I know. No one really needs a recipe for serving ripe strawberries topped with whipped cream, right? But I thought I would start with my basics (Alice’s Rules, so to speak) and let everyone take it (or not) from there.
The strawberries: Start with great tasting berries. Don’t assume that the biggest strawberries are the best; the big guys are often the least tasty and odd shaped and odd sized small ones are sometimes spectacular. Great strawberries don’t need to be sugared, and unless you prefer otherwise, and you needn’t sweeten the cream either! If you don’t shop at a market (or farmers' market) where tasting is assumed, ask for a taste before you buy. You will be surprised at how often you will get a “yes”. Make friends with that farmer or produce person, you are going to need him/her (and a knife) later, when melons are in season!
Here’s how to keep ripe strawberries in good condition for several days: when you get home from the market pick through and discard any berries with a moldy or otherwise rotten spot. Spread berries (without rinsing them) in a single layer on a double layer of paper towels in a shallow container. Cover the berries with another paper towel. Cover and refrigerate the container. They should last for several days this way. Rinse and hull berries as you need them.
The cream: Use great cream. Look for only one ingredient on the carton or bottle: cream. Don’t buy pre-sweetened cream or dairy topping or cream in an aerosol can (yes, I know how much fun that can be…but save it). The best tasting cream is not ultra-pasteurized nor is it stabilized with carrageenan (or anything else). Ultra-pasteurized cream has the faint flavor of canned milk and carrageenan produces a silky texture at the cost of flavor…
If you add vanilla extract to your cream, use pure (not artificial) extract. Don’t believe anyone who says no one can taste (or smell) the difference. Vanilla is nice, but not essential to good whipped cream.
If you sweeten your whipped cream, use granulated rather than powdered sugar. Powdered sugar tastes faintly of the starch that is added to keep the sugar from clumping. Adjust the sugar towards the end of beating; sweetened cream tastes less sweet when it is fluffy than when it is fluid.
Reminder: Cream must be very cold or it will not whip properly: it will either refuse to thicken or it will curdle. If you are just back from the store and the cream has been in your shopping basket and car for a while, refrigerate it again before you try to whip it. Start with a chilled bowl and beaters for a little extra whipped cream insurance!
Whipping the cream: Using chilled beaters (or a hand held whisk), beat 1 cup of cream with ½ teaspoon or more vanilla (if using), in a chilled bowl until it holds a soft shape. Gradually add 2-3 teaspoons sugar (to taste), and beat until it holds a good shape but is not too stiff.
For more things to do with strawberries, see upcoming posts. And see my new book, Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts (Artisan 2012) for more strawberry ideas and ten ways to flavor whipped cream!