The One Bowl (a.k.a. “Quick” a.k.a. “Blending”) Method

If the creaming method is the “go-to” method for most layer cakes, why employ something as odd and suspicious as the one bowl method? The short answer is: texture. When you do the one bowl method you mix the dry ingredients together in the bowl of a mixer, then add the softened fat plus some of the liquid. All that is mixed together until the dry ingredients are well coated with fat. Then the remainder of the liquid goes in and…done! It’s a little like the biscuit method, but with more thorough blending and more agitation.

Like the biscuit method, the one bowl method eschews any actual bubble-making. Whereas the creaming method relies on the tag-team effort of both mechanical and chemical leavening, the one-bowl method is an all-chemical affair. And indeed, most one-bowl method cakes call for a good deal more baking powder than standard cake recipes.

So then what does the one bowl method accomplish? As I mentioned, it coats the dry ingredients — notably the flour — with fat. This has the effect of severely limiting the amount of activated gluten in the batter (the gluten molecules can’t get hold of one another with a coating of fat in the way). Indeed you usually beat the heck out of one-bowl method batters in order to GET some activated gluten. A cake needs at least a little structure, after all. Otherwise it wouldn’t rise at all.

Those of you who already understand the role gluten plays in baked good can probably already see what the upshot of this method is. It creates a cake that’s melt-in-the-mouth, almost fall-apart tender. Severely limited gluten begets a cake you barely have to chew at all. It’s moist, it’s silky, it’s rich on the tongue.

So if the one bowl method gives you a result that’s that wonderful, why doesn’t everybody use it for cake? Well because one bowl cakes are a little dense for some people. Also, one bowl layers, being as tender as they are, are terrible for stacking. Oh you can make a layer cake out of them, but even with wooden supports, one-bowl method cake layers start to collapse under their own weight after three stories or so.

So the next time you’re at a wedding, look closely at the cake. Is it tall and sculpted? Then the layers are probably creaming-method: sweet and light and not as rich. If the cake is wide and low, the layers were probably made via the one-bowl method.

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22 Responses to The One Bowl (a.k.a. “Quick” a.k.a. “Blending”) Method

  1. Julie says:

    So if you are using a typical creaming-method cake recipe, do you need to make any alterations to the ingredients in order to use the one-bow method, like adding more baking powder? Or will it still work? I’m not sure if I have ever tasted a one-bowl method cake but I would like to test it out on my own and see the difference!

    • joepastry says:

      Conversion is something I’ve never thought of before, Julie, but a very interesting idea it is indeed. I should compare a conventional creaming-method cake recipe with a one bowl recipe and see what the differences are. In the short-term if you want to try a one bowl cake recipe, you can try my yellow cake (though as fair warning I should tell you that some people find it a tad dry…I, of course, like it). American layer cake queen Rose Levy Beranbaum is a BIG advocate of the one-bowl method. All of her layer cake recipes employ it. Her books are classics, you can find them in any bookstore cookbook section. If bookstores still exist, that is.

      - Joe

      • Julie says:

        Your yellow cake recipe is definitely on my list of recipes to try from your blog. Next time I bake a cake I will for sure test it to see the difference. Thanks Joe!

  2. twyla says:

    I recently discovered the one bowl method. I never know it existed until I came across a Cooks Illustrated recipe for white cake. I love white cakes, so weddings are exciting for me :) . I was searching for a resonable alternative for home baking and it’s now my go to favorite. I use less almond extract though. It has such a beautiful finish on your tongue. However, I never turn down cake of any method!

  3. Henry says:

    Is the one bowl method that different from the ‘mixing everything in a blender’ method? I wonder at such a high speed, wouldn’t the fat coat the gluten as effectively as if you left out a portion of the liquid, and creamed the flour with the fat first (i.e. the one-bowl method)? As you mentioned RLB is a huge fan of this method. However I do find that the excessive amounts of leavening she employs DO make her cakes taste chemical unless one uses aluminium-free baking powder.
    For the creaming method – so many recipes contain such a high amount of liquid, that surely all the careful creaming is largely lost when u add the liquid to the batter? (no matter how careful and gradual you are in adding the stuff) That aside, I found that creaming butter with an equal weight of eggs also results in curdling – surely sign of the air bubbles collapsing?

    • joepastry says:

      Hey Henry!

