How to Make Infused Whipped Cream, Two Ways

Every week, baking expert Alice Medrich is going rogue on Food52 — with shortcuts, hacks, and game-changing recipes.

Today: Make your whipped cream fancier — and your ganache, ice cream, and panna cotta too.

Infusing is simply steeping or soaking a flavorful ingredient into another substance, often a liquid. Most of us make an infusion of coffee beans or tea leaves every day, without giving it a thought. For cooks and dessert makers, cream is a wonderful medium for infusing almost any ingredient that has flavor and scent — fresh or dried herbs, spices, coffee, tea, citrus zest, rose petals, toasted nuts and seeds. You can use the infused cream to make sauce, ganache, ice cream, or panna cotta. Or, you can simply chill it and whip it into a fragrant, flavorful dessert topping or filling. Think fresh mint whipped cream with strawberries or jasmine whipped cream on a chocolate dessert. The possibilities are endless and intriguing if you are willing to experiment.

One big secret: You can infuse hot or cold. Some ingredients (such as citrus zest) work both ways, with different but good results. Other ingredients taste so much brighter, cleaner, and more delicious in a cold infusion that, once tried, you will never go back. If in doubt, experiment by infusing an ingredient both ways. Whether you infuse hot or cold, it’s important to know that over-extracting the flavor ingredient — by infusing it too long — can bring out unpleasant flavors in fresh herbs, bitter tannins and acidity from tea and coffee, and bitterness from citrus zest. If you are not getting enough flavor from your infusion, you need more of the flavor ingredient rather than more infusing time.

Here are the methods and tips to get you started:

Cold Method:
I like cold infusions for fresh mint, tarragon, lemon verbena, rose geranium leaves, and fresh rose petals. By inference, I suspect that cold is the way to go for other tender, fresh herb leaves like basil, as well. The cold method is also good for black and green teas (jasmine is especially nice), dried lavender, aniseed, and coffee beans. 

  • Chop leafy fresh leaves or rose petals coarsely with a very sharp knife, without crushing or bruising them.
  • Stir the flavor ingredient with cold cream, cover, and refrigerate 8 to 12 hours. 
  • Strain the cream, pressing on the solids to extract as much cream as possible. Discard the solids. Some cream will have been absorbed into the solids; add additional cream if necessary for a recipe. If you are not using the infusion immediately, cover and refrigerate it until needed.

Approximate amounts to make a light infusion with 1 cup of cream:

  • Tender leaves (like mint or rose geranium) or rose petals: 1/4 cup loosely packed
  • Thyme leaves (and similarly tiny, woody, and/or more resinous leaves): 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons
  • Jasmine tea (or other green tea) leaves: 1 tablespoon
  • Dried lavender: 1 1/2 teaspoons
  • Coffee beans: 1/2 cup

If the flavor of the infusion ends up too strong, just dilute it with more cream! Note: Once the solids are strained out of the cream, you can heat a cold infusion to make a ganache (see below) or ice cream base, etc., without losing the fresh, bright flavor obtained from the cold infusion.

Hot Method:
Hot infusions work well for some dried herbs and spices, toasted coconut, toasted nuts or sesame seeds, cinnamon stick, and dried chilis.

  • Combine the flavor ingredient with the cream, and heat until the cream is scalded.
  • Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and let steep 5 to 30 minutes or more. Most ingredients may be steeped for 20 to 30 minutes or even longer — to your taste — but tea will be over-extracted and bitter if steeped longer than 5 minutes and roasted cocoa nibs start releasing bitter flavors after 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Strain out and discard the flavor ingredients. Some of the cream will have been absorbed into the solids; add additional cream to equal 1 cup, if necessary for a recipe. Use the cream immediately or chill until needed.

Approximate amounts to make a light infusion with 1 cup of cream:

  • Cocoa nibs: 1/3 cup
  • Earl Grey or other black tea: 2 to 3 teaspoons  
  • Toasted coconut: 3 tablespoons
  • Toasted nuts or seeds: 2 tablespoons

To make ganache with infused cream:
Make a double-strength infusion, so that the addition of chocolate will not overpower the flavor. Strain the cream and discard the solids as directed. Substitute the infused cream for plain cream in your ganache recipe. 

Extra credit:
Experiment with hot versus cold infusion for different ingredients, and experiment with quantities and infusion times. Keep in mind that a too-strong infusion can always be diluted with more cream and that you need an extra strong or double-strength infusion if the cream will be mixed with other ingredients, such as chocolate.

More: How to make whipped cream ahead (yes, you can).

Get excited about Alice
‘s new book Flavor Flours: nearly 125 recipes — from Double Oatmeal Cookies to Buckwheat Gingerbread — made with wheat flour alternatives like rice flour, oat flour, corn flour, sorghum flour, and teff (not only because they’re gluten-free, but for an extra dimension of flavor, too).  

Photos by Bobbi Lin

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