What is Chantilly cream, anyway?

Summer Rylander 26 May 2022

Summer Rylander explores the mysteries of Chantilly cream's origins with the experts—the Brotherhood of the Whipping Knights

Flavoured with vanilla and whipped to billowy peaks, the beauty of crème Chantilly lies in its simplicity. The origin story of this delicacy, however, is one of mystery and dispute beyond the opulent walls of Château de Chantilly.  

The legend behind Chantilly cream 

Though multiple theories exist—including contested speculation that 16th-century Catherine de Medici introduced France to the whipping technique already in use in Italy—the most popular tale credits François Vatel with the creation of Chantilly cream.

As legend has it, Vatel presented King Louis XIV with a “new” type of cream during a banquet at Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte in August of 1661. Fluffy concoction well-received, Vatel is said to have later taken the concept to Château de Chantilly, where he would whip the cream with a boxwood branch.

Chateau de Chantilly

An idyllic story, but one that is “completely false,” according to Michaël Ejzenbaum, proprietor of Chantilly restaurant Le Vertugadin.  

“For legends, it’s always nice that people can imagine many things,” he says. “But if you really follow the history, it’s impossible that Vatel was the guy who made Chantilly cream. He was not a cook. He was not a waiter. He was the guy who was in charge of everything that was happening in the château.” 

Indeed, Vatel was a maître d’hôtel. While he may have overseen catering efforts, he was not someone who would have been working in the kitchens, nor hand-delivering dishes to the table. He almost certainly was not fussing with cream preparations.

"The origin story of this delicacy, however, is one of mystery and dispute"

Aside from incorrect attribution to Chantilly cream, Vatel is best known for his dramatic suicide. A letter written by Madame Sévigné recounts how after having failed to secure enough meat and seafood for a 1671 banquet at Château de Chantilly—the guest of honour none other than Louis XIV—Vatel couldn’t bear such an affront to his reputation and retreated to his room to thrust himself upon his sword.  

Nevertheless, he makes for a compelling story. 

“Vatel and Chantilly cream? This is completely false,” Ejzenbaum reiterates before conceding, “but you always need fake things in legends.” 

The Brotherhood of the Whipping Knights 

Pastries with cream

Ejzenbaum isn’t only a chef and restaurateur, he’s a founding member of the Confrérie des Chevaliers Foutteurs, or the Brotherhood of the Whipping Knights. Founded in 2007 by Hervé Grébert—a veteran of the hospitality industry with an affinity for sweet cream—the Brotherhood serves to protect and promote the gastronomic heritage of Chantilly cream. That heritage, according to the Brotherhood and Château de Chantilly museum curators, traces back to the late 18th century—more than 100 years after Vatel’s death. 

The Prince de Condé of this time was Louis Joseph de Bourbon, who loved to throw parties. His high society guests were often treated to sumptuous banquets in the charming hamlet he had constructed near the château between 1773 and 1775. Tellingly, this hamlet included a cow pasture and a dairy.  

"Founded in 2007 by Hervé Grébert, the Brotherhood of the Whipping Knights serves to protect and promote the gastronomic heritage of Chantilly cream"

Baronne Henriette d’Oberkirch, a repeat guest of the prince, was so delighted with an airy cream served one June afternoon in 1784 that she later praised it in her memoirs. Further details—including who was in the kitchen that day with a whisk in hand—remain about as clear as a bowl of fresh cream, but the baroness’ feedback is widely considered to be the first mention of Chantilly cream as we know it today.   

“It’s called Chantilly cream because in the notes of important people of Europe who were invited to the château in the 18th century, we find that many of them talked about a very special way of eating the cream in Chantilly,” explains Ejzenbaum. 

So, how is Chantilly cream made? 

Whisk in whipped cream

Making the cream during this time involved using large blocks of sugar to infuse the cream with its signature sweetness. The use of confectioner’s sugar is a more modern approach, but an enduring must for true Chantilly cream is the incorporation of vanilla. A fresh pod is ideal, though not mandatory. 

“If you use extract or aroma, you’re allowed to call it Chantilly cream as long as there is at least a little bit of natural vanilla,” says Ejzenbaum. 

The cream should contain between 30-35 per cent fat, and the ideal whisk has thin wires for gentle whipping. According to the Brotherhood of the Whipping Knights, properly whipped cream will expand (a rather specific) 2.8 times. Starting with one litre of liquid cream should yield nearly three litres of whipped. 

"Just be careful not to take it too far and turn the Chantilly cream into Chantilly butter"

“You do exactly the same thing as when you whip egg whites,” Ejzenbaum notes. “It’s the same physical things that happen, you put in air, so don’t whip too hard in the beginning.”  

When the cream reaches a point where the bubbles on the surface have vanished and the cream appears creamier, it’s time to add the sugar and vanilla and continue whisking until the cream forms peaks—just be careful not to take it too far and turn the Chantilly cream into Chantilly butter.  

“You are like a magician,” says Ejzenbaum. “You start with a white liquid and all you do is whip it to change the state of the cream. If you go too far, it becomes butter and yellows. Somewhere along the way, you do a magic trick.” 

And so persists the centuries-old mystique of Chantilly cream.  

Today, the sprawling, well-manicured grounds of Château de Chantilly are less than 19 miles from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, and the estate is among the most lavish attractions in the Hauts-de-France region. Visitors can enjoy Chantilly cream delicacies in the former prince’s hamlet, or even attend a Chantilly cream workshop to learn how to properly whip the cream by hand—under the tutelage of the Brotherhood, bien sûr

Summer Rylander is a freelance food and travel journalist based in Nuremberg, Germany.  

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