Our Back to Basics column on beating egg whites prompted a request for a similar technique--whipping cream correctly. Once again a wire whisk can be used for the task, but those lacking a strong arm may opt for an electric mixer.
It's important to begin with a bowl and beaters that are not only spotlessly clean but chilled in the refrigerator at least two hours. The whipping cream also should be well-chilled and at least a day old (hardly a problem for the average consumer). Fat content of the cream must be between 30% and 40% for it to whip satisfactorily.
The cream will double in volume during whipping, so place it in a bowl large enough to accommodate this increased amount. Begin beating on medium-high speed.
After a few seconds the cream will become frothy (Photo 1). This is the stage to begin adding sugar or flavorings, if desired. As the cream begins to thicken, lower the mixer speed and watch carefully, periodically stopping to check the progress.
Cream beaten to the soft peak stage (Photo 2) is soft, still glossy and incorporates well with other ingredients. When the beaters are lifted, the cream folds in soft peaks or drops in large globs. This is comparable to the stiff, but not dry, stage of beaten egg whites.
If the cream is to be used decoratively, continue beating to the stiff peak stage (Photo 3) . It may then be spooned in dollops, sculpted or placed in a pastry bag with a decorative tip.
Overbeaten cream (Photo 4) will eventually clump and turn to butter. If only slightly overbeaten, however, it's possible to recover the product by adding one to two more tablespoons cream and continuing to beat.
It's best to whip cream just before using. If it must be prepared ahead, some sources suggest adding a small amount of powdered sugar during the beating process. The cornstarch in this type of sugar acts as a stabilizer. Other references suggest adding a packet of unflavored gelatin, softened in one tablespoon water, for each cup of whipping cream. Beat the gelatin in as the cream begins to stiffen.
Requests for explanations of cooking techniques may be sent to Back to Basics, Food Section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.