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
Time needed: 20 minutes.
Time is approximate and includes measuring ingredients and mixing. It does not include time needed for ingredients to come to room temperature or baking time.
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.