Chat Leftovers: Cupcake fail

Gnocchi lovers, this is your week. If you’ve never tried making these plump potato-y pastalike pillows yourself, we’ll coach you through the whole experience, from baking the spuds to saucing the final product. Bonnie Benwick visited the experts to master the art of gnocchi making. Plus she’s got a troubleshooting guide and a video — and, of course, recipes.

Also in Food, Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin introduces you to the Pagonis brothers, who are bringing whole-animal roasting to a new District restaurant. And Spirits columnist M. Carrie Allan tells us why most frozen drinks are so bad, and how to make a good one.

VIENNA, VA, JANUARY 9, 2013: Winter salad of shaved cucumber, radish and endive with lemon vinaigrette. Dishware courtesy of Crate & Barrel. (Photo by ASTRID RIECKEN For The Washington Post)

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So read up! Just be finished by noon, when we’ll be taking attendance at our weekly Free Range chat. We can talk about those stories, or what to cook in this dreadful hot weather, or whatever else is on your mind.

To get you thinking, here’s a warm-up: a leftover question from a previous chat.

I’m a pretty decent baker, and I have a chocolate batter everybody loves. I decided to try making fudge- and cream-filled cupcakes. I baked cupcakes and created a hole in each one. I whipped up vanilla cream and chilled it. Then I put some fudge into the holes and then the whipped cream. After plugging the holes and frosting the tops, everything seemed good. Unfortunately, my guests were treated to cream running down their chins. What did I do wrong? I whipped the cream to be pretty thick and even chilled it to make extra sure. Do I need to refrigerate the cupcakes after filling them? Everybody raved about them anyway, but I know I am on the verge of something really special and would love to get them just right.

Have you ever left a bowl of whipped cream sitting out on the kitchen counter for a couple of hours? If so, you know what happens: It gets all wet and weepy, and sort of un-whips itself. Just what happened to your cream filling, in other words.

The short answer is yes, you do need to refrigerate those cupcakes — and cakes, and pies, and other whipped-cream-adorned goodies — if they’re going to be sitting around awhile. That gives the cream a fighting chance to stay whipped. (It’s also safer, since we’re essentially talking about dairy product storage.) That one step alone could solve your problem.

There’s another idea you can try, as added insurance. If you stabilize your whipped cream, it will keep its shape longer. You’ll still need to refrigerate, but you can have more confidence that while you’re bringing the cupcakes back up to room temperature — nobody likes a cold cupcake, am I right? — the cream won’t be liquefying.

There are several ways to stabilize cream, ranging from simple and easy to heavy-duty and tricky. In your case, I think you could get away with one of the simple ones, as long as you’re not trying to make the cupcakes three days in advance. Here they are, roughly from easy to hard. Full disclosure: I haven’t tried all of these; I’m trusting others who say they work.

1. Use confectioners’ sugar instead of granulated sugar to sweeten the cream. Add three tablespoons of it for every cup of cream once you’ve beaten the cream to soft peaks, then continue beating to stiff peaks.

2. Use cornstarch. Beat to soft peaks, then add 1 tablespoon of cornstarch for every cup of cream.

3. Add nonfat dry milk powder to the cream before whipping. This is one I haven’t tried, and frankly I’d worry that the powdered milk would leave a dis­cern­ible taste, but I don’t know.

4. Use cream cheese. Whip the cream to soft peaks, then whip in 2 teaspoons of room-temperature cream cheese until you get stiff peaks. This might change the flavor of your cream, but not necessarily in a bad way. Depends on what you’re after.

5. Add piping gel. It’s a cake decorating product that’s also used to stabilize whipped cream. Caution: It can add a lot of sweetness. To mix, follow the directions on the container.

6. Use a commercial stabilizer. The most popular one — actually the only one I’ve ever seen — is Dr. Oetker brand Whipit. The listed ingredients are dextrose, modified cornstarch and tricalcium phosphate.

7. Strain already-whipped cream to make it thicker, using the same principle that gives Greek-style yogurt more body than the regular kind. Whip the cream, spoon it into a strainer or colander lined with several thicknesses of cheesecloth, then cover with more cheesecloth and refrigerate for one to two days. The cream will weep liquid and become condensed.

8. Use a marshmallow! Beat one cup of cream to soft peaks. Microwave a marshmallow for about five seconds, until it’s fairly well melted, then quickly add it to the cream as you beat to stiff peaks.

9. And finally: Possibly the most common, most effective but riskiest method is to use gelatin. I say risky because if you mess up, your cream ends up studded with chewy little pellets of rubbery gelatin that will render it useless. (Yup, I’ve done that.) Different chefs and cooks have their pet methods for this, so the best advice I can give is to Google “stabilize whipped cream” and “gelatin” and pick a technique that looks good to you.

Good luck! I admire your drive to create your own signature knock-your-socks-off cupcake. Once you’ve solved your whipped cream problem and your recipe is perfect, let me know which of these ideas — if any — you used. A sample taste wouldn’t hurt, either. For scientific purposes, of course.

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