Let’s talk about whipped creme fraiche, labneh whipped cream, whipped coconut cream and anything else that can be whipped into a billowing, creamy and cloud-like topping and served alongside dessert!
One of my most enduring memories about my paternal grandmother is just how good her whipped cream tasted. I have no idea how she did it but somewhere between her decades old and slightly cracked brick red bakelite mixing jug (and equally old handheld mixer), ice cold cream, a generous amount of sugar and, for serving, a crystal bowl she would place in the freezer in advance, my grandmother managed to consistently make the best whipped cream I have ever eaten. If me and my siblings were really lucky she would also whip up a batch of profiteroles and fill these with that glorious whipped cream through which she would have loosely folded some raspberries macerated with sugar. Heaven.
And while I was most definitely the kid licking the beaters when my grandmother was done whipping cream, I can’t have been more than 10 years old when my dad made me realize that whipped cream is not the only whipped dairy (or non-dairy) topping that happily sits atop a slice of cake, a portion of fruit salad or other types of dessert, by making a batch of whipped creme fraiche to go with Tarte Tatin.
I have spoken about my dad’s Tarte Tatin before and how, despite trying so many different versions over the years, his is still my favourite. In large part because he lets the caramel go darker than most people (including myself) would dare and as it turns out, that is key for a delicious Tarte Tatin. And while my dad’s habit of using whipped creme fraiche to serve alongside Tarte Tatin stems from my parents’ time in Morocco where finding fresh whipping cream was a challenge, for me it is hard to imagine serving Tarte Tatin with anything but ice cold whipped creme fraiche. After all, Tarte Tatin is extremely buttery and sugary and what better to serve alongside it than some unsweetened creme fraiche – its slight tang cutting perfectly through the Tarte Tatin’s richness.
As I grew older and started travelling more, I discovered that there are plenty of alternatives to whipped cream (and whipped creme fraiche). My decade in the UK introduced me to both double cream and clotted cream – both phenomenal with fresh berries. And multiple trips to Turkey made me fall in love with kaymak – while similar to clotted cream it’s made from the milk of water buffalos which gives it its distinct taste. And eating a piece of pistachio baklava, still warm and oozing sugary syrup, with a spoon or two of kaymak is all kinds of delicious. And of course we cannot forget to mention mascarpone either, which, while technically a cheese, given its high fat content whips up beautifully as well. And while we most commonly associate mascarpone with Tiramisu it also works great alongside anything with fresh fruit.
A more recent discovery for me is whipped labneh cream – which is really nothing more than a sort of whipped cream made with 50:50 (or another ratio you prefer) of whipped cream and labneh (you could also use thick Greek yoghurt). The labneh gives the whipped cream a bit of acidity but also stability – unlike regular whipped cream which will often start weeping liquid after a few hours and slowly start collapsing, labneh whipped cream will hold its shape for several days.
And while I am not vegan, it would be amiss if I did not also mention whipped coconut cream. Ashley’s blog introduced me to this years ago when she shared some tips and tricks for making whipped coconut cream. In short, it’s made from full fat coconut cream. After placing a can of coconut cream in the fridge overnight, you can scoop out the solidified coconut fat and whip this into a light and billowy alternative to whipped cream with a faint but not overpowering coconut flavour (and you can use the remaining coconut water for smoothies).
So how do you choose which whipped topping to make?
It’s really up to you but if I am making a dessert that is already quite rich (think a frangipane tart or a rich chocolate cake for example) I prefer serving that with something that will cut through that richness – which probably means I will opt for something like whipped creme fraiche or a labneh whipped cream. A go to dish for me is a flourless chocolate cake with candied clementines and whipped creme fraiche.
But if I am making a simple dessert built around fresh seasonal fruit like berries, I will happily go for something a little heavier and sweeter – like sweetened whipped cream or even whipped double cream, clotted cream or mascarpone.
Coconut whipped cream is probably in a somewhat special category because it comes with its own flavour. While subtle, coconut whipped cream nonetheless tastes unmistakable coconutty. For that reason, and unless you are making it because you are vegan, I would suggest pairing it with things that naturally go well with coconut. Chocolate is an obvious candidate but so are bananas (e.g. a banoffee pie made with coconut whipped cream!) and tropical fruits like pineapple or passion fruit.
Sweetener – yes or no? And if yes, which one?
Whether or not to use any sweetener (and if so, how much) is of course up to you. But again, a rule of thumb is probably to skip the sugar or go easy on the sugar if what you are serving the whipped topping with is already quite sweet.
If you do want to use sweetener, I would suggest less is more. I typically use max 10 pc in weight of whichever dairy (or non-dairy) product I am using. And bear in mind that some sweeteners like honey are sweeter than sugar so you can use even less.
While plain sugar is still what I reach for most often, depending on what you are making (and how well stocked your pantry is), it may make sense to branch out.
The butterscotch flavours of maple syrup and various kinds of brown sugar (like muscovado for example) lend themselves equally well to wholegrain bakes and chocolate cakes as they do to desserts made with less acidic fruits like bananas. Also, if you have an actual jar of butterscotch, dulce de leche or similar in your fridge, feel free to use that to both sweeten and flavour your whipped cream or similar topping.
Honey is a bit of an all-rounder. Honey-sweetened whipped cream or similar works as well with things like roasted peaches or plums as it does with wholegrain bakes or cakes heavy on seeds and nuts as well as anything made with banana.
And now what?
Once you have figured out whether to use any sweetener and if so, which sweetener and how much of it, the next question is whether you want to leave it at that or go one step further and flavour your whipped topping one way or another.
As much as I love the clean milky flavour of whipped cream or the flavour of things like creme fraiche or sour cream unadulterated by anything else, often I do reach for my spice or liquor cabinet when making whipped cream or similar sweet toppings for dessert. Depending on what you are making, adding a pinch of this or a dash of that will not only make the whipped topping itself taste more intriguing, but it can also be a great way of supporting other flavours in the dish you are making.
Here are some ideas:
- Cardamom: a pinch or two of cardamom are a great addition when making whipped cream or labneh whipped cream to serve alongside cakes and desserts with fresh berries, plums, almonds and/or honey.
- Tonka Bean: for want of a better way of describing it, tonka bean is a bit like vanilla on steroids – floral yet woodsy and somehow really bright. I love adding it to whipped cream when serving it with fruits that are naturally a bit acidic, like rhubarb or raspberries or prune plums.
- Pumpkin spice / mixed spice / gingerbread spice etc.: Warming spice mixes are not just great if you want a dollop of whipped cream with your hot chocolate but also when serving things like apple pie or apple strudel.
Alcohol / Liqueurs
One thing to bear in mind when using any liquid flavourings is that you will be diluting your whipped cream or similar so go easy quantity-wise – you want to avoid adding so much liquid that you can no longer properly whip your cream!
- Elderflower Liqueur: Where I grew up just when crimson stalks of rhubarb start appearing at the farmers’ market you will also find elderberry trees start to blossom. And as much as I adore elderflower liqueur in cocktails, it also pairs brilliantly with desserts, especially when rhubarb is involved. So next time you are making a rhubarb eton mess or similar, add a few spoons of elderflower liqueur to your whipped cream.
- Aperol: While Aperol is quite sugary since it is a liqueur it is also undeniably bitter. I love adding a small glug of Aperol to whipped cream to serve alongside citrussy desserts – like a whole orange cake with a citrus fruit salad for example.
- Bourbon: A couple of teaspoons or so of Bourbon added to your whipped cream is brilliant if you are serving something like an apple pie or a rich chocolate fudge cake.