The two stage mixing method, also sometimes called the high ratio method, is a lesser known cake mixing method than the creaming method, but it produces excellent results.

Although the 2-stage method has been around in commercial bakeries for quite some time and works well with batters using high ratio shortening, this method was popularized for the home kitchen by Rose Levy Beranbaum with the publication of her seminal The Cake Bible.

We will take a look at how to make cakes using this method and also look at some similarities to and differences from The Creaming Method. Let’s get to it, shall we?

Read more about Mixing Methods here.

a 3 layer two stage or high ratio yellow cake with a slice cut out of it and decorated with chocolate frosting
Cakes made with the two stage method or “high ratio” method are tender and have a velvety crumb.

Use Quality Ingredients and Learn Your Methods

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.

While you can take all the cake ingredients, throw them in a bowl, whip them up, and end up with cake, if you are looking for a refined texture, you have to know a few different mixing methods to make sure you end up with the texture you want.

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Definition of the Two Stage Method

The two stage method of cake mixing combines all the dry ingredients, including sugar, in a bowl. Then you add all the fat along with the wet ingredients (eggs, milk, flavorings) in two stages:

  • The first stage coats the dry ingredients with fat and allows you to develop some structure before adding the additional liquid.
  • The second stage adds in the rest of the liquid so the cake will rise evenly and be light.

High Ratio Cake Definition

I mentioned in the introduction that this mixing method was developed to make high ratio cakes.

The ratio refers to the ratio of sugar to flour. Cakes that work best with the two stage or “high ratio” method are cakes that contain a lot of sugar in comparison to the flour. At least 1:1, meaning if you have 10 oz of flour in your cake, it should have at least 10 oz of sugar.

Fortunately, most American style cakes follow this ratio, so you can confidently use the two-stage method on any type of American-style butter cake.

Please Buy a Kitchen Scale

I don’t usually go on and on and tell you you HAVE to do something. But if you want to bake a lot of cakes or pastries and end up with consistent and replicable results, you really need to be weighing your ingredients.

I love my little Escali Primo scale. For around $25, you’ll have a scale that will last you for years. Please get one.

Why Use This Method?

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) 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.

Since you’ve coated the flour really well with fat in the first step, after adding the balance of the liquid, you can mix it in pretty thoroughly without worrying about excessive gluten development.

In essence, you’re using this mixing method to control gluten formation to end up with a cake with a tight crumb and a tender bite.

Two-Stage Method vs Creaming Method: What’s the Difference?

In the first step of the creaming method, you’re blending two tenderizers–plastic (soft but cool) 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.

Know this: a cake made with the two-stage method will not rise as high as one made with the creaming method.

Why not?

Creaming the fat and sugar is the best way to aerate a cake while keeping it moist. In using the creaming method, you also end up sacrificing some tenderness.

In the two-stage method, you can attain reasonable aeration (rise) 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, partly because the butter has to be soft–not plastic or cool and soft, but soft. It needs to be soft to blend evenly and coat all the dry ingredients, but it’s too soft to help with aeration.

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 tall, strong and delicious cake, use the creaming method.

If you want a cake with a tight, velvety crumb that is tender and delicious, use the two-stage mixing method.

Cakes Made with the Two-Stage Method

You can make almost any cake recipe written in the standard creaming method (beat butter and sugar together. Add eggs, 1 at a time, etc) using the two stage method.

But here are some cakes written using the “high ratio” method you might enjoy.

Feeling Experimental? Try This!

Make the same cake 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, so go with the creaming method.

Just for eating, you might like a more tender cake. And when it comes to tenderness, the two-stage method wins. Hands down.

Cakes using exactly the same ingredients in the same amounts but made using the creaming method will taste different than cakes made using the two stage method. I have no idea why this is, but it’s true.

How to Do the Two Stage Method

For making a lovely, tender cake, it’s hard to beat the two-stage mixing method. Here’s how to do it.

  1. Mix Dry Ingredients: 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 Eggs with a Portion of the milk: Mix the eggs with the flavorings and 1/4 of the milk. Stir well to break up the eggs. Set aside.
  3. Beat dry ingredients, softened fat, and the rest of the milk: Put softened fat and remaining milk 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 minutes.
  4. Mix in the eggs and milk in 3 additions: Add the whisked milk and eggs, 1/3 every 20 seconds or so, beating on medium speed after each addition.

Two Stage Method: How-To Video

Here’s Rose herself using this method to make her “Velvet Whisper Cake.” The first part of the video is devoted to measuring flour.

I am with Rose on this one: you really do need to use a kitchen scale for the most accurate and consistent results.

Thanks for hanging out with me to learn the two-stage mixing method!

If you have questions about this or any other methods or recipes, don’t hesitate to get in touch. I promise to help!

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  1. Hello,
    I grew up with a pastry chef, who is now gone, so I’ve got quite a few bases mastered, but I’ve recently been diagnosed with celiac disease and have been put on a gluten-free diet. I remember my mother saying to use the two stage method when I need to a more level top because it will prevent the over-production of gluten and larger air holes and generally this is how I prefer to mix up cakes. However when using a gluten free flour mixture to bake there’s no danger of gluten development, is there any benefit to using the two stage method when baking gluten free then?
    I add xanthagum to my mixes when baking which I prefer to mix with the fat element in the recipe, which usually means an added step to most recipes- if I add the xanthagum to the dry mix and then use the two stage method by beating the butter in the flour would like achieve the same result?

    1. That is a really great question, Whitney. I am going to ask some of my expert gluten free friends to see if they have an answer for you, and I’ll email you when I hear. I’m sorry about your diagnosis, but these days there are a wide variety of gf foods available, so hopefully you won’t feel deprived. Hopefully I’ll have some good responses from my gf friends later today. Take care.

      1. I’ve been gluten-free since 2009, and sadly gave my RLB Cake Bible to my sister. My gluten-free cake recipes usually call for the one-bowl “dump” method, which seemed to work fine, but after a few years, I went back to the creaming method. GF flour is similar to cake flour, and I think it helps to do whatever possible to strengthen the structure of the cake. This is not a scientific observation, just my opinion. My family likes my cakes, so I guess it works.
        The good news is that after a few years of learning to adapt my favorite recipes to gluten-free, my sister returned my Cake Bible yay!

  2. Hello, just found your site and love it!
    I always do my yellow cakes with the creaming method, but after reading your post i am wanting to try the 2 stage method….sure sounds easy.
    My question is, i want to try a recipe i found that calls both for softened butter an oil, i believe 2 tbs. of oil is added after the butter is creamed with the sugar. I am thinking this may make the cake moist like the texture of a boxed cake mix. While i know that oil makes a more tender cake, i like butter better for the flavor. What are your thoughts on adding oul to cake batters?


    1. Hey there, May–so glad you found me and are enjoying yourself! 2 stage is easy and it gives a completely different texture to the finished cake. Tighter, more velvety crumb. Doesn’t rise as high, but it’s a gorgeous texture.

      I’ve never made a cake containing both oil and butter–I usually use one or the other. If the cake has to be refrigerated, I use a recipe that calls for oil because it stays soft and moist in the fridge. If it doesn’t need to be refrigerated, I generally use butter. I rather like the idea of adding a touch of oil along with the butter, for moistness. If you make that recipe, please let me know how it goes!

  3. 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!

    1. 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!

  4. 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 ( where melted butter is added (a bit like the muffin method or maybe the one-bowl method, I don’t know?!)

  5. 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.


    1. 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. =)

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