The Creaming Method
The Creaming Method: So, What's the Big Deal?
The creaming method is one of several ways that you can mix ingredients to make a cake or cookies. It is probably the most prevalent method written about in cookbooks, and, when done correctly, the resulting cake will be light and tender. There are many things that can go wrong when using this method, however.
I want to teach you exactly how to do the creaming method. Even more, I want you to understand why you have to combine ingredients in a certain way.
If you've never been able to bake a light and tender cake, today is your day. Learn this method, and the "whys" behind it, and light, tender, melt-in-your-mouth cake will be in your reach. I've included a recipe for basic yellow cake so you can practice the technique. Enjoy!
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Why Use the Creaming Method? - Why Does it Matter?
The creaming method is probably the most widely used method of mixing cake batters. Unfortunately, few cook books take the time to explain why they suggest this method. As a matter of fact, cake ingredients can be put together in many different ways, with widely varying results.
Here is a simplified list of the steps involved in the creaming method. First we'll look at why we perform these steps, and then we'll explore how to do them correctly so you get the best possible results.
The Creaming Method
1. Beat fat until light and fluffy.
2. Beat sugar with fat until light and fluffy.
3. Add eggs, one at a time.
4. Alternate adding dry and wet ingredients.
So, why use the creaming method? The first steps in the creaming method are designed to introduce as many tiny air bubbles as possible into the cake batter. The more thoroughly you perform these steps, the lighter your cake will be.
The next steps involve adding structural ingredients--eggs and flour--in a way that will make the cake tender, but not so tender that it will completely fall apart. These steps are also critical to achieving the perfect texture--you want the cake to be strong enough to stack and ice without falling apart, yet you also want it to melt in your mouth.
The Most Important Thing to Remember About The Creaming Method
All of your ingredients should be at cool room temperature. Not hot room temperature in Death Valley in the summer. Not cold igloo temperature. You're shooting for about 68 degrees, Fahrenheit.
You Really Do Need a Stand Mixer
While some people like the more commercial look of the type of mixers whose bowls raise and lower, for ease of bowl scraping, ingredient adding and attachment attaching, I prefer this hinged type. The head locks in both the up and down position, so don't worry. Your beater won't come crashing down into the bowl unexpectedly while you're adding ingredients!
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How to Do the Creaming Method
How to Bake the Perfect Cake
Shortened cakes (cakes containing fat) all contain more or less the same ingredients: flour, sugar, fat, eggs, other liquid, leaveners, flavorings. That's about it, really. Here's how you put all of these ingredients together to make a fantastic cake.
1. Blend dry ingredients together really well. This means flour, baking soda and/or baking powder, and salt. Really well means really well. Use a whisk and blend the dry ingredients together for at least thirty seconds or so. You do this to evenly disperse the salt and leaveners throughout the flour. The more evenly your ingredients are dispersed, the more uniform your rise. Since the leaveners give off gases, you want them to be evenly distributed so they give off their gases evenly. That way, you won't have a very tight crumb in some places and big old holes in your cake in others. This step will also incorporate some air into the dry ingredients. This will assist the rise even further.
2. Cream butter until light and fluffy. Have your butter at cool room temperature. You want the butter soft enough to whip but firm enough to hold its shape and be able to expand and hold air.
3. Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. "Why not skip step 2?" you ask? It's easier to blend two ingredients with like textures than it is to blend one heavy ingredient with one light ingredient. Sugar is a lighter ingredient than butter--its crystalline structure allows space between all the little grains of sugar. Those spaces are filled with air. Take the time to whip the butter to incorporate some air. You'll be able to cream the butter and sugar together much more efficiently.
Remember that I said you need to keep the butter cool. Well, it will warm up during all the creaming, so keep feeling the outside of the bowl. It should feel cool. If it doesn't rub the outside with a bag of frozen peas to cool things off again. Not elegant, but it works. You could also throw the bowl in the fridge for a few minutes.
Cream on medium speed for at least three to five minutes. At least. You want the butter and sugar to increase in volume. What's happening during this time? The sugar crystals are tearing little holes in the butter. The holes are filling up with air. In order to achieve the best rise in the oven, you'll want the maximum number of little air holes possible. This takes time, so wait for it.
4. Add eggs, one at a time. Mix each one in thoroughly before you add the next one. You're making an emulsion--butter and water (from egg whites) are being held together by the emulsifiers in the egg. Emulsions take time, so only add one egg at a time. Make sure your eggs are at cool room temperature. If you throw eggs in the butter/sugar mixture straight from the fridge, you'll just make your butter all hard again. Then it won't be stretchy and plastic anymore. Then, it won't hold onto its air bubbles. Then you'll be sorry. So, to keep the butter nice and pliable your eggs should be at about 68 degrees, same as the butter.
Anyway, add them one at a time. Make sure that your butter and sugar are as light as you can get them, because once you add the eggs, the mixture won't increase in volume anymore. Make sure the eggs are evenly blended into the batter. Scrape the sides of the bowl a couple of times to make sure the structural proteins in the whites and the emulsifiers in the whites get evenly distributed throughout the batter.
