Whipped cream can be much more than an ivory dollop, and, with a little creativity, it can help the simplest desserts look spectacular. The following ideas use plain whipped cream as their base but add twists of flavor, color, and texture to give excitement and an extra layer of deliciousness to all kinds of desserts.
The key to perfect whipped cream decorations is not to overwhip the cream—it should hold a shape, but the peaks that form when you lift the beaters should still droop slightly. Going all the way to firm peaks will produce a stiff, slightly curdled cream that doesn’t take on a graceful shape.
Create a custom cream
You can use just one of the following ideas, or a combination. Just keep in mind how the flavors of your decoration will work with the flavors of the dessert.
Flavor it: To start, play with adding extracts (such as vanilla, almond, or peppermint) or spirits—brandy, rum, or bourbon work well. And try different sugars and syrups, such as honey, maple syrup, or molasses, or a combination, as in the Brown-Sugar Brandy Cream. You can also fold in ingredients like melted chocolate, fruit purées, or finely crushed toffee.
Sprinkle it: Next, jazz up the look with a dusting of crushed instant coffee granules, chocolate shavings, a fine julienne of blanched citrus zest, chopped nuts, or even crushed peppermint candies.
Dress it up: For a bigger “statement,” garnish the cream with sprigs of mint or tiny edible flowers and small berries or champagne grapes. And for a dazzling flourish that’s fun to eat, make a caramel squiggle to tuck into the cream.
Tips for perfectly whipped cream
• Don’t use ultrapasteurized cream, if possible. It overwhips easily, doesn’t get as thick or hold up as well, and has a slightly cooked taste.
• When close to soft peaks, stop the mixer and finish whisking by hand to avoid overwhipping.
• If the cream gets too stiff or curdled, fold in a little unwhipped cream to soften it.
Note: Three-quarters cup whipping or heavy cream will yield about 2 cups whipped cream—enough to garnish 10 to 12 desserts.
Three quick confections
Brown-sugar brandy cream: Combine 3/4 cup heavy or whipping cream with 2 packed Tbs. dark brown sugar, 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract, and 1 tsp. brandy or rum. Whip until blended and the cream forms soft peaks that hold a shape.
Chocolate whipped cream: Melt 2 oz. good-quality semisweet chocolate. Whip 3/4 cup heavy or whipping cream with 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract and a small pinch of salt until it forms very soft peaks. By hand, whisk in the melted chocolate until blended and the cream forms soft peaks that hold a shape.
Fruit cream: Whip 3/4 cup heavy or whipping cream to soft peaks. Fold in 1/2 cup lightly sweetened pureed and strained fresh or frozen fruit (berries and mangos work well; start with about 1/2 cup). Whisk a bit until the cream holds a shape.