      Taking the first part first, Adding the fat plus just a little liquid first does have the effect of limiting gluten development. Putting everything together in one bowl wouldn’t have the same effect, I don’t think. Since gluten+water+agitation=activated gluten, I think you’d have too much gluten-on-water contact.

      To your point about the creaming method, I don’t think — unless the liquid you put in is water enough to melt the butter — that the effect of the creaming is lost. As long as the butter bits are intact, the “seed” bubbles will still be in the batter. That’s still true if you add eggs. The “curdling” effect you’re referring to isn’t true curdling, it’s just a lumpy texture that happens when you try to combine a fat like butter with a watery ingredient like a beaten egg. It shouldn’t compromise the effect of the creamed butter at all — as long as the butter is melting, like I said.

      Thanks for the good question, Henry!

      - Joe

  4. Second attempt was even better than the first. Thanks again, Joe!

    One other thing though: occasionally I find my cake batters to be unusually thick. Assuming I didn’t measure anything wrong, what else could be going on here? On the last attempt I made sure my Kitchen-Aid never got above setting 4 to make sure I wasn’t whipping it, but it was still pretty thick, not something I could pour easily. Still a hell of a cake though. :)

    • joepastry says:

      Glad to hear it Ted! As for the consistency, a little bit of liquid can have a big impact on a cake batter. If your eggs were a bit smaller than normal that could do it, or a little extra milk. But as you discovered, unless there something clearly amiss (i.e. it’s paste-like or runs like water) it’ll still bake up into a good cake layer.

      I think I called you “Tim” in a recent post. Sorry about that!

  5. Melinda says:

    Joe – I have not tried your yellow cake recipe, but Rose Levy Berenbaum’s Classic Yellow Cake is a dream! It is moist as well as tender and does not even need icing or buttercream. If you just want to put fresh fruit and a little whipped cream on the side, it is fantastic. Of course, buttercream is just fine, too. After adjusting for altitude (Albuquerque is 5,000 ft.), I have found that I can pretty much use the one-bowl method for anything. I have had so-so results with the creaming method on some cakes that turned out wonderful with the one-bowl method. I had no idea you had to increase the chemical leaveners so I never have and it works fine.

    • joepastry says:

      Glad to hear that works so well for you, Melinda. And yes that classic yellow butter cake is fantastic. I make it all the time and you’re so right, it really doesn’t need to be frosted, it’s so rich. It’s just about perfect the way it is.

      Cheers,

      - Joe

  6. Henry says:

    Thanks Joe! What do you think of the ‘combination’ method where you follow the creaming method except you fold in some whipped egg whites at the end instead of creaming the whites with the butter at the beginning? Surely this would yield the lightest result?
    Also, if the primary goal of reverse creaming is tenderness, can one simply melt the butter and use that to coat the flour, rather than using softened butter?

    • joepastry says:

      Hey Henry!

      Melting the butter will produce a cake that’s even denser, since you’ll really get a thorough and total coating of the flour granules. There won’t be any activated gluten at all, and that’s not good.

      Regarding the adding of whipped whites, in theory it will produce a lighter cake, just remember what we’ve been talking about this week: too much leavening makes a cake fall. So be careful!

      - Joe

  7. K-Line says:

    Your yellow cake is awesome, IMO. It’s my go-to birthday cake now. And it manages 2 layers – though I wouldn’t want to try for more.

    • joepastry says:

      Thanks for the feedback, K-line! I appreciate that very much. Have a great weekend!

      - Joe

  8. Jackie says:

    Does this method work only for real butter? I don’t use real butter when baking cakes. I use a shelf stable baking margarine produced by a local company instead. Living in a region where room temp averages 30C with no A/C and a small kitchen with a preheating oven, trying to get real butter to behave and not melt all over the place has never worked for me.

    I have baked many a cake using the creaming method with this product and a really nice pound cake using a similar method from the Kind Arthur website.

    I just cannot get one bowl layer cake to come out. I have The Cake Bible and I tried the original All Occasion cake. The results were disastrous. I tried King Arthurs Golden Yellow Cake which is similar. Same results. A flat, dense, slightly greasy cake; pale on the top and only an inch tall if so much with a greasy band along the bottom of the cut slices. I have used unbleached AP flour, bleached AP flour, unbleached cake flour, bleached AP flour cut with cornstarch so I’m pretty sure the flour isn’t the issue as I thought at first.

