Cloud Cake

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I made this Martha Stewart recipe for one of our two Mother’s Day celebrations earlier this month, and it was easy to prepare all the pieces the day before and then assemble it with a flourish on the day of. The original recipe is not gluten-free but we had Fussellette staying with us and made one simple adjustment to make it that way – you can do it whichever way you would like.

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Start with the meringue: preheat your oven to 275°F and grab three 8″ round cake pans. I happened to have 2 8″ round cake pans and one 9″, so that’s what I used.

Cloud Cake 1
Butter the pans and then line the bottom and sides with parchment. This is easier said than done as the pans are round and parchment is straight. Get creative with the folding. It’ll just add to the allure of the finished product, I promise. Now butter the parchment as well to make sure it sticks.

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Crack open 6 large eggs and separate the whites from the yolks. Put the yolks in the fridge for now and leave the whites to come to room temperature.

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together 1 1/2 cups sugar, 3 tablespoons cornstarch, and 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt until smooth and powdery and when you open the lid it kind of wafts out like smoke. Don’t inhale that. You will cough.

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Now grab your 6 egg whites and beat them with a pinch of cream of tartar until soft peaks form.

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Slowly, a little bit at a time, tip in the sugar mixture and keep beating until you get lovely stiff peaks.

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Smooth the meringue amid your three pans and bake for 1 hour.

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Then turn off the oven and wedge the oven door open with a wooden spoon for another hour. Then move the pans to a wire rack to cool completely. If you’re going to assemble the cake the next day, slip each layer of cooled meringue into a separate sealed bag and suck the air out of it.

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Next, let’s work on the custard cream. In a bowl, whisk together 1/3 cup sugar, 1/4 cup flour, and a pinch of coarse salt. We made a gluten-free version of the flour by combining coconut flour, xanthan gum, and corn starch.

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In a small saucepan, combine your leftover 6 egg yolks (original recipe calls for 3 but why waste them?) with 1 1/2 cups buttermilk and a split vanilla bean pod with the seeds scraped out. Stir that over medium heat and slowly add in the flour mixture.

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With ours, because of the nontraditional ingredients, I found the buttermilk reacted with either the cornstarch or the xanthan gum and I pretty much had instant custard. So I stirred it until I was sure the yolks had a chance to cook and then took it off the heat. If you’re using regular flour you may have to work harder at it, so stir until it just comes to a boil and then strain through a fine meshed sieve.

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Pour the custard cream into a bowl, lay a piece of plastic wrap over the surface so it’s completely sealed, and chuck it in the fridge for at least an hour or overnight.

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Now there’s caramel to make too. In the original, Martha used the microwave but we moved ours into the basement and that was too far away. I did this in a small saucepan on the stove. First, spray a baking sheet with cooking spray or line it with parchment.

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Then over medium heat, stir together 1/3 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons corn syrup.

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Cook, stirring often, until the mixture is bubbling and turns a light brown.

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Remove that from the heat and drizzle it over the baking sheet.

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Leave that to cool then chop it up with a knife into little tiny jagged pieces. If you’re assembling the next day, shove the pieces into a resealable bag and squeeze the air out.

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To assemble, start by whipping up some heavy cream to your taste and amount (this is going on the top as garnish so use as much as you like – I think we whipped up about a cup of it). Cream whips better if your bowl and mixers are cold, so chuck them in the freezer for a while if you can.

Plop one of the meringues on a nice plate and smother it with about half the custard cream.

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Sprinkle that with about 1/3 of your caramel pieces.

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Let some fall off artistically to the side. It’s decorative.

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Plop another meringue on and smear with the rest of the custard cream and another 1/3 of the caramel bits. Add the final layer and top that with your whipped cream and the last of the caramel. Serve immediately!

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Let the Voting Begin!

Hi folks!

Voting (and the accompanying fierce competition and trash talking) for Movita Beaucoup’s Ginger 2012 contest starts TOMORROW!

