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Easy ways to tell soft peaks vs stiff peaks in whipped cream

Easy ways to tell soft peaks vs stiff peaks in whipped cream
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Recipes that include whipped cream or beaten egg whites often tell you to beat to “soft peaks” or to “stiff peaks”. What exactly does that look like and how long does it take before you see soft peaks? This is where a picture (or video) is worth a thousand words. Watch the short video below before starting your recipe. It will quickly help you know how to distinguish soft peaks vs stiff peaks.

Example of soft peaks when making whipped cream.
Example of soft peaks when making whipped cream.

Soft peaks barely hold their shape. The peaks flop over immediately when the beaters are lifted.

Example of stiff peaks in whipping cream.
Example of stiff peaks in whipping cream

Stiff or firm peaks stand straight up when the beaters are lifted. (Medium-stiff peaks are just stiff enough to stand up firmly but with a slight curl at the tip.)

What Type of Recipes Need Soft or Stiff Peaks?

Some of the more common recipes that call for some level of peaks include:

  • Whipped cream frosting
  • coffee drinks
  • pavlovas
  • meringue pies or cookies
  • waffles with beaten egg whites
  • soufflé’s

How Long Does it Take for Soft vs Stiff Peaks?

In the video I timed how long it took to get to soft peaks and stiff peaks when using whipped cream. The timing experiment had three important variables:

  1. Start cold: Make sure the heavy whipping cream you use is cold. It helps if you chill the mixing bowl also
  2. I used a stand mixer in the timing trial. It might take longer with a stick blender, and it would definitely take longer when doing it by hand with a wire whisk
  3. I added 1-2 Tablespoons of sugar to a cup of whipped cream. This probably resulted in a shorter whip time as it stabilized it more. You certainly don’t need to add sugar.

With these variables in mind…

  • after 1 minute there were no peaks.
  • At 1 1/2 minutes (90 seconds) there were soft peaks
  • At 2 minutes, there were stiff peaks.

Just know to watch very carefully. Once the cream gets to soft peaks, it will turn to stiff peaks very quickly. And, of course, beating the cream for too long will turn it to butter!!

Adding Sugar, Vinegar or Alcohol

When cream or eggs are whipped, air gets trapped inside and causes the ingredient to foam, grow in volume, and become stiff. Sometimes whipped egg whites can be unstable and difficult to work with, so a stabilizer such as sugar or an acid (like vinegar or cream of tartar) is often added to the whites.

Sugar also increases the coagulation temperature of the egg protein, allowing cakes or soufflés to rise more before they set.  

I often add a tablespoon of bourbon or brandy to the whipped cream just to enhance the flavor a bit. This enhancement is wonderful on pie, and takes an Irish coffee to a new level!

My Favorite Recipes Using DIY Whipped Cream

I love this Mexican Mocha Coffee Drink

This low sugar pumpkin cheesecake with a nut crust is wonderful (and pretty easy)

Blueberry Crumbles/Cobblers cry for whipped cream (this one is low carb)

Another berry dessert that makes great use of whipped cream is this strawberry fool

And finally, two desserts that are great for Valentines’ Day: a Raspberry Chambord trifle and some low sugar/low carb chocolate pots

DIY Whipped Cream: soft peaks vs stiff peaks

Example of soft peaks when making whipped cream.
This is a “how-to” recipe for distinguishing soft peaks from hard peaks in homemade whipping cream. See the post for video and illustrations.
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Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 0 mins
Servings 10
Calories 82

Equipment

  • Stand mixer Can use alternative mixers but might take longer
  • rubber spatula

Ingredients

  • 1 Cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar optional
  • 1 Tablespoon bourbon optional

Instructions
 

  • Pour cream (and optional ingredients if using) into stand mixer bowl and use wire whisk attachment to begin beating.
  • Beat at a speed around #6 for 1 minute. Stop and check if peaks are starting to form. Beat another 30 seconds and check again. Check every 30 seconds until peaks are to your desired consitency.
    Soft peaks will barely hold their shape when the whisk is lifted out of the bowl (they will droop). Stiff peaks will hold their shape (see illustrations)

Nutrition

Calories: 82kcalCarbohydrates: 1gProtein: 1gFat: 9gSaturated Fat: 5gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 33mgSodium: 9mgPotassium: 18mgSugar: 1gVitamin A: 350IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 16mgIron: 1mg
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