    I’m guessing it must be the fat. The pound cake recipe that works calls for creaming the fat before adding the dry to make a paste then adding the eggs one at a time- no milk. I am wondering if the margarine just isn’t dispersing through the one bowl layer cake mixture properly and if I should try creaming it first before adding the wet. But if I do that how much do I decrease the baking powder by since I don’t want to over-leaven the thing?
    Any takes on this?

    At US $5 per pound, I want to keep my real butter trials to a minimum and I would love to be able to tweak it so that I can use my regular margarine. I hate my recipes to flop. I’m the kind of person that just has to get it right even if I reject the final product because it isn’t to my taste.
    For information’s sake I use a regular old Hamilton Beach hand mixer and bake the layers in a 9in round Winco baking pan with 2in high sides.
    Any comments you can provide would be appreciated.

    • joepastry says:

      Fascinating, Jackie. Where do you live, if you don’t mind me asking? Is it also very humid? That’s my guess.

      The big difference between the one bowl method and the creaming method is that the one bowl method relies entirely on chemicals for leavening, with no help at all from pre-formed bubbles of the kind you get when you cream butter and sugar. If the fat you’re using really is firm at high temperatures then my guess is you’re getting an unusually good pop from the creamed butter and sugar, with probably limited assistance from the baking powder. Here in the States it’s the reverse, since butter softens at least a little at room temperature, limiting the utility of creaming. We rely on the chemicals to deliver the lion’s share of the rise.

      Your fat sounds ideal, is what I’m trying to say. So if you’re looking for a culprit my thought is it’s the baking powder. It might be loosing its mojo in the humidity wherever you are. Is that possible do you think?

      - Joe

      • Jackie says:

        Hi Joe,

        No I don’t mind you asking-I’m from the sunny island of Barbados in the West Indies.

        I never thought of the baking powder before. The type is use is strictly speaking not double acting. It contains only sodium acid pyrophosphate (which if I recall correctly is one of the temperature activated salts) and baking soda in some sort of flour base. It’s manufactured by a company in a neighbouring island. So if it only contains a high temp salt would humidity still cause it to lose its mojo?

        The cakes all rise fine in the oven but as soon as I take them out they deflate. Not a simple pull away from the sides of the pan but a uniform deflation. They shrink in both diameter and height.

        • joepastry says:

          Ah, that helps. So the issue is really falling, not a failure to rise. That’s a different issue entirely. Falling occurs when the structure of the cake gets so weak it can’t hold itself up. That can happen when a cake rises too fast (too much leavening or too much heat) and the structure (the eggs and flour) don’t have time to set up and support it. It can also happen if the structure isn’t sufficiently developed in the mixing stage. Typically one-bowl mixed cakes require a good deal of beating to ensure they develop enough of gluten to stand up. All that said, there are three possibilities I can think of: 1.) the leavening is too strong and needs to be cut back, 2.) the oven is too hot, 3.) you need to beat the batter longer (though it’s hard to see where insufficient beating alone would cause the cake to fall). I’d say combine all three of these. Check/calibrate your oven, then try a batch of the batter with half the leavening (making sure you beat the batter as long as Rose suggests) and see what happens. That’s probably my best suggestion given what I know!

          - Joe

          - Joe

          • Jackie says:

            I was worried about the beating times as well since stand mixers seem so much more powerful than hand versions. I usually mix the batters with a clock right at my side to time myself. But having said that, the amount of beating that my creamed cakes get is even less, plus I stir in the last third of the flour by hand for those and they don’t fall. So is lack of structure really an issue I wonder?

            And the uniform deflation is really baffling me. I have had cakes drop in the middle before but never just deflate. And another thing I notice is that sticking it with the toothpick to check for doneness always seems to accelerate the problem. It’s as though it lets the air out. A similar thing happens with the pound cake I mentioned before if I bake it in anything other than a bundt. It kind of dips wherever I poked it with the toothpick and deflates with a cross section like a trapezoid ( /__\)

            Thanks for your help. It is greatly appreciated and I’ll give your suggestions a try sometime soon. ( As soon as I can purchase an oven thermometer). I am determined to figure this out……

          • joepastry says:

            Hey Jackie!

            I wouldn’t worry about the toothpicks too much. If they’re all that’s causing the deflation, then the layer was virtually empty to begin with. Something is caused bubbles in the batter to form and then burst before they get a chance to firm. At the moment I think the leavening is a real possibility. But by all means get back to me once you’ve tried a few things and we can keep troubleshooting this.

            - Joe

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