something I often do), which is this:

  • Break the egg over one small bowl, drain the white and put the yolk in a separate bowl. 
  • Put the white into another small bowl.
  • Repeat each step for each egg

The reason for this is to protect as much white as possible from potential *contamination* of the yolk.  This way, if one of the yolks accidentally breaks and mixes with the white, only the one egg needs to be replaced instead of all of them.

My last tip generally applies more if you need the yolks rather than the whites; the solid white stringy mass, or chalaza, is neither appetizing nor visually appealing.  Feel free to remove it, which I try to do while separating because they are slippery little suckers.  No harm comes from not removing the chalaza, it just looks nicer.

As much as I adore whipped cream that sprays from a can - truly a marvel of culinary technology - I am also more than fond of real whipped cream.  While the heavy cream you can buy at any supermarket is perfectly fine, and what I most often use, I do occasionally go to Cash & Carry for manufacturing cream.  It's what the restaurants use and it is serious stuff, heavy on lush mouthfeel and depth of flavor.

Your best results for fluffy, stable whipped cream is to pre-chill everything for about 15 minutes in the freezer.  Put the cream into the mixing bowl and put the bowl into the freezer, make sure to get the whisk attachment in there too, and get them nice and frosty.

The standard ingredients for basic whipped cream are vanilla and sugar, but those are really just a nice place to start.  Any liquid flavoring can be used such as almond extract, spirits like rum, bourbon or schnapps are also good choices.  Fresh fruit juice like strawberry or even the juice from a jar of maraschino cherries will give your topping a fun flavor to enhance any dessert.

This time of year you can think about adding some dry spices to your whipped cream too.  Cinnamon, ginger and cloves will add something special to a mug of hot chocolate with a dollop of chantilly, as the French call it.

So what happens if your fluffy and buoyant whipped cream suddenly sprouts little chunks throughout?  Hmmm, very serious, you have over-whipped your cream and there is no rescuing it at this point.  You have but three choices now:
  1. Dump it out and start over
  2. Continue whipping it into butter
  3. Both of the above
Let me say in favor of option three that butter made at home from heavy cream is a sublimely sweet and delicately flavored potion.  So what if you already sweetened and flavored the cream?  Now you will have a unique compound butter that you can freeze until the right pan of cinnamon rolls calls out for such an unusual treasure.

A bit of cream of tartar will help to stabilize whipped cream so that it won't weep before you use it up.  Use between 1/2 and 1 teaspoon depending on how much cream you are whipping.  If the chantilly has broken (pools of liquid in the mixture), just whip it back into shape with a chilled whisk and you'll be back in the dolloping business.

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