Henry James once famously wrote that the two most beautiful words in the English language were “summer afternoon.” But had he set his sights on the German language, he probably would have picked mit Schlag, which means “with whipped cream."
Crowning a coconut cream pie, dressing up a hot fudge sundae, adding a creamy counterpoint to a sliver of salted caramel and chocolate tart, whipped cream reigns supreme. In fact, it seems impossible to think of anything more perfect, or more stylishly simple, to complement your desserts. But it turns out there is something better than whipped cream: infused whipped cream.
What is infused whipped cream, and why should you make it?
Infused whipped cream is simply whipped cream that has been infused with another flavor (as opposed to, say, adding the flavor in the form of an extract). To make infused whipped cream, you must first make infused cream. This process is as simple as combining the flavoring ingredients with either cold or hot cream until the cream has taken on their flavors and aromas. After the cream steeps for a bit, it’s strained, then chilled until cold (cold cream whips best) and, when you’re ready to serve it, whipped to your desired consistency (I’m a very soft peaks gal, myself).
For infusion inspiration, look to the garden
In Michelle Polzine’s cookbook, Baking at the 20th Century Café (which, in full disclosure, I co-authored), Michelle devotes an entire section of her book to infused creams. For inspiration, the San Francisco-based pastry chef looked to the farmer’s market. She infuses her creams with leaves of rose geranium (for a pleasant, mild floral flavor), lemon verbena (for a bright, citrusy cream), and peach leaves (which give the cream the most marvelous celadon color and the flavor of almonds).
Michelle employs a few different techniques for infusing cream, depending on the ingredients she’s using. For some, like rose geranium, she chooses a cold-infusion method, adding the flavorings to cold cream and letting them steep (it loses its herbal quality if heated). For others, she heats the cream with the flavorings to extract more of the oils (and, in the case of peach leaf cream, to set its vibrant color). You can try her recipes below, or experiment with your own infusions, using her techniques as guidelines.
For Rose Geranium Cream (cold infusion):
Place 1 handful of rose geranium (washed and patted dry) in a blender. Blend on high speed until the leaves are very finely chopped, then add 2 teaspoons sugar and continue blending until the sugar pulls some of the oil and juice from the leaves. Add 1 cup (227g) cold heavy cream, and pulse on very low a few times to get the color and flavor into the cream. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 1 day. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a large clean bowl, discarding the solids, then whip using a whisk, a hand or stand mixer, or a mason jar.
For Lemon Verbena Cream (hot infusion):
Combine the 1 cup (227g) cream and 2 teaspoons sugar in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium heat until bubbles begin to appear at the pan’s edge, then add the lemon verbena (washed and patted dry), remove from the heat, cover, and let stand for 30 minutes or transfer to the refrigerator, where it can hang out for up to 1 day. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a large clean bowl, discarding the solids, and, if you haven’t refrigerated the mixture, chill until cold, then whip.
For Peach Leaf Cream (hot infusion):
Place 1 handful of peach leaves (washed and patted dry) in a blender and blend on high speed until the leaves are very finely chopped. Add 1 tablespoon sugar and continue blending until the sugar pulls some of the oil and juice from the leaves. Transfer to a bowl.
In a medium saucepan, heat 1 cup (227g) cream over medium heat until it begins to bubble at the edge of the pan. Pour the hot cream into the bowl with the peach leaf-sugar mixture, whisk like crazy, then quickly pour through a fine-mesh sieve back into the saucepan. Heat over medium heat until just below a boil (this step sets the brilliant green color). Remove from the heat, transfer to a bowl and let cool until room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until cold, then whip.
Of course, these are just a few of the garden-inspired possibilities. Fresh lavender is also a wonderful addition to cream (use 1 tablespoon fresh lavender per cup of cream, plus 2 teaspoons sugar), or experiment with basil and mint cream (use about 1/2 cup of torn herb leaves per cup of cream, plus 2 teaspoons sugar), and follow the same hot infusion method as indicated for the lemon verbena cream above.
For other infused cream options, head to the pantry
Garden-inspired creams are wonderful in summer, but what about the rest of the year? When herbs and leaves are no longer abundant, try making coffee whipped cream by adding espresso powder (use about 2 teaspoons per cup of cream) to cold cream, stirring to dissolve, then whip. No espresso powder? Add 2 tablespoons crushed coffee beans to the cold cream instead. Let steep in the refrigerator for an hour, then strain and whip.
Or try Michelle’s recipe for coconut cream, which she makes by adding 1/2 cup of toasted unsweetened coconut and 2 teaspoons sugar to warmed cream. Let the mixture cool, then refrigerate overnight. The following day, strain and whip.
Our favorite infused cream + dessert combos
Infused creams are a simple, easy way to add another layer of flavor to your desserts. Ready to try? Here are a few of our favorite combinations:
Rose Geranium Cream + Easy Fruit Cobbler
Lemon Verbena Cream + Pavlova
Peach Leaf Cream + Rustic Raspberry-Peach Pie
Lavender Cream + Fresh Blueberry Pie
Mint Cream + Fudge Brownies
Basil Cream + Strawberry-Rhubarb Cobbler
Coffee Cream + Chocolate Decadence Ice Cream
Coconut Cream + German Chocolate Mini Cakes
Cover photo by Danielle Sykes, food styling by Kaitlin Wayne