Please take the time to click on the link above (or whatever link gets you to the voting on http://movitabeaucoup.com ) to vote for your favourite gingerbread construction.  For your refreshed memory, this is what mine looked like:

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Rules are for Chumps: the Glowing Meringue Igloo Edition

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Unidentified blurry glowing object. Produced by SCIENCE.

As you may remember, I recently entered Movita Beaucoup’s pumpkin carve-off 2012.  I didn’t win.  It was very upsetting to me.  But all is not lost.  Movita also holds an annual gingerbread house contest.  And I’ve had this idea that’s been percolating in my wee brain meats for some time.  And I think I just might pull it off.  When I mentioned the idea to Cait over Google Talk, this was how our conversation went:

me: so the lady who does the pumpkin carving contest also does a gingerbread house contest
  but I was thinking, what about an igloo, made of meringue? with a yeti attacking a camp full of ninjabread men?
 Cait: ahahahahaha
  do they make edible googly eyes?
 me: no but I could pipe in googly eyes
  terror and dismemberment
 me: I HAVE THOSE
 Cait: YOU MUST DO THIS
  IT IS THE ONLY RIGHT THING TO DO
 me: THEY WILL FIT IN THE MERINGUE PERFECTLY
 Cait: you’ll have to submit a video proving their googliness
 me: totally
  oh man
 Cait: i think you won the contest before it even started
 me: aside from not following any rules, I am so going to win this.
 Cait: rules are for chumps
 me: I’ve actually been thinking about this for weeks
 Cait: i can tell
 me: have I mentioned that this is one of the many reasons I love you?
 Cait: ahahahaha i want to eat your ninjabread men
  i don’t see how they could top this without having lasers and stuff
 me: I’m going to quote you on that
 Cait: maybe you could make it glow in the dark too
 like under a black light
  giving the internet its greatest ginger bread house ever
 me: I wonder if egg white glows naturally?
 Cait: on tv on those crazy baking shows i think they use alcohol or tonic water?
  it is tonic water
 SO CUTE
 me: but then it wouldn’t taste good would it?
 Cait: you’d have to experiment. it may not take much to cause that to happen… i don’t know.
  i am not a glowing igloo scientist
  also they can’t taste it on an internet contest.
 me: find me a recipe for glowing meringue
  I just don’t see how the tonic water fits into it
 Cait: oh well google says tonic water has quinine which glows brilliant blue under black light
 and so whenever they make glowing whatever on baking shows they use tonic water
  and it glows
  so make some test meringue, brush that s**t with tonic water, or sprinkle, or whatever
  and then stick it under a black light for science
 me: you know, I could use it in the slurry i’m making with cornstarch, which will stabilize the meringue
Cait: i mean people’s minds will be blown by the googley eyed ninja bread men
  but BAM the damn thing glows
 i don’t even know why anyone else would bother entering

 me:  don’t forget the yeti

So you can see how this woman completes me in every way.  Long story short, this is what we’re doing.  And by We I mean me and a slightly-less-than-willing Pie, who, as Cait says, does not understand our vision.  And Cait will be offering moral support over Google Talk as she concocts a contraption for Ruby. I wish my computer could always be in the kitchen …

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Before we got started I wanted to lay out my supplies.  I needed a piping bag (I used a plastic one with a piping tip stuffed in one corner), and my baking sheets lined with parchment paper.  I also needed some form of structure for my igloo, so I grabbed a metal bowl that looked like it was the right size to fit the ninjas I had in mind.

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It was kind of an origami fest getting the parchment to cover the bowl in an appropriate way.  I used freezer tape to stick stuff down — on the non-meringue side, of course.

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Then I made a little door as well.  I hope this works.

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As we know, the first trick to making meringue is to bring the whites to room temperature, so I did that with 8 egg whites (wash out the shells and keep them for later).  And rather than use my usual method, which produces a beautiful, flaky and delicate meringue, I modified this recipe, which involves stabilizing the meringue with corn starch.

