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It only takes one failed attempt at homemade hot chocolate to learn not to boil your milk. First it scalds, then the fat breaks down and the milk curdles. The higher fat content of cream is much more stable so you can bring it to a boil without curdling. Heavy cream and whipping cream are the two most common types of cream; whipping cream contains 30 percent fat, while heavy cream has a minimum of 36 percent fat. Recipes for sauces often call instruct to bring cream to a boil, where it is thickens as it boils and reduces.
Pour the cream into a sauce pan that holds a volume three to four times greater than the amount of cream. If you are boiling 1 quart of cream, use a 3 quart or 1 gallon pan. A large pan prevents the cream from boiling over, which commonly occurs even after boiling for a short period of time. Choose a pan with a heavy, thick bottom to avoid scorching the cream.
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Heat the cream uncovered over medium to medium-high heat. If you're following a recipe that calls for boil cream, it might say to boil lightly, which would be better set at medium-low, while a rolling boil can be achieved at medium-high.
Stir the cream at least once every two minutes, using a wooden spoon or wire whisk. While cream doesn't separate and curdle as easily as milk, it can break if you don't stir it frequently. You might prefer to stir it continuously while you bring it to a boil, but you should only stir slowly and lightly to avoid making whipped cream.
Remove the pan from the heat when it begins to boil if you only need to heat it to boiling. If you must boil it in order to reduce and thicken the cream, reduce the heat to slow the boil, stirring frequently, until it reduces by as much as half. Avoid thickening cream by more than 50 percent because the texture becomes too heavy.
If you want to boil cream along with wine, such as when making a creamy sauce from meat pan drippings, add the wine to the pan first and reduce it by half to avoid curdling the cream. Use the wine to release the stuck-on meat bits from the pan. Meat sauces typically call for stock, but it doesn't have to be reduced before adding the cream.
Never cover the pan with a lid while bringing cream to a boil. Moisture from steam accumulates on the lid, which results in water falling into the cream.
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- Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute: Heavy Cream
- Anne Arundel Community College Hotel, Culinary Arts and Tourism Institute: Chocolate Ganache