Basic Yellow Cake to Illustrate The Two-Stage Mixing Method

Yellow cake with chocolate frosting.  Perfect.

Yellow cake with chocolate frosting. Perfect.

In order for your baking to be as good as it can be, you need to use top quality ingredients, and you need to know how to put those ingredients together to get the results you want.  This is where really understanding mixing methods comes in to play.  The Creaming Method is the Big Dog of cake and cookie mixing methods.  If you aren’t really up on it, go read all about it.  I’ll wait.

If you own The Cake Bible, you are familiar with the two-stage mixing method, as the author, Rose Levy Beranbaum is partial to this method.  While the creaming method yields a fairly light but strong cake, the two-stage method yields a tender cake with a velvety crumb.   Cakes made with the two-stage method also don’t rise quite as high as cakes made with the creaming method.  Curious.  You can use either method to mix a shortened cake, so how can the results be so different?  Let’s explore further.

First, let’s look at the “how” of the method.  Then, we’ll contemplate the “why.”

1. Combine all of your dry ingredients, including sugar, in your mixing bowl.  Whisk them well for at least 15 seconds to evenly distribute the salt and the leavening.

2. Mix the eggs with the flavorings and 1/4 of the liquid.  Stir well to break up the eggs.

3. Put softened fat and the egg/milk mixture into the dry mixture, and mix on low to moisten.  Then, mix on medium speed to help develop some structure and aerate the batter.  Scrape the bowl frequently, and mix for about 1 1/2-2 minutes.

4.  Add the remaining liquid in 2 additions, mixing just a few seconds after each addition to blend.  Scrape bowl frequently.

Let’s put it into practice with a real recipe, shall we?

Basic Yellow Cake

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 13 oz (3 cups) cake flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 cup whole milk

Make sure that all of your ingredients are at cool room temperature–about 68 degrees.  Milk, eggs, butter–everything.

Put the flour, salt, sugar and baking powder in the mixer bowl.  Whisk very well to aerate and evenly distribute the salt and leaveners.

Mix the vanilla, eggs and 1/4 cup whole milk.

Add the softened butter and the egg mixture to the mixing bowl.  Mix on low, and then increase speed to medium and mix for 1 1 /2 to 2 minutes.  Scrape bowl once or twice to make sure you’re mixing evenly.

Add the rest of the milk in two additions, mixing just a few seconds after each addition.  Scrape the bowl between additions.

Scrape the batter into your prepared pans (magical Cake Release, fat and Release foil or fat and sprayed parchment) and bake in the middle of your oven at 350 degrees F until golden brown and done.  You can check by pressing on the top.  When done, the top will spring back.  If it’s not done, you’ll leave little dents in the top of the cake.  You can also check by inserting a cake tester, toothpick or a clean broom straw into the center of the cake.  It should come out clean.  This whole process can take from 25-40 minutes, depending on your oven.

So, that’s the “how.”  And now for the “why.”

In the first step of the creaming method, you’re blending two tenderizers–plastic fat and crystalline sugar.  The sugar crystals tear thousands of little holes in the fat–holes that can trap air, which will then expand in the oven.   Then, when you add the dry ingredients alternately with the wet ingredients, you agitate flour in the presence of water (in the milk and egg whites).  This encourages gluten formation, which adds strength and structure to your cake.

In the two-stage mixing method, after blending your dry ingredients–flour, salt, sugar, leaveners– you are mixing in a limited amount of liquid (milk+whites) in the presence of sugar.  Sugar inhibits gluten formation by stealing some of the liquid that would usually activate the gluten.  Having the flour and sugar well blended, plus limiting the amount of liquid in the initial mixing, ensures a tender cake.  After adding the balance of the liquid, mixing is limited, thus further inhibiting gluten development.

So, why won’t it rise as high?  Creaming the fat and sugar is the best way to aerate a cake.  But, in using the creaming method, you also end up sacrificing some tenderness.  In the two-stage method, you can attain reasonable aeration by sifting the cake flour, whisking the dry ingredients together and then mixing in the fat with eggs and a limited amount of water.  You’ll never get the kind of aeration that you can with The Creaming Method.  What you sacrifice in rise, though, you more than make up for in tenderness.

