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. RayZ

    Thank you for the educational tutorial. This clears up a lot of questions and will improve my technique.

    Reply
  2. Leburta

    I have a favorite lemon cake dessert that has benefitted from using a topping of stabilizes whipped cream. Regular whisked cream, though delicious, would soften too quickly when the cake was put out on the dessert table. I have used a method using unflavored gelatin, and have been very happy with the results. No more topping sliding off the cake!

    Reply
  3. Diane Perris

    I notice in your blog you’re using a hand mixer rather than the whisk attachment on a stand mixer. Is that a preference?
    Thanks!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Just preference, Diane! Whichever you prefer will work just fine, just keep an eye on your cream as it can go from liquid to butter pretty quickly. (And always when you’re not looking!) Annabelle@KAF

  4. S.

    I love the pudding pie desserts but do not like the tub o’stuff that is invariably folded in. How can one use whipping cream instead?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Do some experimentation, S! Aim for a medium or stiffer peak and fold it in gently. It’ll make for some very delicious trial and error. Annabelle@KAF

  5. Charlene Shafer

    Sometimes I use 1 or 2 tablespoons of instant vanilla pudding as a stabilizer, works great!

    Reply
  6. Stephen Hill

    Hi, is there a post about making whipped cream using various flavorings? If one is not available I’d love to see one! I have some ideas on this but would love to see some examples so I have something to go on. Like how much liquid can added without making the whipped cream too watery, etc.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Stephen. We don’t have a dedicated post but MaryJane briefly mentions folding in flavors gently once your cream is whipped. We’d recommend adding no more than 1 to 2 tablespoons of liquid per 2 cups of whipped cream. 2 tablespoons will definitely soften the cream pretty noticeably, so if you’re a fan of a stiffer consistency, aim to add no more than a tablespoon. Annabelle@KAF

  7. Evangeline

    Don’t laugh, but I often make my whipped cream in a Tupperware bowl. Years ago, before I had a mixer, I tried this method out of desperation. Heavy cream, sugar, vanilla. Place in bowl with sufficient space to aerate and a TIGHT fitting lid. Shake. And Shake and SHAKE! You will know it’s done when the noise diminishes. Sloshing becomes less and less until it stops. This has become a family tradition now, lol. We pass the bowl around until our arms are tired. Then Voila! Whipped Cream!

    Reply
  8. JenL

    My favorite way to stabilize is to use 2 tablespoons of powdered sugar for every cup of cream. If water seeps out I just mix it again and serve!

    Reply
  9. Janis Holmes

    Many years ago, I found a recipe for stabilized whipped cream that I’ve used successfully to frost cakes and for piping decorative borders. For 1 cup of heavy cream: put 1 tablespoon of cold water into a custard cup (or other heatproof cup); sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of unflavored gelatin over the cold water. Let stand 5 minutes until the gelatin has softened. Place the cup in small pan containing about 1 inch of simmering water. Set over moderate heat and let stand until the gelatin dissolves, then remove from the hot water and set aside. Pour 3/4 cup of the cream into a chilled bowl and beat until soft peaks form. Add the softened gelatin to the remaining 1/4 cup of cream, stir quickly and immediately add it to the softly whipped cream. Continue beating to the desired thickness. For a 9″ or 10″ cake, I typically triple this recipe, which yields more than enough to frost and decorate that size cake.

    Reply
  10. D.

    How long can you store the stabilized whipped cream? Can you make it in the morning for use that evening?

    We use a “kid method” on holidays where we put the heavy cream in a quart jar and a tight lid. The kids take turns shaking the jar until it is thick. Always have the youngest shake first! Everyone looks forward to making the whipped cream.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      What fun! We always love a baking or cooking activity that can involve the whole family — including the little ones. Thanks for sharing that with us, D. Stabilized whipped cream will probably hold up just fine throughout the day in the fridge. If you need to give it a quick whisk before serving, it should only require a few strokes. Annabelle@KAF

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