Many desserts are enhanced by a dollop (or more) of whipped cream. A silky mound on top of chocolate mousse, wedges of flourless chocolate cake or on slices if lemon tart. Sometimes it can be the star on top of a chilled pie, swirled with a spoon. What all of these should have in common is properly whipped cream.
Whether it is the crowning finale or you are folding it into a dessert, the texture of your whipped cream is of prime importance. Take a look at this picture:
The cream on the left is soft and silky. Perfect. The cream on the right was over-whipped. See how it is "curdy" almost looking like cottage cheese? Not good. The inherent silkiness of perfectly whipped cream is lost - what a shame! If we are spending the calories, let's make them delectable in every way.
I do usually reach for my electric mixer when I am whipping a lot of cream. If it is 1-cup or less I do it by hand. When using a mixer I usually stop short of it being "done" and finish it off by hand with a balloon whisk. It allows me much more control. You want the peaks to just softly fall over on the rest.
When you are shopping, look for Heavy Cream (it has the highest butterfat), as opposed to Whipping Cream, and if you can find it buy pasteurized and not Ultra-pasteurized. The Ultra is not only harder to whip, but it has been exposed to super high heat and sometimes you can detect a slightly cooked dairy flavor.
IF you over whip the cream you can add some liquid heavy cream, stir it in and possibly achieve the proper texture. Of course if you needed a certain amount for folding into a recipe, that amount is now skewed a bit, but it is a nice cheat to know about. Best bet is to stop whipping early to check.
In terms of sweetening, you have many choices, but I will simply address plain sugar (as opposed to maple syrup or honey or something of that ilk). Granulated sugar will give you pure sweetening. Superfine sugar will dissolve extra-fast. Confectioner's sugar has a bit of cornstarch added to it to prevent clumping and it can sometimes taste faintly starchy in whipped cream, but the benefit is that it helps stabilize the whipped cream. If I am whipping last minute or folding into a recipe, I use superfine or granulated. If the cream-topped pie has to travel to Grandma's house, I will use the confectioner's. The choice is yours.
Enjoy your cream filled holidays and Happy whipping!