So, it’s pretty much your call.  If you want a high, strong and delicious cake, use the creaming method.  If you want a cake with a tighter velvety crumb that is tender and delicious, use the two-stage mixing method.

If you are really gung-ho about a tender cake, try separating the eggs.  Add just the yolks, flavoring and 1/4 of the liquid at the beginning, then mix the whites with the remaining liquid and add that in two additions.  Since you’ve decreased the amount of water and increased the proportion of fat during the initial mixing phase, your cake will be very, very tender.

Try it–make the same recipe twice.  Once using the creaming method and once using the two-stage method.  Not in the same day, if you don’t want.  Decide which method you prefer.  You might even decide that you can change up your method, depending on how you’ll use the cake.  For torting and stacking, you’ll need a sturdier cake.  Just for eating, you might like a more tender cake.  It’s entirely up to you.


Comments

  1. linda says

    I think Rose Levy Beranbaum is a goddess. I have all her books. So-would you use the two stage method for a wedding cake? Would it be more structurally sound?

  2. says

    I have been pondering that very question. I think I would. I’d freeze before torting, so as not to tear its delicate little self all up. I used 2-stage for the cakes I made for that wedding cake tasting a couple of weeks ago. It held up well when I cut it into cubes, and that velvety texture is just so nice and poundcakey and unexpected in a “regular” cake.

  3. says

    Oh my…I have been searching for “the” yellow cake recipe. I have serviceable recipes for white and chocolate I always resort to a mix for yellow because all the recipes I’ve tried come out eggy and heavy and mediocre.

    Must try new recipe; must try new mixing method. Must find an excuse for baking a cake.

    Hmmmmm.

    Let’s see…

    Well, my daughter’s husband’s sister is having her baby by C-Section tomorrow. Of course, she’s in NY and I’m in ME, but that’s just a minor technicality!

  4. Bridget Klein says

    Excuse me, but you have a different method described here than in RLB’s book. She says to mix the butter and remaining milk (ie, minus the 1/4 that’s been mixed in with the eggs) and mix–that would be your step #3. Then she says to add the egg/milk mixture in 3 batches and mix 20 seconds (which I consider more than a few). Perhaps this is why your cakes didn’t rise properly. I have never had that problem with her cake recipes.

  5. Alan says

    This is a fantastic site. I’m learning so much and being entertained at the same time. Thanks for writing it.

  6. Tracey says

    I just found this information Jenni, thanks for explaining everything so well. I just bought Rose’s Heavenly Cakes and was wondering why the cakes are done that way. The book does tell you why but you have explained it better by stating the difference between the two methods. 🙂

  7. rita mae bocalig says

    ohh my god im finding the methods of mixing in cookie making..but itz so hard to find…where do i soppose to fined it??? help!!

  8. CakeFiend says

    Just found your blog and wil try the two-step and see what happens. I think if you reserve the leaveners til the end, then mix the baking soda and vinegar and fold it into the batter before adding it to the pans you might be able to get a bit more rise out of this. I’ll try and report back! 🙂

    • says

      What kind of cake are you making, red velvet? Perhaps it would be better to add it at the end with w/an all soda-leavened cake, but putting in the baking powder in the beginning with the dry ingredients allows it to start poofing right away, adding to the structure of the cake. Will be interesting to see what you discover, and I hope you do report back, @6dd2fe93134fea97701c8ac8a46c031e:disqus Thanks:)

  9. Emma says

    Hello! I love your website and your explanation. I have a few questions, though. I have been trying to find a red velvet cupcake recipe thats as moist and dense as I prefer. I was reading on another website that it is good to use all purpose vs. cake flour because the extra gluten allows for a denser cupcake. Would using your two-bowl method, with sugar mixed in with the flour to inhibit gluten production as you describe, reduce the denseness? Should I mix the sugar in after the first liquid addition if I prefer my cupcakes denser? Thank you!

    • says

      Thanks, Emma! I like a very moist red velvet cake as well. And when I want a really moist cake (as opposed to velvety), I opt for oil as the fat. Since it’s a liquid at room temp–and usually at fridge temps too–it allows the cake to remain very soft.

      I don’t have a red velvet cake on the blog, but this is one that is similar to the one I used to make at the restaurant: http://www.simplyscratch.com/2012/10/classic-red-velvet-cake.html They use grape seed oil, but veg oil works just fine too.