5. Mix your water/milk/buttermilk--whatever your liquid is--with any flavorings, such as vanilla extract. Stir this together really well.
6. Add about 1/2 of your dry ingredients to the mixer. Mix in slowly until just combined.
7. Add 1/2 the liquid. Mix in until just combined. Add the other half of the liquid. Mix in until just combined.
8. Add the rest of the dry ingredients. Mix in until just combined.
So, what's up with steps 6-8? Why not just add everything at once? Why not mix fast? Introducing water (as water or milk) can start to activate the gluten in the flour. We want some gluten activation so the cake doesn't fall apart, but we don't want so much that we end up with a chewy cake. Mixing half the dry ingredients in first, when there is very little water in the batter (only from the egg whites) allows you to mix thoroughly and have only minimal gluten development. Adding the liquid in two stages and mixing in between allows a little more gluten to develop without ruining the emulsion that you took pains to make back in step 4. Adding the last of the flour at the end smooths the batter out, and since you're adding it at the end, you won't have to mix very much, so you end up limiting gluten formation that way, too.
What you should end up with is thick, airy batter. It shouldn't pour into pans. You should have to scrape it into the pans. You've done it! Beautiful cake batter made with the creaming method!
Scrape the Bowl While You Mix! - The Beater Blade for Kitchen Aid Mixers
These beater blades replace your regular paddle attachment. The little fins continuously scrape the bowl. That means no more stopping to scrape with a spatula, saving you time and effort while mixing the batter more thoroughly. It's a win-win!
You Need to Learn the Creaming Method - That's me, The Online Pastry Chef, by the way!
This video focuses on the steps of The Creaming Method. As an added bonus, it includes an absolutely wonderful recipe for sour cream pound cake.
Basic Yellow Cake Recipe - Make This Using the Creaming Method
For you, a basic recipe for yellow cake. Use the creaming method. I'll walk you through it. I'll remind you of all the steps and talk about all the ingredients. Then, you should be able to make almost any cake with nothing but a list of ingredients!
Basic Yellow Cake
13 oz. sifted cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
8 oz (2 sticks unsalted butter) at cool
2 cups sugar (weigh it once, and you'll never have to use a measuring cup for sugar again)
4 large eggs plus 1 yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla
8 oz. whole milk
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, F. Grease and flour 2 9" cake pans. You can line the bottoms of the pans with parchment, too. That will make it even easier to get the cakes out of the pans.
1. What are the dry ingredients? cake flour, salt, baking powder. Whisk them together very very well. This recipe calls for cake flour because it is very low in protein and is very finely milled. This will provide you with a tender cake with a fine crumb. Cake flour is also slightly acidic. This will help the proteins in the eggs to set quickly. You can use all purpose flour, but use a one with very low protein, such as White Lily, in order to achieve the most delicate texture. Regular all purpose flour will work just fine, but the cake won't be quite as tender.
2. Cream that butter by itself until it is very light--it will be fluffy and will lighten in color because of the air you're whipping into it. Remember, if the bowl doesn't feel cool, whip out your frozen peas, or just put the bowl in the fridge for awhile.
3. Add the sugar and continue creaming. Don't rush it, and go at medium speed.
4. This recipe calls for an extra yolk. This will make the cake more tender and velvety. You can leave it out, but you'll like it better with it in. Add the eggs one at a time. Scrape the bowl well between additions and make sure everything is well blended.
5. Combine the milk and the vanilla and stir well.
6. Add half of your flour mixture and mix until incorporated.
7. Add 1/2 the liquid. Mix just until combined. Add the other half of the liquid. Mix just until combined.
8. Add the rest of the flour and mix until just combined.
You're doing this to get a good ratio of tenderness to toughness. Add the liquid before you add the flour, and you'll develop too much gluten. Add all the flour at once, and you might end up with a cake that's too tender.
Spread the batter evenly into the pans. You might even want to weigh them to make sure they weigh the same. That way, you know they'll be done at the same time.
Bake the layers in the center of the oven until the tops are light golden brown and the center springs back when you press lightly on it. A knife or a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake should come out clean. Since I don't know what oven you'll be using, I can't give you a time when they'll be done. Check at about 20-25 minutes and go from there.
When done. Let cakes cool in the pans for 10-15 minutes. This will give the starches in the flour time to set up some. Then, run a knife around the inside of the pans and invert to turn out. Invert again and cool right side up on racks.
Good Cakes Start with Good Ingredients
Give some of these a try.
You Really Do Need a Kitchen Scale - Once you weigh, you won't go back.
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For dry ingredients especially, weight is much more accurate than volume. I do encourage you to purchase a kitchen scale and use it. You won't believe how much time you'll save not having to scrounge around for all of your measuring cups. For less than $30, it might be the best investment you ever make in your kitchen!
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Another Useful Resource for Aspiring Bakers
Visit Pastry Methods and Techniques for loads of information on ingredients, ingredient function and tips on making your baking better than ever.
To Learn More About The Creaming Method... - ...and the Science of Baking in General
Have a question about the creaming method? Ask it here. Better yet, if you learned something from this lens, let me know! Any and all comments are much appreciated.