The Creaming Method

You may never have heard of the Muffin Method or the Biscuit Method, but if you’ve made a batch of chocolate chip cookies with the recipe on the side of the Tollhouse Morsel bag, you’ve heard of the Creaming Method. Typically, the Creaming Method involves beating a quantity of butter with a near equivalent quantity of crystalline sugar until the mixture forms a light “creamy” froth. It’s incredibly difficult to do (well) by hand, though my old neighbor Lilly Lundstrom, the Swedish Baking Queen, had no trouble managing it. But then she tipped the scales at 250 and had arms like a longshoreman. The rest of us mortals need a mixer.

So, what does the creaming method accomplish? In a nutshell, a fine texture with a regular crumb (i.e. lots and lots of little holes, all about the same size), like a cake. And in fact the creaming method is the go-to method for mixing cake batters, which bake up into light and tasty — though not actually tender — sweets. But Joe, all cakes are tender, aren’t they? Actually no. For while a good cake layer is yielding to the tooth (a result of that fine crumb), in reality it’s rather firm. Which is intentional, since cake layers need to be strong enough to stack and support the weight of lots of heavy icing and decorations. If cake layers were as tender as, say, a well-mixed muffin, they’d fall apart under their own weight. Professional cake makers place a high premium on firm layers. If you ever watch the gonzo baking show Ace of Cakes on the Food Network, you can see that the cake layers they use are incredibly strong, almost like styrofoam (but, you know, that you can eat).

To create the “cream” that the Creaming Method is named for, you start by putting a quantity of soft butter into the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle. Not too soft, mind you, you want it just plaible, definitely not so soft that it’s greasy-looking. You set the mixer going, and once the butter is broken up, you add the sugar in a steady stream. Once all the sugar is in, you turn the mixer up and beat the mixture silly. You’re done when it’s significantly increased in volume, pale yellow looking, and you can no longer see any sugar crystals (though you should be able to feel them when you rub a bit of the mixture between your fingers).

What’s happened here? For starters you’ve combined the two ingredients, but more than that, you’ve driven the sugar crystals into the butter, creating lots and lots of little, regular air pockets. These pockets will go on to form the basis of the cake’s structure in much the same way bubbles in an egg foam form the structure of a soufflé…only in a cake there’s quite a lot more building material (i.e. flour and sugar) involved. But like a soufflé, each little pocket will fill with up with expanding gas and steam in the oven, providing lift. But more on that later, since I’ve got work to do.

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7 Responses to The Creaming Method

  1. SJ says:

    Hey Joe, thanks for this tutorial, but what if I need to cream oil and sugar? Does the same thing apply? also, can I cream brown sugar the same way as with white sugar? plus, can I do that with a whisk? (my mixer has no paddle attachment)

    Sorry for the many questions!

    • joepastry says:

      Hey SJ!

      It’s not possible to cream sugar and oil. However it is possible to cream brown sugar and butter. But don’t try it with a whisk — use a wooden spoon! Thanks for the questions!

      - Joe

  2. Brendan says:

    Hey Joe, a late question for you.

    For this creaming method to make tart dough, is it possible to overcream the butter and sugar mix beore you add the flour in? An if it is possible, what would the ramifications be?

    Also, a quick definition request. Sable, Brisee and Sucree. I understand the basic concept but they are so interchangeable between different sources i’m finding it hard to nail down the exact terms.

    Thanks in advance, Brendan.

  3. Nate says:

    Hey Joe, quick question? For making cupcakes, which mixing method is best? Is it the creaming method or the one bowl method? My great uncle actually asked me to go on the cupcake business with him out of the blue. With me finishing school in a year, i need a primer on cupcakes so i could have a basic cupcake recipe that could be adapted easily for variations. Thanks Joe.

    • joepastry says:

      Hey Nate!

      An exciting opportunity! I’d say you need to do a little experimenting to see what you like. There are a lot of cake layer recipes on the blog. Several use the one bowl method, some the creaming method. In general the creaming method gives you a lighter cake with a tighter crumb, the one bowl method more tenderness and moisture. It all depends on what you want. Try the high ratio cakes if you’re inclined since those are generally a better fit for high-production kitchens.

      You’ve got a lot of R&D ahead of you, so have fun with it and let me know where you ultimately end up! Best of luck in the new venture!

      - Joe

  4. Nate says:

    Thanks Joe, i appreciate your tips. This definitely gave an insight of each method. I actually have a basic cupcake recipe but while it was good it didn’t really hit the jackpot yet. The recipe i used have both butter and oil in it so while it is quite moist but it lacks the buttery flavor i’m looking for. So right now i’m researching about the kind of fat to use, the texture of the finished cake if i used certain kinds of fats, and the flavor profile of each fat. Thanks Joe.

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