Ice cream sundae? Strawberry shortcake? Pumpkin pie? A cloud of whipped cream is the perfect topping for just about any dessert. Discover the secret to making the lightest, fluffiest whipped cream with this simple experiment.
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What do you put whipped cream on? Ice cream sundaes? Fresh fruit? Strawberry shortcakes? Homemade whipped cream has just 3 ingredients and takes only 5 minutes to make—and it tastes way better than the store-bought kind. But how do you make sure your whipped cream is as light and fluffy as possible?
A lot of it has to do with the temperature of the star ingredient, heavy cream. Which do you think will make fluffier whipped cream, cold heavy cream or room-temperature heavy cream? Make a prediction!
Use masking or painter’s tape and a marker or pen to label 1 liquid measuring cup or clear glass “Room Temperature” and the other “Cold.” After you make your 2 batches of whipped cream, you will put them into these containers to see which one is fluffier (has more volume).
Measure ½ cup cold heavy cream, straight from the refrigerator. If you have an instant-read thermometer, take the temperature of the heavy cream—it should be about 40 degrees. Pour the cold heavy cream into 1 medium bowl.
Add the sugar and vanilla to the bowl with the cold heavy cream. Use an electric mixer on medium-low speed to whip the cream for about 1 minute. Increase the speed to high and whip until the cream is smooth and thick, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and lift the beaters out of the cream. If the whipped cream clings to the beaters and makes soft peaks that stand up on their own, you’re done! If not, keep beating and check again in 30 seconds.
Use a rubber spatula to gently scoop the whipped cream into the clear glass or liquid measuring cup labeled “Cold.” Use the spatula to gently smooth out the top. Set the glass aside.
Measure the remaining ½ cup heavy cream into a liquid measuring cup. Place the liquid measuring cup in the microwave. Heat the heavy cream in the microwave on 50 percent power in 10-second increments for about 20 seconds, or until the cream registers about 70 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. (If you don’t have an instant-read thermometer, the heavy cream should feel neutral to the touch, neither warm nor cold.)
In a clean medium bowl, combine the room-temperature heavy cream, the remaining sugar, and the remaining vanilla. Use an electric mixer on medium-low speed to whip the cream for about 1 minute. Increase the speed to high and whip until the cream is smooth and thick, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and lift the beaters out of the cream. If the whipped cream clings to the beaters and makes soft peaks that stand up on their own, you’re done! If not, keep beating and check again in 30 seconds.
Use a rubber spatula to gently scoop the whipped cream into the clear glass or liquid measuring cup labeled “Room Temperature.” Use the spatula to gently smooth out the top.
Compare your 2 batches of whipped cream:
Time for a taste test! Be sure to use a clean spoon for each taste.
When we tried this experiment in the America’s Test Kitchen Kids lab, the whipped cream made from cold heavy cream was light and fluffy and had nearly twice the volume of the whipped cream made from room-temperature cream. Did your experiment turn out the same way?
As we enjoyed our whipped cream on top of some hot cocoa, we wondered why temperature is important to making fluffy, cloud-like whipped cream. We did some research.
Here’s what we learned:
First, we had to understand how whipped cream works. Heavy cream is made of 36 to 40 percent fat, and whipping cream is made of 30 to 36 percent fat (the rest is water, protein, sugars, and minerals). The big difference between liquid heavy cream and whipped heavy cream is air—the sugar and vanilla extract add sweetness and flavor. Whipping heavy cream using an electric mixture or by hand creates lots of tiny air bubbles. The fat in the cream holds the air bubbles in place. As more and more air bubbles form, the heavy cream expands and becomes light and fluffy. Delicious.
And here’s where temperature comes in:
As fat warms up, say from refrigerator temperature (about 40 degrees) to room temperature (about 70 degrees), it gets softer. Think about gently squeezing a stick of butter straight from the fridge versus one you’ve left on the counter for a couple of hours. The room-temperature butter is softer and easier to squeeze, while the cold butter stays firm and holds its shape.
The warmer, softer fat in the room-temperature heavy cream can’t support the air bubbles very well, so they start to collapse. That means the finished whipped cream won’t have as much volume. The fat in the cold heavy cream is more solid, so it can support more trapped air bubbles—this makes for fluffier whipped cream with more volume.
Follow these tips and you’ll whip up perfectly fluffy, airy whipped cream every time:
Use Only Heavy Cream or Whipping Cream
Dairy products such as half-and-half and light cream don’t contain enough fat to support air bubbles—they won’t turn into whipped cream.
Don’t Make It Too Far in Advance
It’s best to make whipped cream within a few hours of when you want to use it—after that it will start to leak liquid and lose its air bubbles (no!). And always store whipped cream in the refrigerator.