Make better cookies, cakes, and other baked goods by learning the creaming method. Finally, a resource that explains the technique AND the science!
Last week we started covering our baking methods by focusing on the biscuit method – which is good for making flaky baked goods, like scones, pie crusts, and biscuits. Today, we’re going to look at the other major baking method, the creaming method, which is good for making baked goods that are airy, fluffy, and smooth, like cakes, cookie doughs, and batters.
What Is The Creaming Method?
You’re probably very familiar with the creaming method already because it is used the most often when baking. The creaming method is when you take soft fat (occasionally melted, but rarely) and mix it together with sugar to create a soft, fluffy, and airy mixture. The rest of your ingredients then get mixed into the creamed fat and sugar before getting turned into whatever they are going to be – cakes, cookies, cheesecake, etc. . .
Technically, you are not using the creaming method when you use oil because oil is not capable of holding its shape.
The creaming method is great for making foods that you want to have a fine texture because the repetitive beating of your mixer (or by hand if you are a rockstar) makes sure to break the ingredients into small particles. This method can be a little more time consuming than others, but it provides excellent incorporation of ingredients.
Speed, Temperature, and Ingredient Integration
It’s easy to think that all creaming is the same, and that you can just set your mixer on medium and go. How you use the creaming method, however, can greatly affect your final product. For instance, the speed at which you’re creaming. If you run your mixer on too fast of a speed, you’ll end up incorporating air into your dough. Air in your dough means your cookie will be cake-like, and a fluffy cookie will most likely fall and look funny if you don’t have the ingredients to support that texture. So, how do you know how to manage your creaming method so you get the right finished product? Let’s look at how to troubleshoot your dough and see how things like speed and temperature alter your dough.
- Butter Temperature : This is the most common thing you’ll find in using the creaming method – the butter needs to be soft enough to be pliable and smooth when mixed. Most recipes will call for your butter to be softened or room temperature – what they are really calling for is your butter to be a cool room temperature (about 68°F). If your butter is too warm it will start to have the natural fat in it separate from the water (about the time the wrapper starts to feel soggy, you’ve hit this point) and if it is too cool, you won’t be able to mix it until smooth or fluffy.
- Ingredient Temperature : This is the one that most recipes don’t specify. You just worked really hard to have your butter at the right temperature, why would you want to shock it (and it’s ability to create the texture you want) by adding ingredients that are the temperature of your refrigerator? Not just that, but if you’re adding more than just eggs, you’re adding multiple layers of extremely cold ingredients to your perfectly softened butter. For best results, pull all your ingredients out of the refrigerator a few hours before baking so they can come to the same temperature as your butter. If you put cold ingredients on top of your warm butter, this will effect the consistency and texture of the dough/batter by causing the fat to seize, preventing it from baking into the desired shape. It will also affect baking times, which can cause the edges to finish well before the center.
- Mixer Speed : Some recipes will tell you to beat your butter, or your butter and sugar together until they are light and fluffy. This is code for medium to medium-high speed. If it says to cream until combined, that is code for keeping it low and slow. The more you whip around your fat, the more air you’ll incorporate into it, and the fluffier it will get.
While it is not necessary to have a stand mixer for using the creaming method, a stand mixer will provide a better, more consistent incorporation of ingredients than a mixer you have to move around yourself.
- How Long To Cream? : The longer you cream you ingredients, the more air gets incorporated into it. This helps with texture and with how much rise your ingredients have when baking. If you want to have a really fluffy or airy cake, you want to cream on medium or higher for AT LEAST 3-5 minutes. Ideally, you’re looking for so much air to get incorporated that your ingredients look like they have doubled in size. If you are going for a chewy texture (think brownies or cookies) you will only need to cream the ingredients for a minute or two.
- Eggs : You’ve taken the time to make sure your eggs are at the right temperature, but did you know that the way you add them into your creamed fat and sugar can make a difference? If you’ve ever wondered why you should add your eggs one at a time, it’s because you are making an emulsion of water into fat (the water is in the egg whites). Just like with making vinaigrettes, this takes time. Thankfully, you have your built-in emulsifier in the egg yolk, you just need to make sure to give each egg enough time to get fully incorporated before adding the next because the egg whites help provide structure to what you are baking and you want them to be nice and evenly distributed.
