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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36 Comments

  1. 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

    1. 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!

  2. thank you you website is just so interesting and inspiring. I love the way you always say now go on you try for yourself !

    1. 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! ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. 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!

    1. 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. ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. 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!

      2. 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. ๐Ÿ™‚ 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

  4. 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! ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. 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:)

  5. 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!!

  6. 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. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. This is a fantastic site. I’m learning so much and being entertained at the same time. Thanks for writing it.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

    Hmmmmm.

    Let’s see…

    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!

  10. 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.

  11. 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?

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