The creaming method: probably one of the most referenced cooking methods in baking in the US. You've seen it, whether you know it or not: "Cream together butter and sugar." Or "Cream together shortening and sugar." Seems like an easy enough method, really, but as with all easy stuff, it's rarely simple.
Here's how it goes:
- Cream together fat and sugar.
- Add eggs, one at a time. (I further refine this process by beating the eggs together and then very slowly drizzling them into the creamed fat and sugar).
- Sift together dry ingredients.
- Mix wet ingredients(milk/water/cream/sour cream/extracts)
- Alternate adding dry and wet ingredients, beginning and ending with dry.
Sounds straightforward, yes? There are a couple of things to remember about it, though. Here's the most important one:
The speed at which you cream the ingredients and the length of time you cream your ingredients and the temperature of your ingredients will all effect the final product.
And that, friends, is the fly in the ointment, the raisin in the peanut butter cookie, the clove in custard. When making cookies, make sure you cream slowly--low speed is great. Stop the mixer as soon as you no longer see butter and sugar, but a homogeneous paste. Unless you're making a cakey cookie, you're not looking for "light and fluffy" here.
If you're making a cake, make sure you cream on a higher speed for a longer period of time. You do want "light and fluffy" in this case.
So, what's the big deal? What happens during creaming is that the sugar crystals cut into the fat, making wee little pockets full of air. The air in the pockets expands in the oven, assisting with rise. The more pockets, the lighter and fluffier the mixture. The lighter and fluffier the mixture, the more air. The more air, the more rise. Get it? Cool, huh?
Now you can troubleshoot. Were your cookies too puffy the last time you made them, try creaming at a lower speed for less time. Was your cake kind of leaden and sad last time? Try creaming longer at a higher speed.
So, Jen--what's this about the temperature? All your ingredients should be at cool room temperature. That means milk, butter and eggs (and any other refrigerated ingredients) should be taken out of the fridge well before baking time. Cool room temperature--about 68 degrees--is the magical temperature at which butter (a very yummy and useful fat) is soft enough to blend easily with other ingredients but still firm enough to keep its shape. Its "plasticity," if you will. That means that the butter can "stretch" to hold a lot of air. In the creaming method, this is a Very Good Thing.
Why does the milk and eggs have to be at room temp, too? Well, you've worked so hard to keep your butter plastic, the last thing you want to do is have it seize up again and get hard when you add 40 degree milk or eggs.
Now, go forth and cream away!
For a more detailed look at the steps in the creaming method as well as the difference between creaming for cookies and cakes, please see: The Creaming Method.
Tools of the Trade
Depending on how frequently you decide to make cakes and or cookies, you can spend not too much to a very lot for equipment. But honestly, the headaches you will save by purchasing quality equipment! Do take a look at my recommendations. They are affiliate links, so thank you for your support and for helping me keep the lights on around here. I'm also recommending a couple of really sound cake cookbooks that utilize the creaming method in most of the recipes.