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In a small saucepan, combine 1/3 cup granulated sugar and 1/3 cup cornstarch.  Whisk it up until you are sure it’s well mixed.

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Whisk in 1 1/3 cups tonic water (I let mine get flat so the bubbles wouldn’t interfere — if you don’t want yours to glow you can use regular water) and heat over medium, stirring constantly, until the mixture is clear and thick, kind of like petroleum jelly.  Remove that from the heat and allow it to cool.  If you do it for too long you end up making plastic.  I’ve definitely done that before.  The science of it is pretty neat but it’s a pain to clean.

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I also made some royal icing to use as glue for later on.

In a large metal or glass bowl (copper apparently works the best), plop down your egg whites, 1 teaspoon cream of tartar (another stabilizing acid), 1 teaspoon salt, and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (who knows, these could end up being tasty).  Whisk that up until it gets all nice and foamy and soft peaks form.

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Then, a tablespoon at a time, add in 1 cup granulated sugar.  The sugar, if you add it slowly enough, is another stabilizing agent.

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Add in slowly as well that gross vaseline-like stuff you just made.

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Whip that silly, until you get a nice opaque, shiny mass with stiff peaks.  The best thing about meringue is that unlike whipping cream, which relies on fat to stabilize, you can’t overwhip this stuff. So if you’re not sure, just keep going.

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I think we’re ready to go here.  Preheat your oven to 225°F.  The cooler your oven is and the longer you bake your meringue, the drier and crisper it will be.  And we want to do this right.

I had a lot of meringue to work with, so I did some experimenting, shoving the meringue in a freezer bag with a piping tip jammed in the corner, I tried out different shapes, scrapping what I didn’t want.

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I ended up making three yetis, and a tree.  And some blobs.

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And signing my name.  If I’d dyed this with vitamin B12 it would have come out yellow, and I could have done the ol’ yellow snow joke, eh?

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And the igloo itself. I originally piped on the meringue, but I didn’t like it.

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So I used a spatula to smooth it out.

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Then I baked them for about 3 1/2 hours (because there was so much stuff in the oven), and when they were done I turned off the oven and let them sit in there until the oven was completely cool.  Only then did I attempt to remove the parchment paper.  This is why I made more than one of everything.  Well, except for the igloo.  That was enough of a pain in the ass.

I know you’re saying, what’s a gingerbread house without gingerbread?  Well, this is a meringue igloo, so it’s not complete without ninjabread men.  Am I right?  Cait gave me these cookie cutters (by Fred & Friends) when she and Jul were here this summer and so I relished the opportunity to use them.

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I won’t extend this post still further by walking you through the ninjabread process (because really, the point of this exercise is in the meringue igloo, people), but I’ll show you a few that we decorated, and I got the recipe from here.

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Yes, I really do suck at piping icing.  I just don’t care enough to get better at it.  So deal.

I also just happened to have some empty gelatin capsules on hand, so took the opportunity to make edible googly eyes for all my participants.  If you’re interested in doing this, you can get the capsules from drug stores or health food stores, but you might have to call around.

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So you take your capsule and you carefully puncture a hole in the end of one of the halves with fine pointy scissors (or a sharp craft knife or razor blade), then cut around until all you’re left with is a wee dome.  Do that to the other half of the capsule as well.

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Now you need eyes that google.  I found these sprinkles at the grocery store, and they will make handy eyes — in pretty colours, too!

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Use an empty capsule to make indentations in the meringue to hold your eyes, then jam the eyes in the indentations you made.  Make it go in far enough that it stays, but not too far that the eyes aren’t all wiggly.  I don’t know why it’s important that my eyes are googly here in a still photo, but it just is, darnit.

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For the ninjabread, I glued them in with piping gel.  It meant they weren’t very googly, but this is a still shot anyway.

