"All the same, two minutes later Jose and Laura were licking their fingers with that absorbed inward look that only comes from whipped cream." - Katherine Mansfield, "The Garden Party"
When I was a little girl, my mother would give me permission to forgo the Thanksgiving pumpkin pie in favor of a bowl of Cool Whip. Cool Whip, margarine, and non-dairy creamer have since become anathema, yet I think my childhood concept was at least correct in spirit. "Whipped topping" is too dismissive a phrase for the flourish of fluff which, assuming it actually came from a cow, can be more satisfying than whatever complicated dessert it aids in sliding down. Doesn't the phrase "strawberries and cream" still evoke dreamy pastoral scenes, world-weary though we may be? To me, yes.
Recently I made a small innovation that proved one of my prouder moments in the kitchen, though a little research reveals that it is hardly original. Instead of vanilla, I whipped orange flower water in with the cream I was putting on top of an Easter pavlova. A friend gave me a bottle of the exotic and redolent stuff a few years ago, and it had been languishing -- a small luxury I cherished but did not know how to use. My experience with floral waters was limited but enthusiastic: rose gelato in Nice and a rose water-drenched coconut cake at Lantern in Chapel Hill, NC. The latter is the only time a bite of something has left me utterly speechless with delight. If rose water works in gelato, I figured it couldn't hurt to blend orange flower water with my whipped cream.
Reader, it did not hurt. Oh no. It stood up to the strawberries and jam in the pavlova just fine, and indeed, it made me wonder if the rest of the dessert was even necessary. Now I eat it in a bowl like my little girl self, though some berries and a bit of coconut granola are always welcome.
If you'd like to try it, whip a half-pint of cream with about 1/4 cup confectioner's sugar and maybe 1 teaspoon orange flower water, which can be found in Middle Eastern groceries. Optional: dab a bit of the water on your wrists and pretend you're a Victorian bride or Italian grandmother, both of whom would do the same. Then take a pillowy spoonful, lick it, and pause. Ah. There it is. The "absorbed inward look that only comes from whipped cream."