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Whipping cream or egg whites is actually quite easy. Even if doing it by hand it only takes 5-10 minutes. Recipes will vary some, for instance some may call for you to mix in sugar before whipping but the basics are all the same.

Whisk, hand mixer or stand mixer with whisk attachments
Chilled Cream or Egg Whites
Large Bowl
Cream of Tartar (if whipping egg whites)

    click for a larger image
For egg whites, the bowl and eggs should not be too cold. The bowl can be room temperature and the whites should be allowed to sit out for a few minutes to warm up a bit.

Egg whites will not whip properly if there is any oil around so don't use a plastic bowl and make sure your bowl and utensils are clean. Also, make sure that you have properly seperated the whites and yolks. Seperate them one at a time and only mix the whites if you are sure there is no yolk in any of them.

Start whipping slowly, just to get some air bubbles mixed in. If you are worried about your egg whites deflating, you can add some Cream of Tartar (tartaric acid) which will help stabilize it. Once the air bubbles start to form, then you can crank up the machine (or your arm).

After a while you will start to notice the whites getting thicker. This is caused because the egg white proteins are forming tiny air bubbles. Make sure you move the mixer around to mix everything.

In most cases, your target is soft peaks. What this means is that if you pull the mixer out of the whites (after turning it off) the whites will form peaks that will then fall over. Stiff peaks means that the peaks that form stay that way.

If you were to continue whipping, the proteins would eventually squeeze out all the water and you'd end up with an unusable blob of protein in a pool of water. Don't go there.

Cream is a little different. Instead of whipping at room temperature and using Cream of Tartar, you want the cream and your utensils to simply be as cold as possible (without freezing anything). To do this, place your bowl, whisks and cream into the freezer for 10-15 minutes.  

Like the eggs, start whipping on slow. Once you get some good bubble formation, then you can crank it up. In this case it's not the proteins forming bubbles but the fat molecules of the cream. This is why you need heavy whipping cream with 36-40% fat. Light cream just doesn't have enough fat to whip properly.  

Like the egg whites, your goal is usually soft peaks. In the cream, you'll especially be able to tell by the rooster tail effect. As you move the mixer around the cream will not flow smoothly but will wrinkle and bunch up forming "rooster tail" patterns behind the mixer. This is a good indicator that you are quickly approaching soft peaks and that you should watch carefully.

Like egg whites, you don't want to overwhip or the fat bubbles will squeeze out all the water. On the otherhand, cream is different because if you do happen to go too far, you won't be left with an unusable blob, you'll be left with butter in a pool of whey. That might actually be worth trying...

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