Dire predictions of a Christmas season of topless desserts have so far proven unfounded.
The Washington Post reported Thursday on an industry-wide shortage of whipped toppings, resulting from an accident in August. Two gas tankers and a nitrous oxide holding tank exploded in Florida and killed one worker whose body was found 50 to 75 feet from the site of the explosion. The accident seriously derailed nitrous oxide production.
Nitrous oxide is the propellant that makes whipped cream squirt out of the can. Dentists also use nitrous oxide, sometimes called “laughing gas” as an anesthetic and to relax patients. As the gas becomes available again, priority will be given to medical users so dentists will be getting nitrous before grocery stores.
As of Monday, the shortage had not materialized locally. Lowes Foods, Food Lion and Walmart all had the popular Reddi-Wip brand as well as their private label brands in stock.
Jason Easter, dairy manager at the Mount Airy Lowes Foods, said “We ordered extra for the holidays before news of the shortage hit.” He thinks his store will make it through Christmas with an adequate supply but he won’t be getting any more of the Lowes brand whipped topping when the supply on hand runs out.
Other options are available. Folks who prefer to top their dessert with a topping made of water, hydrogenated vegetable oil (including coconut and palm oils), high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, skimmed milk, light cream, sodium caseinate, natural and artificial flavor, xanthan and guar gums, polysorbate 60, sorbitan monostearate, and beta carotene can always buy Cool Whip Original as it is unaffected by the shortage.
Or you can take the DIY route and make your own dessert topping. As news of the looming whipped cream shortage hit the news, it became clear that an entire generation of people have no idea that whipped cream can be made at home simply by whipping cream.
Cream is not in short supply, just one of its more popular delivery systems. Looking on the bright side, a shortage of sprayable whipped cream at just the time it is desired most could become a nationwide teachable moment.
Once you have explained to your kids that this shortage is not equivalent to the Grinch stealing Christmas, dig out your mixer and show them how to make some whipped cream. They’ll think you’re a magician. And since almost everyone prefers the taste of freshly whipped cream to the commercially available alternatives, once they taste what you’ve made, they’ll think you’re a genius magician.
Though homemade whipped cream is as simple as pouring heavy cream in a bowl and whipping it with a mixer or a whisk until it’s thick, there are some master tips to make you a real pro. What better time than now to perfect your cream whipping skills?
Everything involved in the process should be very, very cold. Throw the bowl and beaters into the freezer a few hours before time to whip. Whipping the cream with a mixer adds air volume to the liquid. Food processors and blenders don’t incorporate the massive amounts of air needed for fluffy whipped cream so use an electric mixer. A whisk will work but be prepared to develop some serious arm muscles.
Fat globules in the cream envelop those air bubbles and are then coated and stabilized by proteins, in case you were wondering how the whole thing works. Chilling increases the viscosity of the fat and facilitates the process. Ultra-pasteurized cream takes a little longer to whip, so be patient.
For desserts, you’ll probably want your whipped cream sweet. Use any sweetener you like. Sugar, powdered sugar, brown sugar, superfine sugar, honey, maple syrup and agave syrup all work fine and each has its own flavor profile. If you use artificial sweeteners, go ahead and use the one you like.
If you use sugar, superfine sugar dissolves easier than granulated sugar and brown sugar gives a hint of a caramel taste. Powdered sugar not only dissolves easier than granulated sugar but also contains cornstarch which acts as a stabilizer for the cream. One down side to homemade whipped cream is that it will “water out” when left to sit in the refrigerator which is why the processed varieties contain so many stabilizers.
Powdered sugar helps a little bit with stabilization and a little gelatin further stabilizes whipped cream. But be judicious in its use. Use too much and you can taste it. If you’ve ever had a bakery cake with whipped cream frosting that was a little rubbery, you know what too much gelatin tastes like. You don’t want that.
If you just want to plop a spoonful of whipped cream onto your pumpkin pie, you only have to whip it until the beaters form soft peaks. But if pumpkin pie just isn’t pumpkin pie without the frilly edges of cream squirted through a flower-shaped tip, load your homemade whipped cream into a pastry bag and go at it. For piping, you need to whip it closer to stiff peaks. Quite frankly, you want to only stop a millisecond before the whole thing turns to butter. Which it will, if you overbeat.
If that happens and you end up with a topping suitable only for toast, add a few tablespoons of chilled cream and whip a little more, hopefully stopping at the right texture this time.
