The Comfort Food Diaries: Whipped Cream Is All That Matters

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Zac Overman

"Hey everybody, it's time for pie!" Who doesn't love to hear those words? Let's imagine they've been spoken to a room full of people, happy people, people who have just finished Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas dinner, or some other special dinner. Or maybe it wasn't a special dinner at all. Maybe it was just dinner. Or, perhaps they're not in a room but outside, in the sunshine, on a red gingham blanket, at a glorious end-of-summer picnic. It really doesn't matter. What matters is the response to those words. Almost universally, it's "Yay! Pie!"

What matters even more than the response is what's in those people's minds as they say it. Imagine they're in a cartoon in the Sunday funnies, and each person has a speech bubble, and each bubble tells you that they're saying, very clearly, "Yay! Pie!" And notice that each person also has a cloudlike thought bubble, and within that thought bubble is nothing other than a slice of pie. These people are unambiguously happy about pie.

Now take a closer look. I've been drawn into the cartoon, too. And, just like everyone else, I'm shouting, "Yay! Pie!" In fact, I'm shouting it louder than everyone else (you can tell, because, following cartoon convention, my "Yay! Pie!" is larger and bolder than everyone else's). You can see I'm unambiguously, over-the-moon happy about it. But wait, what's that in my thought bubble? By golly, it's not pie at all. It's pure white, fluffy, and cloudlike, very similar to the thought bubble itself.

It's whipped cream.

Here's a secret: I don't actually care about the pie. Nor do I care about fresh strawberries or raspberries or whatever else might be served alongside whipped cream. That's not to say that I don't like pie, or strawberries, or raspberries; it's just that when whipped cream is involved, everything else becomes a mere formality, an excuse—at most, a delivery mechanism, no better than a spoon or a fork.

"Daniel, can I put some whipped cream on that slice of pie for you?" a sane, rational person asks me at some event, some gathering, some meal, somewhere. "Yes, please!" I say, unambiguously, enthusiastically. A dainty spoonful touches down, a foamy, Hershey's Kiss–shaped thing. "Can I get a little more whipped cream?" I ask. I am not embarrassed to ask this. There is no shame in asking for a little more whipped cream.

Deep down, though, I feel the shame of something else. It's the shame of knowing I don't want just "a little more" whipped cream. I want all the whipped cream. I want to spoon it over my pie in heaping ladlefuls, and scrape the mixing bowl dry with a rubber spatula, then lick said spatula of every last trace (by the way, has anyone seen the beaters?). I want that whipped cream to descend on my pie like a glacier, to bury it and, despite the cream's weightlessness, to obliterate the pie, to crush the pie to smithereens so that when that heavenly glacier finally retreats into my mouth, nothing is left but a deep trench edged by a moraine of flaky crust shards and petrified pumpkin loess.

Mixed with my shame is a nervous excitement at even the possibility that this fantasy might come true, if only I could get a few minutes alone with that bowl of whipped cream. On more than one occasion, I have been left alone with it, and I've made good on the dream, or at least come as close as I can, gobbling the excessive serving up before anyone saw me and leaving just enough whipped cream behind to not rouse suspicion.

I have no idea when my whipped cream fixation began. Freud might say it's a holdover of some decades-old unwillingness to be truly, fully weaned. Or maybe not; I'm no mind doctor. I do remember three distinct data points, however. The first is me as a teeny-tiny guy, perched on the kitchen counter as my mom cooks dinner. I am unashamedly eating fat pats of soft butter, stuffing them into my mouth. This establishes my very early love of butterfat.

The second is years later, when I'm in my early teens. I'm at my dad's apartment, and he's fixing a dessert that will be served with whipped cream, and I'm begging him, pleading with him—please, pretty please with whipped cream on top—don't sweeten the whipped cream. This proves that my love of butterfat had grown to trump all else, the sugar all children crave downgraded to a distraction.

The third is recent, right here in the Serious Eats office. There's a box of Trix on the counter, and cream in the fridge. I have an idea. I whip the cream—by hand, as I always do, because somehow working for it makes me feel like less of a glutton—and then I fold the Trix into that giant mixing bowl of soft peaks. And then I eat heaping spoonfuls of it with a fool's grin, because, instead of seeing this act for what it is (a disturbingly unhealthy form of self-soothing), all I can think is that I'm a certified genius for creating the most fantastically fabulous bowl of cereal ever.

And frankly, it'd be even better without the cereal.