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And now the setup.  Fortunately everything I have here is very lightweight, so I just set everything up on a piece of cardboard.  For the “ground” I used jumbo marshmallows that I cut in half.  The stickiness of the marshmallow made excellent glue for keeping it attached to the cardboard.  I also snuck a few of those empty egg shells in there, glued down with royal icing.  Egg shells glow pale pink under black light. I thought they might look a little like very subtle snow monsters. Then I set everything else up, using toothpicks and royal icing to keep everything in place.

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And here we have our scene of mayhem and terror: poor ninja researchers travel to the Canadian north, only to be set upon by the very creature they came to study: the elusive yeti.

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Yeah, I know.  It’s not the handsomest design in the cold light of day.  It looks like a hungover drunken science experiment.

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And in the dark?  Well, I’ll let you reflect on that by yourself.  I never really thought this would ACTUALLY work.  BUT IT DOES!  It glows in the mother-freakin’ DARK!

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The eggs don’t glow as pinkly as I wanted them to, but it was, indeed, very subtle.

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Sincerely,

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Rum-Raspberry Meringues

Rum-Raspberry Meringues

I had to fill in (on rather short notice) for one of the members of my Sweet Treats group at work, and so this is what I came up with.  I LOVE (love, love, love) meringues.  Always have.  In fact I think they’re the first thing I ever baked.  And so every time I make something with egg yolks I take advantage of the extra whites and whip up a batch.  The Pie isn’t a huge fan of the crispy, chewy, sugary goodness, but that hasn’t stopped me yet.  I’ve even branched out and made different varieties of chocolate meringue, one of which I posted about here.  But I keep seeing fruity versions, so I thought I’d give that a go.  Most of the recipes call for food colouring and raspberry or strawberry extract, neither of which are particularly yummy to me.  I mean, I understand why you would use them in this case — the fluffy egg whites are pretty delicate and would collapse if you put too much heavy stuff into the mix.

Rum-Raspberry Meringues

But I think we can give this a bit of a go, with some real fruit.  We just have to be very careful.

What you need is some egg whites, at room temperature.  I have some pasteurized egg whites that came in a carton which has been sitting in my freezer since Cait and Jul were here, so I might as well use that. Then you need some cream of tartar, which is your stiffening agent. And some sugar.  For sweetness.  Obviously.  You can use any sweetener you like, but I prefer the ease of good old regular sugar.

Rum-Raspberry Meringues

And you need some fruit.  I’m going to use about a cup and a half of frozen raspberries here, which I thawed, and I’m going to gently stew them for a little bit with 1 teaspoon corn starch.  To prevent lumps of corn starch forming, mix the spoonful of starch with a small amount of the raspberry juice first, to form a slurry (this technique works really well when adding thickener to gravies, too).  I added in a tablespoon or so of sugar, just to get rid of the bite of the raspberry acid.

Rum-Raspberry Meringues

Then I’m going to strain them (and by that I mean shove the mess through a sieve with a spoon), and come out with a nice little coulis.  Let that cool for a bit.

Rum-Raspberry Meringues

Now you can start your meringues.  Preheat your oven to 250°F and line some baking sheets with parchment paper.

Rum-Raspberry Meringues

The regular proportions I use come from The Joy of Cooking, and involve 4 egg whites1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar, 1 teaspoon vanilla (which I made from rum!) and 1 cup sugar.  You can multiply or divide this recipe however you wish.  In my carton o’ egg whites the label says there is the equivalent of 8 egg whites, so I’m going with that proportion, which is a double batch.

Rum-Raspberry Meringues

Of course, I didn’t learn until after I’d put it all together that pasteurized egg whites (such as those that come in a carton) do not lend themselves well to making meringue.  So I had to start all over again.

Rum-Raspberry Meringues
SO very much not what I was aiming for.

So you have your room temperature egg whites, and you chuck them in the bowl of a mixer with your cream of tartar and your rum/vanilla, and you beat the crap out of it with your whisk-y thing.  When you’ve got nice foamy peaks, you can start adding your sugar in, a little bit at a time.  Keep beating until you have nice firm peaks.

Rum-Raspberry Meringues
That’s more like it!

