the unbearable lightness of baking

vanilla whipped cream

When I knew I was moving, one of the only things I wanted was a window in my kitchen, preferably by my workspace. Baking is gentle, can be slow, and is made even more magical by a breeze coming in through the window brushing stray hands of hair across your neck. Right now I have that open window, 55 degree fall air coming through, a ceiling fan on, and a heart trying to be still.

I’m a methodical person. Logic was one of my favorite philosophy courses. I thrive on a schedule. I’m a planner. I feel better when I know what the next step is. I like knowing what the outcome is going to be. I read the whole recipe, I get familiar enough with it to know what should be next. But right now, I don’t know what’s next.

In the grand scheme of things I know where I’m heading. I have a great love, and mountains I want to live between. I know where I’m heading, but the between here and then is so abstract and intangible. What I don’t know is how we, or I get there. I have a month-by-month lease, but because of the timeline at work right now I don’t know where I’ll be in three months. I know where I’ll be in about five steps, but the “meanwhile” is unclear. I can barely tolerate that instability and uncertainty, and really can’t do anything other than go with it. It’s out of my hands for the moment.

But what is in my control is getting the measurement for flour right. I know when to add the liquid ingredients and when to add vanilla. I know I can chill my mixing bowl, pour heavy cream in, add  vanilla, then slowly turn the speed up and wait. I know that with patience it will start frothing and turn into whipped cream. Delicious, luscious, light whipped cream. And if I want more flexibility I can try to cook. Maybe I can make some pasta sauce and not pay much attention to measurements. But when you crave stability and some comfort, sometimes you just want to rely on mixing flour, eggs, butter, and sugar together and knowing exactly what the outcome will be. And a little vanilla. Always vanilla.

Vanilla Whipped Cream

1/2 pint heavy/whipping cream
2 Tablespoons sugar
1.5 teaspoons vanilla bean paste*

1. Chill metal bowl from a mixer for 5 minutes in refrigerator.
2. Pour whipping cream in and turn mixer on low.
3. Gradually turn the speed up to medium-low, letting the cream beat for about a minute between each speed.
4. When the cream is starting to look frothy with lots of bubbles, turn mixer off while you add vanilla paste and sugar. (So it doesn’t splatter everywhere). Return speed back to medium-low slowly.
5. Continue to increase speed to medium. (6 on my Kitchen Aid mixer). Be patient and the cream will start to thicken and turn to whipped cream. When it does get thick, check readiness occasionally so as to not over-whip. Whipped cream is ready when you can remove a mixer and soft peaks stay upright.

*I’ve been using Nielson-Massey vanilla paste for the past two years now, and one bottle has actually lasted that entire time period. I swear by it and use vanilla bean paste instead of extract whenever I can, as the vanilla beans add such a rich flavor.

**Credit due to previously mentioned great love for the blog post title.

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