All creams are equal – but some are more equal than others

You know what one of the first things was that stunned me about London? No, not the art museums, the theatre or the architecture. The supermarkets! I remember when I came here on a family holiday in 1989, we popped into a Marks & Spencer foodhall to put together a picnic lunch and my mother and I were found 5 days later, wandering in a daze down the fresh produce aisle. No, seriously – my mom’s abiding memory was that there were 5 or 6 different types of tomato available, whereas back home at the time there were just tomatoes – take them or leave them – and if you were VERY lucky, cherry tomatoes. And then there were the sandwich selections – any combination you could think of, divided into meat, chicken, vegetarian & further subdivided into white bread, wholewheat bread, malted bread, baguettes, bagels etc etc. The choice was totally overwhelming and actually left me feeling quite queasy (I am not big on making speedy choices!!). It reminded me of the wonderful scene in Moscow on the Hudson where Robin Williams, having defected from communist Russia, is sent grocery shopping in a New York supermarket and collapses in the coffee aisle after being overwhelmed by the available choices. I know how you feel, dude. I saw the whole scene repeated when my husband first arrived in London in 2000, having never been to Europe before (only he was stunned by the variety of beers available, rathern than the tomatoes!!). Luckily he shares my fascination for supermarkets and whenever we go travelling to Europe you are sure to find us exploring a local supermarket – you can learn a lot about a country by checking out the stock on the shelves…

Anyway, having been here a while now I have more or less adjusted to the daunting variety of food available in London. However, being handicapped by spending my formative years in a country with more restricted choices, I do still get bamboozled by the choices and occasionally make a particularly poor judgement call. I usually make sure I have cream in the fridge in case I want to make a pasta sauce or similar at short notice. Now back home, you get cream, thick cream (like clotted cream in the UK) and sour cream – that’s pretty much it for your average supermarket. If you want your cream solid & butter-like, get the thick cream. If you want your cream any other way except sour, get the ordinary cream. So the cream I buy in the UK is usually the one just marked “single cream” (as opposed to double cream, clotted cream, whipping cream or long-life cream). A few weeks ago we had the neighbours round to lunch and I wanted to make a ginger dessert – usually I make it as a creamy ginger mousse, but on this occasion I decided to make a biscuit crust from chocolate digestives & fill it with the mousse. No problem. Base made. Ginger mix ready. All I had to do between main course and dessert was whip the cream, fold in the ginger mixture and fill the crust. So I whip (by hand, mind you!), and I whip, and I whip… I whip until I am bleeding out of my eyes. NO change in texture whatsoever. And then our (English) neighbour points out that I am using single cream – and this does not have enough fat content to whip up!! For that, I needed to buy whipping cream… aaaaaarrrrrrggghhh!!!! It never occurred to me that anybody would sell a cream that is physically incapable of being beaten into its solid form! So the lovely crust was filled with a liquid the colour and consistency of baby sick as I had nothing else to give them and I was damned if I was going to throw the whole lot away. Luckily no cameras were present to record the event!!

Now, if only I’d had access to this article from Cook’s Illustrated… They “road test” three different creams in terms of time to whip to stiff peaks, volume, staying power (how long the whipped cream would hold its shape), texture, and flavor. The result? You’ll have to check out the article. But suffice to say my pro-cholesterol stance has been reinforced!

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  1. Renee says

    hi Jeanne,
    I so identify with this cream “problem”!
    in Singapore, we get at the most “light cream”, “heavy cream” and “whipping cream” (oh, and of course sour cream).
    and I’m perpetually confounded by the “real uses” of things like single cream, double cream… I’m always stumped when recipes call for different types of cream.
    I can’t help wondering if sometimes it is a case of different names for the same thing? eg. double cream and heavy cream?
    I could be completely wrong of course : )
    and oh yes, I can quite happily spend hours browsing in a good supermarket! I love it! : D