These peaks not only hold their own weight, but they can support the weight of the heavy metal whisk as well!

Rum-Raspberry Meringues

Once the egg whites form stiff peaks, you can gently fold in your coulis.

Rum-Raspberry Meringues

Rum-Raspberry Meringues

I spooned the meringue stuff onto the baking sheets in decent cookie-sized heaps, and ended up with 42 of them.  Bake them for 1 1/2 to 2 hours (maybe a bit longer if they’re still squishy on the bottom, and make sure to rotate your sheets if you’ve got them on two levels), and let them cool inside the oven after you’ve turned it off.  If you cool them too quickly they’ll collapse.  Store them in an airtight container and make sure to eat them all within a few days of baking.

Rum-Raspberry Meringues
Greetings from inside the oven …

These are strongly reminiscent of those fruit-flavoured hard candies that they hand out in restaurants, that you suck on for a while and then you chew and the inside is all squishy and sticks together.  That’s what biting on these is like.  Taste is very similar, too.

Rum-Raspberry Meringues

Wingin’ It Wednesday: Raspberry Ice Cream Meringue Sundae

Snow Day Dinner

This was dessert when Fussellette came to dinner last week.

Started first with a meringue (my recipe is from The Joy of Cooking, but you can see a chocolate version here).

We plopped on the meringue some raspberry ice cream (see post here, but minus the vinegar).  Then we topped it with whipped cream, melted chocolate, and fresh blackberries.  Sweet and simple.

Snow Day Dinner

Hazelnut Dacquoise

Dacquoise

Do you know what a dacquoise is?  If you don’t, that’s okay.  I didn’t either until I made this recipe.  Seems it’s a layered dessert made with flavoured meringue alternating with some form of creamy goodness.  You can’t really beat that.  And the best part?  This fancy schmancy dessert is gluten free!

Dacquoise

And to be honest, despite the fact that it looks a wee bit finicky, this thing is pretty easy.  No harder than baking a cake, I’d say.  I wanted to find a fitting use for those beautiful blue fresh eggs that Miss Awesome gave me, so I thought this would work out.  And I actually pulled the recipe itself from the Get Crackin’ website.  So if the egg farmers think it’s good, it must be good.

So let’s begin.

Separate 4 egg whites from their yolks and bring them to room temperature.  Keep the yolks — we have a recipe for those in the next post.

Dacquoise

Take a narrow bowl and chuck it in the freezer, along with your beater.  We’re going to use this to whip cream later on.

Preheat your oven to 350°F.  Pour 1 cup shelled hazelnuts onto a baking sheet.  If you want to call them filberts, you can go ahead.  To me “filbert” sounds like a euphemism for a bodily function, or another name for giving someone a raspberry.  Hazelnuts it is.

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Toast the hazelnuts for 8 minutes, shaking the pan gently about halfway through, until the skins start to split and darken. Tip the hazelnuts out onto a clean tea towel.  Lower your oven temperature to 325°F so you can bake the meringue once it’s ready.

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Wrap your toasty warm nuts up in the towel and rub the nuts vigorously in the towel.  Yes, I know it seems weird.  Just do it. There, you see?  Now you’ve taken off the skins — well, most of them.

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And now you can remove your nuts and leave the skin bits behind.

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Chuck the hazelnuts in a food processor with 1/4 cup granulated sugar for about 10 seconds or until they’re partially chopped.

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Haul out 2 tablespoons of the hazelnut/sugar mix and save that for garnish later on.  Continue to process the nuts and the sugar until the nuts are finely chopped, and set that aside for a while.

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Line two rectangular baking sheets with parchment paper.  On each sheet of paper, draw two 4″x8″ rectangles.

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Flip the paper over so the pencil marks are on the bottom.  But you should still be able to see them.

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Now let’s work on the eggs.  With an electric mixer, beat your egg whites until they’re frothy.  Then add 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar, and continue to beat until soft peaks form.