- Liquids : If your recipe calls for the integration of other liquid ingredients, like milk, cream, water, or extracts, mix them together. Fluids are, well, fluid – so mixing them together before mixing them into your batter/dough means that they are well distributed, and you don’t end up with sections that taste stronger of vanilla than others.
- Dry Ingredients : Sift together all of your dry ingredients in a seperate bowl before beginning. Sifted dry ingredients helps give you a smoother, and finer texture to what you are making. Follow the instructions in your recipe for the proper addition of your dry ingredients (see below on creaming by halves or thirds).
Creaming Method Procedure
When you see a recipe that has you using the creaming method, the procedure should most likely follow this general procedure:
- Combine the fat and the sugar (occasionally there may be other ingredients here, like dry milk) in the bowl of a electric mixer and use the paddle attachment to blend until smooth and fluffy.
- Add the eggs one at a time, until each are mixed in with the creamed fat and sugar.
- Add the liquid ingredients like extracts, milk, water, etc…
- Mix in your sifted dry ingredients until a smooth dough/batter is formed.
Creaming Method by Halves or Thirds
This is the same as the standard creaming method procedure, but instead of just pouring all of your sifted dry ingredients in at one time, it alternates between adding in the dry and wet ingredients, usually in 2 or 3 rounds. This method is more often used when making batter breads, some muffins, and dense cakes like coffee cakes or pound cakes. Why cream by halves or thirds? This helps make a batter that is dense, but supple, by preventing over-activation of your gluten. Gluten is activated by water, so mixing the first part of the dry ingredients with the creamed ingredients (which overall, has very little water) means that you get incorporation without a lot of gluten development. Plus, this prevents breaking the emulsion you created with your eggs by spreading the emulsion out into your dry ingredients first. The final addition of dry ingredients at the end will help nail down the last of the texture, and give you a smooth and thick batter/dough.
So what is the procedure for doing the creaming method by halves or thirds? Here we go:
- Sift together the dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside
- Mix together the liquids (milk, water, extracts, etc..) and set aside.
- Whip the fat in the bowl of an electric mixer until smooth, but still holds shape.
- Add in the sugar and cream together until the mixture is light, fluffy, and has close to doubled in volume.
- Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until they are completely blended in.
- Add in one half (or one third) of the sifted dry ingredients and mix until completely incorporated.
- Add in one half (or one third) of the liquids until blended in.
- Repeat until all the ingredients are mixed together. Your batter should be thick, airy, and should need a little coaxing to get it into your pan.
How Do I Know Which Version Of The Creaming Method I Should Use?
This is tough. One of the things that I always hear people say is the cooking is like art and baking is like science; cooking can be free from and wild, while baking requires precision. While that is absolutely true, I think there is a bit of each in the other. Baking, like cooking, isn’t always made by the way a recipe is listed. If you aren’t familiar with your baking methods, even the best recipe can go awry. So how do you know which method to use when you’re creaming? That’s a tough question because you can always alter the texture of what you’re making for fun. For example, you can use the standard creaming method for chewy, fudgy brownies, but use the creaming method by halves or thirds for supple, cake-like brownies. See how knowing your methods gives your freedom from the recipes?
As a good rule of thumb, if you are making something chewy go with the standard method, if you are making something fluffy, go with method by halves or thirds.
Of course, there are other ways of deciding. For instance, if it is a dough (like cookies) use the standard method. If you are working with a batter, use the halves or thirds method for cakes, and the standard for everything else (cheesecake, brownies, etc…). Some of this just takes getting a feel for it. If you’ve never played around with using the two different methods before, try making the same recipe using both methods so you can get a feel for what you prefer.
Practice Makes Perfect
If you would like to try some recipes that use the creaming method, here are some I recommend:
Thanks so much for stopping by!
What are your favorite things to make using the creaming method? Do you have any tips, tricks, or hacks for troubleshooting when using the creaming method? Tell me about it in the comments, or show me on social media – @foodabovegold and tag it #foodabovegold.
Happy Cooking! 🙂