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Sloth is considered to be one of the seven deadly sins. Naturally this implies that indolence is bad and leads to unpleasant repercussions. But like all moralistic edicts, the flaw in the reasoning is the absolutism. Clearly there are times where sitting on your butt doing nothing can reap rewards. Take milk for example. Once you’ve collected it from your bovine benefactors, all you need to do is sit back and relax. In a short time, on top of the milk will be a magnificent layer of cream. Clearly it wasn’t a gastronome who thought that idleness was without merit.
Cream is the fattier constituent of milk. The cream separates from the milk due to the affinity of the fat molecules which subsequently float because of their buoyancy. Homogenization is the process by which milk is emulsified in order to prevent the cream from separating. This is done by forcing the milk at high pressure through tiny holes. This breaks the fat globules into minute gobbets which can be more thoroughly and uniformly dispersed throughout the milk.
But enough science. Cream is one of the yummiest substances on earth. Why? Because of the fat baby! You can malign fat all you want. Blame every disease in the universe on it if you must. But one fact is incontrovertible: Fat tastes good. Not only does it taste good, it facilitates the emergence of many other flavor compounds. It unlocks their potential much like hot water does for a tea bag. Fat content is also what differentiates the various types of milk and cream as noted below:
Skim milk is nearly fat free.
One percent milk is 1% fat.
Two percent milk is 2% fat.
Regular milk is 4% fat.
Half & Half (half cream & half milk) is 10-12 % fat.
Light cream is usually around 20% fat.
Heavy cream is 36-40% fat.
Sour cream contains 18-20% fat and is treated with lactic acid to produce its characteristic tangy taste. Clotted cream, with a whopping 55% fat content, hails from Devonshire, England. It is made from heating unpasteurized milk until a layer of cream forms on the surface. The cream is removed and used for all sorts of desserts, spreads, toppings, etc.
Crème fraiche is a thickened cream with a tangy flavor and velvety texture. Because of American germ-a-phobia you can’t get real crème fraiche in the US. This is because genuine crème fraiche from France is made with unpasteurized milk which contains the natural bacteria, (lactobacillus) needed to thicken it. Lactobacillus is a bacterium already present in humans which aids digestion. Ironically, if you try to make crème fraiche in the traditional method with American cream, because it is pasteurized the cream will spoil and be potentially harmful to consume.
If you’re not a germ-a-phobe there’s a way to beat the system and make crème fraiche that will be similar but never quite equal to its French counterpart. Simply mix one cup of heavy cream with two tablespoons of buttermilk and let it stand at room temperature for 8 – 24 hours, or until amply thickened. Then refrigerate it for up to ten days. The buttermilk contains bacteria which thickens the cream and imparts the requisite tanginess.
Whipped cream is produced from whisking heavy cream. Beating the cream incorporates air into it which produces greater volume and a fluffy texture. For whipped cream you must use heavy cream, (or whipping cream as it is sometimes called). The other milk products do not have enough fat to whip. (One more benefit of fat). To make whipped cream refrigerate the cream and a stainless steel bowl, as this will facilitate greater volume. Pour the cream into the bowl and begin whisking. Be patient, it will eventually come together. When it reaches the soft peak stage, (a loose coagulation), begin adding sugar and a little vanilla extract. Continue whisking, tasting intermittently for additional sugar and/or vanilla until a firm whipped cream is produced. Don’t over-whisk or it will become grainy and lumpy.
Cream has a wide array of culinary applications most of which involve deepening the flavor and unctuousness of dishes. Cream is employed to enrich all kinds of sauces and soups. Cream, when added to egg yolks forms a liaison which is used as a thickening agent. Cream also has numerous uses in pastry and baking including custards, doughs, icings, and of course, ice cream.
When cooking dairy products there is the ever present danger of them “breaking.” Whenever you heat a dairy product the protein strands within it begin to coalesce. Eventually at a certain thermal point, they will separate out from the fluid medium and you will produce something akin to cottage cheese. How do you prevent this? With fat baby! I’m so happy to have yet another opportunity to espouse the benefits of fat. The higher the fat content of the dairy product the less chance it will break because the fat will coat the protein chains and inhibit their coagulation. You can not use low-fat dairy products for reduction sauces, (a sauce that is boiled to reduce it and intensify its flavor). Heavy cream is the cream of choice for sauce making. Even light cream can break if heated for too long or at too high a temperature. There is one caveat for heavy cream though. If the sauce also includes alcohol, you must boil off some of the alcohol first before adding the cream or else even heavy cream can separate.
CREAM OF CARROT SOUP
• 2 ounces butter
• 1 onion, chopped
• Salt and white pepper to taste
• 2 ounces flour
• 1 ½ pounds of carrots, (before peeling and trimming), thinly sliced.
• 1 quart chicken stock
• 4 oz. heavy cream
Melt the butter in a large saucepan or pot and add the onions. Sweat the onions with salt and pepper until soft. Use lower heat and do not brown the onions. Add the flour, stir well to make a roux, and cook for two minutes. Add the carrots and cook for another minute. Add the stock and scrape off any flour that has stuck to the bottom of the pan. Cover, bring to a boil, and then simmer for 20 minutes. Puree the soup in a blender, working in batches if necessary, for a full minute. Strain through a fine mesh sieve into a new pot. Add the cream, adjust the seasoning if needed, return to a simmer and serve.
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