It needs to be stated that for certain off-label uses of whipped cream — uses more likely originating in the boudoir than the kitchen — neither frozen dairy-ish toppings nor real whipped cream either piped or plopped are going to work for you. If this is the reason a sprayable whipped cream shortage has gotten you down, there are dispensers available. Cream and sweeteners are added to the dispenser and it squirts out frothy cream any place your heart desires. They cost from 20 to 5o dollars online and do require nitrous canisters but so far, plenty are still available and overnight delivery could put one in your hands by Christmas Eve.
It’s not every day that 20 bucks can save Christmas.
Sweetened whipped cream
1 cup heavy cream
3 tbsp. confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Lightly beat the cream in a large chilled bowl with a large balloon whisk, or in an electric beater, until it begins to thicken. Add the sugar and vanilla extract and continue to beat until the cream is very stiff and stands in firm peaks on the beater when it is lifted from the bowl. Refrigerate until ready to use. It takes 5 minutes (with the electric mixer, anyway) and makes 2 cups of sweetened, whipped cream.
Mocha Whipped Cream
Mocha whipped cream combines sugar, chocolate and espresso powder. Use mocha whipped cream with any chocolate dessert or to flavor coffee or cocoa.
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
1 tsp. espresso powder
1 tbsp. cocoa powder (or more to taste)
1 tbsp. confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
Whip cream in a chilled bowl until firm. Add espresso powder, cocoa and sugar and beat until soft peaks form.
Pumpkin whipped cream
A cross between a whipped topping and a filling, this pumpkin variation uses a food processor, usually a no-no for whipped cream.
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. allspice
1 cup pumpkin puree
Add cold heavy cream to food processor and turn on high for about one minute, or until the cream has turned fluffy (or very soft peaks). Turn processor off and add in sugar and spices. Pulse until just incorporated. Add in pumpkin puree and mix on high until pumpkin is fully incorporated, about 1 minute.
Coconut Cream Pie
For the Coconut Crust:
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 stick COLD unsalted butter (1/2 cup)
1/3 cup shredded sweetened coconut
1/2 tsp. salt
3-5 tbsp. ice cold coconut rum
For the Coconut Cream Pie:
5.1 ounce box instant vanilla pudding
15 ounce can cream of coconut
1/2 cup coconut milk (or cow’s milk)
12 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 tbsp. sugar
1 cup toasted coconut
For the Crust: Cut the butter into small cubes and place in the freezer to make sure it’s very cold. Place 1/3 cup shredded coconut in the food processor. Pulse to finely chop. Then add the flour and salt and pulse again. Pour a couple ounces of coconut rum over ice to chill. Then add the cold butter to the flour mixture and pulse until it’s finely chopped and mixed into the flour. It should resemble oatmeal or little pellets. One tablespoon at a time, pulse in the chilled coconut rum (not the ice cubes) until it clumps together. It should be firm, not sticky. Mine usually takes 4 tablespoons. Dump the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and form into a disk. Wrap and refrigerate for at least thirty minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Once chilled, roll the dough out on a floured work surface, into a 14 inch circle. Hold one side of the pie crust over the rolling pin and carefully roll it over the top of the rolling pin to transfer it to the pie pan. Don’t stretch the pie crust, but gently move it into the center of the pie pan. Turn the edges underneath and crimp the edges to seal. You can do this with a fork or with your fingers. Place a large piece of foil over the pie crust and gently shape it over the dough. Fill the foil with ceramic pie weights, or dried beans. Bake the crust for 15 minutes. Then carefully remove the foil and weights. Then bake again for 10 minutes. Cool completely before filling.
For the toasted coconut: Spread the coconut out onto a baking sheet. Toast for 3-5 minutes, until just golden. Then remove and cool. DO NOT take your eyes off the coconut while it’s in the oven. It can turn black in a second!
For the Filling: Place the instant pudding mix in a large glass jar or plastic air-tight container. Add the cream of coconut and milk. Cover tightly and shake for 1-2 minutes until well combined. Refrigerate until ready to use. Using an electric mixer, whip the heavy cream with 1 tsp. vanilla and 3 Tb. sugar. Transfer to another bowl, cover and refrigerate. Then beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy. Slowly, beat in the pudding mixture. Add a little at a time and scrape the bowl regularly, to ensure there are no clumps. Finally fold in HALF the whipped cream. Carefully mix until smooth.
Scoop the filling into the cooled pie crust. Top with the remaining whipped cream and sprinkle generously with toasted coconut. Chill for at least 4 hours. Overnight is even better.
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Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699 or on Twitter @BillColvard.