How to whip cream: tips for perfecting dessert's favorite topping

Light and airy as a cloud, there’s nothing quite like a spoonful of freshly whipped cream. Once you learn how to whip cream, you’ll never have to resort to that store-bought non-dairy who-knows-what topping again.

Whether you’re topping berries fresh from the garden or a late-night slice of pie, homemade whipped cream makes every dessert special. Adding a touch of sugar or a drizzle of vanilla can gild the lily, but it’s the cool creaminess and the billowy texture that really makes homemade cream shine.

We’ll show you how to whip cream to soft, medium, and stiff peaks, plus our favorite method for making stabilized (read: longer-lasting) cream to use for fillings and spreads. We’ll even show you what we do when things have gone a little overboard with the mixer and your cream becomes… well, we’ll get to that later.

How to whip cream via @kingarthurflourLeft to right: Stiff peaks, medium peaks, soft peaks

How does cream become whipped, anyway?

Whipping cream is simply a matter of incorporating tiny air bubbles into a fatty liquid. On a scientific level, the fat molecules line themselves up around the air bubbles, making them stable. The bubbles then cling to each other, forming a thick foam. A thick, ambrosial, dreamy foam.

How to whip cream via @kingarthurflour

Pick the right dairy product for your whipped cream

While 1%, 2%, and whole milk all have varying amounts of fat in them, for a sturdy foam you’ll need whipping cream (30% to 35% fat) or heavy cream (36% minimum). Ultra-pasteurized dairy products will make a decent whipped cream, although the flavors are a little more “cooked” tasting. Standard pasteurized cream will whip up more easily and hold better peaks, so do use it if you can.

How To Properly Whip Cream via@kingarthurflour

Chill, man, chill: Cold is best for whipping cream

Because you’re relying on the fat in the cream, you need to ensure it stays in a solid, albeit microscopically solid, state. Chilling your bowl, cream, and beaters beforehand means things will stay colder longer during the whipping process. Colder cream = loftier peaks.

Using a lower speed to begin your whipping will also be helpful. The cream won’t warm too quickly and you’ll build up smaller bubbles, for a more stable foam.

How to whip cream via @kingarthurflour

Watch the cream, rather than the clock

Just as it’s best to go with the look of your dough rather than how long it’s been in the bowl, you’ll want to keep an eye on your cream as you go along.  At first you’ll have large bubbles on the surface that are pale and thin, but soon you’ll see your whisk or beaters starting to leave trails in the bowl. This is a sign that the structure is starting to build and the cream is beginning to thicken up.

This is the time to add sugar, slowly, if you want sweetened whipped cream. Using a superfine castor sugar means it will incorporate more quickly and leave no grittiness. Confectioners’ sugar is another easy to incorporate sugar, and the cornstarch it contains can add some stabilization.  Vanilla and other flavorings can be gently stirred in at the end of whipping.

Once you hit this stage, you can increase the speed on your mixer to medium-high. While you could do high if you’re in a big hurry (gimme pie now!), using medium-high speed will give you better control, and you won’t over-beat your cream.

How to whip cream via @kingarthurflour

Soft whipped cream: how to whip cream, stage 1

When your trails through the cream start to build up and overlap each other, you’re at the soft peak stage. If you scoop up a spoonful of cream, it will be slightly less stiff than sour cream.

Soft peaks come and go rather quickly, with medium peaks hard on their heels.

How to whip cream via @kingarthurflour

Medium peaks: how to whip cream, stage 2

When many of us think of whipped cream, we’re picturing it at the medium-peak stage. Beyond flowing soft mounds, but not yet stiff firm mountains, either. We want our dollop to have a pointy top, but a base that drapes around berries like a drift of snow.

How to whip cream via @kingarthurflour

Drifts of snow you’ll want to eat with a big, big spoon.

How to whip cream via @kingarthurflour

Stiff peaks for folding: how to whip cream, stage 3

When a recipe calls for folding in cream, stiff peaks is often where you want to go. The cream will be thick and spreadable, almost like the icing for a cake. The volume will have just about doubled, and the cream will cling to the beaters.

Take care! Be sure to stop as soon as you’ve reached this stage, for ahead lies disaster.