      If you still want to stick w/butter as your fat (or shortening) using the two-stage versus the creaming method will give you a cake that has a bit tighter crumb, won’t rise quite as high as a creaming method cake and will be very velvety. You might like the results.

      Although I’ve never heard of using the two-stage method to make a red velvet cake, I heartily encourage any and all experimentation. I think you should go for it. 🙂

  10. says

    thank you you website is just so interesting and inspiring. I love the way you always say now go on you try for yourself !

    • says

      Aw, thanks, Adam! I want to teach and also to give folks the confidence to get in there and go for it! I’m always happy to answer questions, so please don’t hesitate to ask! 🙂

  11. Lawrence says

    hi, i was just wondering, using the two-stage method, should I include the weight of the cocoa powder to the flour to be able to know if I can use the two-stage method to a recipe, since sugar should be equal to or more than the weight of the flour? thanks

    • says

      What a great question! Often, I mix the cocoa powder with liquid, such as hot coffee, and use it as part of the liquid for the recipe. But, as it is a particulate solid like flour, adding in the weight of it is a good idea.

      When I modify a recipe to make a chocolate cake, I do a 1:1 sub, by weight, of cocoa powder for flour, so the overall weight of the dry ingredients *should* be the same, regardless of if it’s all flour or a flour/cocoa powder combo.

      I hope I’ve answered your question! Take care!

  12. Arc says

    Hi, I live in Australia and we dont have cake flour in our country. Can you tell me the substitute for cake flour for that will suit all your cake recipes.

    Thanks.

    • says

      You’ll want to find something with a low protein content. 8-9% would be great if you can find it. If not, just use plain flour, sift it a couple of times and weigh it at about 115g/cup. You might not get exactly the same result, but it will be close and you should be very happy. =)

  13. Felicity says

    Hi there,

    Thanks for all the excellent information on your website about the different cake-making methods. I find it incredibly interesting being able to analyze new recipes using this information (although I really need to actually do some baking rather than just reading recipes!).

    Anyway, I have come across some other methods (or variations on the basic methods maybe?), that I would be interested in your comments on:
    1. The Cooks Illustrated “Baking Illustrated” book requires butter to be mixed into the dry ingredients until a cornmeal-type product is produced and then the wet ingredients are added;
    2. The one-bowl or “dump” method where everything is put in a bowl and combined (why would the two-stage method outlined above be any better than this?)
    3. This method used here (http://madefromscratch.co.nz/vanilla-funfetti-layer-birthday-cake/#.Ui_IqxY0UUU) where melted butter is added (a bit like the muffin method or maybe the one-bowl method, I don’t know?!)
    Thanks

  14. Darcie says

    I want to use this recipe to create a two layer 9X13 decorated cake for my daughter’s birthday. I plan to split it in half and frost in between the layers. I really want the cake to be moist and soft. I’ve tried some other yellow cake recipes and the texture is heavy and almost chewy, which I do not like. Will this cake hold up to my plan? I only see instructions for round pans which makes me wonder if this cake will work in a 9×13 without falling apart. Thanks in advance for your advice!

    • says

      The structure of the cake should be independent of the shape of the pan, Darcie. I have had great success in baking cakes in pretty much any shape pan. As long as the mixing method is sound, you the cake should have plenty of structure to hold up. Of course, baking time will vary, so you will have to keep an eye on it as I can’t say for sure how long it will take to bake even if you baked in the same size pan called for in the recipe. There are a lot of variables including oven temp, oven rebound and temperature of the batter when you put it in the oven. So, test for doneness as you normally would. If you are at all concerned about crumbling, chill or even partially freeze the cake before slicing it in half. For a taller cake, you could of course make 2 full recipes and not bother with slicing one layer in half. Still, chill before stacking, just to play it safe! Hope that helps, and Happy Birthday to your daughter!

Trackbacks

  1. […] Even in baking, which has many more rules due to all that pesky chemistry, I find that I can alter “recipes” to my taste by introducing different spices, zests, extracts, liquids.  (If you’re not familiar with the Van Halen pound cake and all its iterations, go check it out).  I can even use different mixing methods for the same list of ingredients to get different results.  If I want a fairly sturdy cake, I’ll use The Creaming Method.  If I’m looking for a more tender cake, I’ll go with the Two-Stage Mixing Method. […]

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