I have written rather extensively about The Creaming Method before, but I think it warrants revisiting as part of Fundamental Friday. For American-style cakes and cookies, it is probably the most used mixing method.
I taught a cake class a few weeks ago at Whisk Carolina, and I demonstrated both genoise and a 1-2-3-4 cake using The Creaming Method. Several people said that they had no idea that they should cream the butter and sugar for so long, and few were really aware that the temperature of the ingredients is almost as important as the ingredients themselves.
Today, I'm going to go through the steps in detail, making sure to be as explicit as possible. If you can master the creaming method--and I know you can if you haven't already--you will be able to make a gorgeous cake just with a list of ingredients.
Important Items To Note About The Creaming Method
- When creaming fat and sugar together for making cookies, you can cream on low-ish speed and only until you get a homogenous paste. There is no need to whip the Ever Loving Poo out of your fat and sugar since you aren't looking for a huge rise.
- When creaming fat and sugar together for making cake, as long as you monitor the temperature of your ingredients (everything should stay between 68F and 70F) there is almost no way to overcream. Start on low-ish speed and then crank up the machine to medium high, scraping the bowl as necessary, to increase the volume of the mixture by whipping in as much air as possible. This bubble structure you are building will capture and expand with the gases from your leaveners and also just from expansion through heating in the oven. This first step is the most critical step for a high rise and fine, even texture.
How to Do The Creaming Method
I am sharing with you the modifications I've made to The Creaming Method over the years that give me the stable emulsion and thick yet billowy texture that I'm looking for in a good butter cake or pound cake batter. Some of these steps might not even be listed in your standard list of steps for this method, but I'm listing them all so you will have the best experience possible
- Scale out all your ingredients and have them all--dairy, eggs, butter, dry ingredients: everything--at about 68F.
- In one bowl, weigh out your flour and leavener/s (baking powder and/or baking soda) and whisk them together well. In another bowl, crack all your eggs and beat them until they are evenly yellow.
- In a measuring cup, have your dairy and/or other liquids all ready to go.
- In the bowl of your stand mixer, weigh out your butter and sugar, salt and any extracts or other flavorings (espresso powder, cinnamon, lemon zest, etc).
- Turn your mixer (fitted with the paddle attachment) on medium low and cream until the sugar and butter are evenly incorporated.
- Scrape the bowl and cream on medium-high speed until the mixture is noticeably lighter in color and is very fluffy. This could take from 10 to 12 minutes or so. Scrape the bowl once or twice every 5 minutes or so. I have read some folks' rules about The Creaming Method and they state to cream until you can no longer feel any graininess from the sugar. In my experience, there is not enough free water in the butter (and not any in coconut oil or shortening) to dissolve all of the sugar. For this reason, I don't worry so much about graininess but about the overall texture.
- With the mixer still on medium high speed, drizzle in the beaten eggs, a tablespoon at a time. Make sure that each addition is completely incorporated before adding the next addition. The reason I add the eggs so slowly is to keep the mixture from breaking. (This looks like egg just randomly sloshing around in the bowl rather than getting mixed in. It won't last long, but still, it's a good idea to minimize this). We're building an emulsion, kind of like when you're making homemade mayonnaise. The more slowly you add the eggs, the easier it will be for the eggs to get evenly incorporated.
- Once you start adding the eggs, your batter will not increase in volume anymore, so make sure your fat and sugar are creamed to perfection before you start.
- Once you finish incorporating the eggs, you'll notice that the batter no longer feels grainy. This is because there is enough water in the whites to dissolve the sugar.
- When you're finished adding the eggs, the batter should look almost the same as before you started: light and fluffy.
- Now is the part where you add your dry and wet ingredients alternately, beginning and ending with dry. Here's how I do it:
- With the mixer off, sift about half of the dry ingredients into your mixer bowl.
- Start the mixer on low speed and mix for about 5 seconds.
- Pour in half the dairy/liquid in a steady stream over the next 3-4 seconds or so. Let mix another 2-3 seconds.
- Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
- Sift in half of the remaining dry ingredients.
- Start the mixer on low speed and repeat steps 2-4. At this point, all the dairy will be incorporated.
- Sift in the remaining dry ingredients and then fold everything together, making sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl well.
- Mix on high speed for about 3 seconds. Now you're done.
- Scrape your batter evenly into your prepared pan/s and bake according to your recipe.
Before I stop, let me explain a bit about why you have to add the ingredients alternately and why I'm admittedly fussy about the whole thing.
Again, since we're building an emulsion, you don't want to add too much of any one ingredient at any one time lest you overwhelm the batter and break the emulsion. If you add too much of the dry ingredients at one time, the batter will become so stiff that it will be hard to incorporate the wet. And if you add too much wet at one time, the batter will most likely break and become somewhat grainy. You can also end up with lumps since adding flour on top of a really wet batter is a recipe for lumps. And we want cake. Not lumps.
Here's another reason why the temperature of the ingredients is so important. When butter is cold, it's very hard. It's like bubblegum before you chew it. You can't blow a bubble with hard gum, and hard butter won't expand to hold air either. So, after working so hard to get your lovely cool butter all light and airy, if you add refrigerator temperature eggs and/or liquids to the batter, the butter is just going to seize up again and get grainy. It's not the end of the world. Your cake will still be yummy, but it just won't rise quite as high. So, take the time to let the eggs and dairy/liquids warm up (or cool down, as in the case of coffee) to about 68F before adding them to your batter.
I think that pretty much covers it. I have a few videos that illustrate the creaming method, that you can watch as well. I hope you find them helpful. And I hope this post is helpful. It certainly qualifies as a fundamental!
In which I make 2 pound cakes simultaneously.
An older how-to video in which I talk a Very Lot. But I think most of what I say is pretty helpful. I made this video four years ago before I refined my method. What you see here is more or less the "classic" way of how to do The Creaming Method. It works fine, but I do think the refinements I've made over the years yield a better end product.
If you have any requests for Fundamental Friday posts, please let me know in the comments.
Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day.