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.
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.
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.
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.
- Vanilla Cake from Learn to Cake
- White Chocolate Whisper Cake (you can see a video of Rose Levy Beranbaum making this cake at the end of this post.
- Rose’s All-Occasion Downy Butter Cake (Lord, I love this cake!)
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
What Others Are Saying...
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?
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.
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.
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!
Make it and eat it in honor of them. It’s the thought that counts, after all:)
Love the blog, I’m learning a lot about something I rarely do.. thanks. 🙂
Just popping and so glad I did, I now have both your sites saved to my favorites!
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.
I love RLB’s method; I do think that the two stage method leads to a slightly “shorter” cake–less rise, but only by a little. Thanks for stopping by.
This is a fantastic site. I’m learning so much and being entertained at the same time. Thanks for writing it.
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. 🙂
jeff spinardi says
excellent great explanation
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!!
The vast majority of American-style cookies are made by The Creaming Method. Maybe this will help: https://pastrychefonline.com/2008/11/03/the-creaming-method/
I love your blog, so much information to read and learn…Thank you for sharing all these!!!
Thank you so much! It means a lot to know that folks are finding what I’m doing useful! 🙂
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! 🙂
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:)
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!
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. 🙂
Thanks so much! In addition to looking at changing the mixing method, I was trying to find a way to replace the butter in a current recipe I have with oil. Good to know I’m on the right track! Is there any way I can use oil in the two bowl method, and what do you recommend as far as substitution? I’ve read a few different tips on replacing butter with oil. Thanks again!
Since butter is about 82% fat and the rest water and milk solids, you do have to take that into account when subbing, so reduce the fat amount by roughly 20% by weight when going from butter to oil. You may have to add a bit extra other liquid to make up for the water in the butter. If you do a straight 1:1 sub, that will work, but your end product will be more tender since it will contain more fat by weight. I would suggest you try using the “dissolved sugar method.” Here’s a discussion of this method from Shirley Corriher’s Bakewise. I hope you find it helpful. 🙂 http://books.google.com/books?id=b-iwjIb2RxwC&pg=PA36&lpg=PA36&dq=dissolved+sugar+method&source=bl&ots=ux3N8s1uw7&sig=kVktGJJRNFLKI0kOT8YtF-K6GRs&hl=en&sa=X&ei=I8JHUbjvHoLm2QXmkoDoAQ&ved=0CDoQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=dissolved%20sugar%20method&f=false
thank you you website is just so interesting and inspiring. I love the way you always say now go on you try for yourself !
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! 🙂
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
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!
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.
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. =)
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?!)
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!
Jennifer Field 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!
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?
Jennifer Field says
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!
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?
Jennifer Field says
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.