How to whip cream via @kingarthurflour

When you’ve gone too far: how to whip cream, stage 4

Take a look at the bowl above. See how there’s an open spot in the middle, with much of the cream clinging to the sides of the bowl? This is a HUGE sign that you’re headed for the land of no return for your cream. The fat has been so coagulated that the air is forced out and your lofty cream will begin to deflate.

If you catch this early, you may be able to salvage it by adding a few more tablespoons of cream and gently, by hand preferably, combining it with the thick cream to smooth it out some. You won’t get back the same light cream you had, but all won’t be lost.

How to whip cream via @kingarthurflour

That’s not whipped cream, that’s butter: how to whip cream, stage 5 and beyond

With a heavy sigh you realize you’ve over-whipped your cream and it’s turned to… butter. While it’s not really going to be great on top of your berries, all’s not lost. Toss in a pinch of salt, perhaps some lemon or orange zest, and you have a gourmet butter to spread on your next fresh-baked bread.

Why not save it in the fridge, too, and add some to your next sweet dough?

How to whip cream via @kingarthurflour

What does it mean to “stabilize” whipped cream?

By adding a thickener, a starch, or additional fat, you can make whipped cream that stands up taller, spreads more like icing, and doesn’t melt or weep as quickly.

The whipped cream you get in restaurants is often stabilized to help busy chefs turn out desserts ahead of time, or to assist with serving pillowy, creamy desserts in higher heat situations.

For home bakers, the advantage of stabilized cream is that you can make it ahead of time and stash it in the fridge until you are ready to serve, or top a pie that needs to travel to its final destination. As long as you keep it cool, your cream will last at least 24 hours without deflating.

We’ll show you one of our favorite methods for stabilizing here, to start the discussion off.

Instant Clearjel is a modified food starch made from corn that thickens instantly when it comes into contact with liquid. By mixing a small amount in with the sugar for your whipped cream, you can sweeten and strengthen the cream at the same time.

Here we’ve used 1/4 cup sugar plus 1 tablespoon Instant ClearJel with 2 cups heavy cream.

How to whip cream via @kingarthurflour

Following the same beating method, you can see that the cream is smooth and thick, holding up nicely on the spatula.

How to whip cream via @kingarthurflour

And a spatula drawn through the cream leaves distinct folds and curves. All in all, a great choice if you want your whipped cream to be more frosting-like than cloud-like. This stabilized whipped cream is excellent for piping atop pies and cakes as well.

Properly Whipped Cream via@kingarthurflour

We hope these tips will help you achieve the cream of your dreams. Delicate and satiny, soft and soothing.

We mentioned that there are several different ways to stabilize whipped cream. We hope you’ll share your experiences and methods in the comments below. Have a real winner, a foolproof method? Please share! Come across a real flop? Save your fellow bakers from the same fate. The more we share, the more we grow as bakers.

Special thanks to KAF media specialist Julia Reed for the photos illustrating this post. 

MaryJane Robbins
About

MaryJane Robbins grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Vermont 20 years ago. After teaching young children for 15 years, she changed careers and joined King Arthur Flour in 2005. MaryJane began working on King Arthur Flour's baker’s hotline in 2006, and the blog team ...

comments

  1. Lyn Bailey

    I do not have the recipe to hand, but one of my son’s favorite things is a ‘salad’ made with the tub stuff, cottage cheese, pineapple chunks, orange and pineapple jello, and mandarin orange sections. He was living in Sweden where there is no tub stuff, so I brought over the jello and some plain gelatin. You dissolve, using heat, the gelatin in some water and then beat it into the whipped cream, Worked extremely well, the ‘salad’ was a great success and tasted a lot better than the tub stuff. I simply don’t remember the amount of gelatin and water per cup of heavy cream.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We’re glad you were able to bring him his favorite treat so far from home, Lyn! We’ve found a ratio of about 4 teaspoons water to 1 teaspoon gelatin works well to heat, cool, and use to stabilize a whipped cream, but that could vary from recipe to recipe. Annabelle@KAF

  2. Judi Curtis

    For stabilization, I use a couple of tablespoons of dry instant pudding mix per pint of heavy whipping cream.