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Slowly add in 3/4 cup granulated sugar, a little bit at a time, and continue to beat until all the sugar is incorporated and you have reached the stiff peak stage.  This is when the meringue is glossy and white, with no distinguishable air bubbles, and the peaks created by your beater can stand up under their own weight.

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Gently fold in the finely chopped hazelnuts and sugar.

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Spread the meringue on the baking sheets so it fills each of the four rectangles and smooth the tops as much as possible.  Bake in your 325-degree oven for 25 minutes, until they are crisp on the outside and golden on the edges.  Let them cool on the pans.

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While the meringue is baking, you can make your ganache filling.

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Chop 5oz dark chocolate and plop it in a heatproof bowl set over barely simmering water, or the top of a double boiler.  Add in 1/3 cup whipping cream and cook, stirring, until the chocolate is melted completely and the mixture is smooth and glossy.  Remove it from the heat and allow it to cool slightly.

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Take your bowl and beater out of the freezer and pour 1 cup whipping cream into the bowl.  Look how nice and frosty that beater is.

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Whip it into a frenzy.

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Gently fold in the melted chocolate until it’s fully combined.

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When the meringue is cool to the touch, gently peel it off the parchment paper. Set one rectangle on a serving dish and slather with your newly made ganache.

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Add another layer of meringue and repeat the process. alternating layers until you get to the top, which should end with a ganache layer.

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Take your reserved chopped hazelnuts and sugar and sprinkle them over the top.

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Refrigerate your confection for at least 30 minutes to set, or overnight.  Just remember that the longer you keep it, the softer the meringue is going to get. Also, if I were to make this again, I would use slightly more ganache, maybe a cup and a half — I had trouble getting it to spread over the length of the rectangles, and I like to be generous.

Dacquoise

Slice like a loaf of bread and serve it up.  Crispy, chewy meringue and sweet, silky ganache … my two favourite things!

Dacquoise

Chocolate Meringues

Happy Birthday Minda!

I love meringues, and they’re something I actually mastered as a young child, though how I had the patience for them I will never know.  The sweet, crispy, chewy lightness of the meringue cookies made it worth the wait.

Recently I’ve been looking at alternative forms of meringue, and other methods of making them.  I made these amazing chocolate mocha meringues last year around Valentine’s Day but of course I can’t remember where I got the recipe from.  Do you remember Kª?  Perhaps it was an issue of Every Day Food.  Who knows …

In an effort to recreate these magic chocolate tasties (and because I had 8 egg whites left over from my foray into vanilla ice cream [post to follow next Wednesday, stay tuned]), I flipped through The Joy of Cooking (2006) for a new take on the old classic.  These ones are from page 741, and I doubled the batch (of course).

Now I’ve mentioned this before, but make sure that your egg whites are at room temperature before you start whipping them.  If they are cold you can always warm them up by putting them in a bowl of warm water.

Preheat your oven to 225°F.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a mixer, plop in 1 egg whites, 1 teaspoons vanilla extract, and 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Whisk ’em up at high speed, and add, gradually, 2/3 cup granulated sugar

When you get to the stiff peak stage, you’re done.

Sift together 2/3 cup icing sugar with 3 tablespoons cocoa powder and fold it into the beaten mixture as well.

If it’s still a little swirly, that’s okay.

Spoon the mixture onto the parchment and shape it however you wish.

I had enough leftover for a large meringue to make into a sort of pavlova.

Bake it for 1 1/2 to 2 hours (seriously).  You can see if it’s done if you can remove a meringue from the parchment without it breaking.

Turn off your oven and prop the door open a bit with a wooden spoon.  Leave it like that for an hour or so (again with the waiting).  The trick with good crisp meringue is to let it cool slowly. 

Store the meringues in an airtight container or wrap them tightly for up to three days.

For my little pavlova, I cut up some fruit for the top: raspberries, strawberries, and grapes.

Then I melted some chocolate in a double boiler.

Plopped the berries on the meringue.

Drizzled the chocolate on top.  It’s pretty much a pavlova, minus the whipped cream.