The funny thing about cooking is that sometimes something can take days to prepare and lose out in its diners' memories to something obscenely easy. It's these things--sauces, toppings, bread, crust, condiments--that can be the cook's victory lap. They are almost embarrassingly easy. Yet still guaranteed to enchant. So why doesn't everyone make their own whipped cream, bread, salad dressings? Well, there is the very real challenge of One More Thing. The fewer things you have to do on the day of any event, the better. Hosting, divorced from preparing food, is a challenge on its own; and having more items on the list makes it even harder.
|The sun, appearing to be the moon, trying to cut through the fog.|
|A November palette|
Pumpkin pie is non-negotiable for many of us. It seems a lot of people genuinely dislike it. I wonder if that's because their spices are from the previous millennium? Pumpkin pie is not a boring, flavorless dessert. I see how it could be though. Think of pumpkin like a forest floor. That is the extent of its role in its namesake pie. What a pumpkin pie really celebrates is a bloom of aromatic, warm spices.
I have a fascinating client who taught me all about blooming spices. On her first appointment with me, she was headed home for a six month visit to
India. I, obviously, had a million
questions. When I was growing up, my
mother had a terrible time leaving
us. I really only had one
babysitter. A family friend who happened
to be Gandhi's great niece. As you might guess, her ability to keep the peace
was remarkable. Sometimes, maybe only
once, we would go to P's house instead of P coming to ours. I grew up in a tone on tone on tone house--which I curiously replicate now--and P's
house was full of vivid color, aromas, and art. So my infatuation with India started
early. Anyway, when my client and I met that first time, she answered my
questions with great delight. I was most
interested in gold and spices. I guess
evil white man habits die hard. I love gold, and have noticed that Indian people often have the most beautiful
gold jewelry. She told me that Indian
gold is usually pure 22 karat, and rarely plated, so it's more saturated in
color and absorbs light; which gives ethereal illume. I also wanted to know all about spice
kitchens, storing spices, buying spices--all of it. It was then that she taught me the importance
of blooming your spices in oil. The hot
oil will make the spices dance and come to life.
It all has to do with coated molecules and stuff but I didn't even earn an "F' in Chemistry, I earned an "I". So you can ask Christopher Kimball to clear the science up for you.
I follow the Libby's back of the can pumpkin pie recipe, except I: 1) use duck eggs 2) double the spices and 3) bloom the spices in 1/2 stick (melted) butter 4) add 1T whiskey to the filling (helps evaporate moisture more quickly + amplifies flavor).
In typical fashion, I've diverted from what I meant to talk about. Whipped cream. Whipped cream is so simple that you can ruin your day with no effort at all. Most commonly this is done by leaving the mixer whipping and walking away. Don't walk away from whipping cream. Whipped cream is traditionally made right before it's needed. Whipping cream traps air, which creates fluff. Whipped cream will eventually unwhip itself. So that's why it's important that it be made quickly before it's needed. You can make it before dinner, but you will have already lost volume. The struggles with making it right after dinner are many. The noise, the drunk and forgetful cook (it becomes butter when overwhipped), the counterspace rapidly filling with the dishes from dinner, and the heat. A house full of people will heat up. A kitchen full of people that's been cooking things in oven and on flame for days will really heat up. My kitchen faces west. By evening, it's warm. Bad conditions for cream whipping. Even with a frozen bowl and ultra-cold cream, it often can't be entirely convinced to whip and puff in my kitchen. Not to mention, I really would have preferred to cross it off the list hours ago.
Cream cheese. Cream cheese is your ticket to whipped cream freedom (whipped creadom). It still doesn't hold up forever, but certainly about twelve hours. This allows me to make the whipped cream first thing on Thanksgiving morning, and cross it right off the list. Homemade whipped cream is one of those victory laps we all might as well take. Why pass up ending the meal with adoration? That was easier and less embarrassing than watching the cashier judge you while she scans ten bottles of reddi-whip?
Stabilized Spiced Whipped Cream
2 cups heavy whipping cream, very cold
1/2 bar (4 oz) cream cheese, room temperature
3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Using wire whip attachment on mixer or whisk, cream sugar and cream cheese with spices and salt. Add whipping cream and vanilla extract and whip until voluminous. About 1 minute on a stand mixer. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate. You may wish to add more sugar, I prefer a whipped cream that is not too sweet.