    Reply
  3. Rosalie Hession

    This was fabulous instructional information. My grandchildren from ages 30 years to
    ages 6 years (YES! you read that correctly.) Had such fun doing all your Whipping Formulas. The 6 year old and the 16 year old are both Lactose Intolerant. Can they
    eat this kind of whip cream ingredients? In moderation.

    ALL OF YOUR TUTORIALS are fabilous. Best part of showing my grandchildren the
    fun of family baking/cooking. Thank you so much.

    Reply
  4. Sandra Doxtater

    I have found that honey works great for stabilizing whipped cream. Once it is at the point of standing in soft peaks, I add about a tablespoon of honey and continue beating until it is ready. I have been able to keep it up to a week or more without it separating.

    Reply
  5. Chrissie Fabian

    Whipped cream can also be stabilized with a little pudding mix or cornflour mixed into the cream.

    Reply
  6. Deb Grosner

    I’ve become a huge fan of meringue cream – Swiss meringue folded into unsweetened whipped cream. I found the recipe in “Kaffeehaus” by Rick Rodgers, and I found it gives a very stable cream, kind of homemade Cool Whip.

    Reply
  7. Tish R.

    Would you recommend whipping the cream in a copper mixing bowl if available? Or is that just for egg whites?

    I want to make a yellow two-layer cake to be frosted with whipped cream between the layers (with strawberries) and all around the sides and on top with more strawberries. Will the whipped cream destabilize faster because of juice from the strawberries? Will it all be a big mushy mess by the next day? Help!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Good question, Tish. Copper bowls are often used when whisking egg whites because the copper has the tendency to strengthen the protein in egg whites. This helps them whip up faster to a fuller volume. When it comes to whipping cream though, there’s no true advantage of using a copper bowl. It’s more about the temperature of the tools, and it’s true that copper is a good conductor so it will chill quickly. However, the copper may interact with the fat in the cream and change the flavor; therefore, you’re best off using a regular metal bowl and whisk when whipping cream.

      Your layer cake with berries sounds like our Berry Tiramisu. You might consider using the filling from this recipe, as it’s stable and designed to hold up well, even when berries are included. Otherwise, your whipped cream may start to weep and run. Be sure to chill the whole cake before serving to help keep things tight and well-shaped. Good luck! Kye@KAF

  8. KLin

    1. How long can the stabilized (using Clear Jel) whipping cream to be used to frost a cake be made in advance?
    2. Then… how long in advance could a cake frosted with that stabilized whipping cream be held?
    I’m dealing with wedding baking logistics and appreciate all the help I can get !!!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi KLin, the answer to your questions depends on a number of other factors, including how much whipped cream frosting you’re making, how thickly it’s applied to the cake and most importantly, how warm the environment is. Most of us bakers here tend not to use whipped cream frosting (regardless of whether it’s stabilized) because it can be quite unreliable in hot weather. This becomes especially risky if you’re baking a wedding cake, which comes with high expectations. If you keep the cake in a cool place and use Instant ClearJel, you can expect the cake to hold up for about 3-4 hours, understanding that any piping may become slightly less defined. You can make the frosting about a day in advance if it’s completely necessary. If someone really wants to include whipped cream in their cake, we tend to encourage them to use it as a filling between the layers and pipe the outside with buttercream, which is more stable and holds designs more distinctly. Feel free to give our Baker’s Hotline a call if you want to talk through wedding cake logistics (855-371-2253). We’ve got a number of bakers on the hotline who have made more than one wedding cake in their day. Good luck! Kye@KAF

  9. Anita khared

    Hi very well explained. I live in bangkok. When i make whipped cream and decorated icing the cake my whipped cream is melting in hands. Why plz tell me. Plzz

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Anita, it sounds like you might want to consider using a frosting that’s a bit more stable in warm weather. A classic buttercream with a bit of shortening might be just what you’re looking for. It’s richer than whipped cream but you won’t have to worry about it melting in quite as rapidly. If you’re committed to using whipped cream, consider stabilizing it with Instant ClearJel or another culinary thickener. (Mix 1-2 tablespoons with the sugar before streaming it into the cream once it’s reached soft peaks; adjust as necessary to get the consistency you’re looking for.) Kye@KAF

    2. gloria p

      The heat in Thailand or the fata content of the cream may also be some of the problem.

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