In baking, you will often be called upon to “cream” butter and sugar together as a foundation for many recipes. Often, this process will precede the addition of eggs, which help leaven and bind the ingredients together. In short, if you want to succeed in baking, you must master the creaming method, so here are some tips and techniques to get you started.
How it works: The rapid mixing of the sharp sugar crystals against the butter allows air pockets to form in the fat. When heated in the oven, these air bubbles expand and lift up the heavier dry ingredients, allowing for proper rising and creating a lighter texture.
Useful for: Cookies, cakes, tea breads. Note: For cakes you should cream the butter and sugar for a much longer period (usually indicated in the recipe by mixing for a few minutes on a certain speed) to allow for proper aeration. Cookies or breads, on the other hand, simply require that the butter and sugar are incorporated completely and appear light and fluffy.
Tools/equipment: While it is possible to cream butter and sugar by hand (a pastry blender is recommended for manual mixing) I would suggest using an electric mixer, if you have access to one. The rapid, steady swirl of the mixing paddle attachment forces the sugar crystals to break up the butter and helps aerate the mixture.
Steps: If time permits, allow the butter to come to room temperature before incorporating with the sugar. When the butter is at room temperature, it requires less mixing to become light and fluffy, which is ultimately the goal of creaming butter and sugar. But if you need to use cold butter, simply cut it into small pieces and beat it thoroughly (for three to five minutes) with an electric mixer before adding the sugar.
While creaming butter and sugar, you will notice that as the butter starts to break up and combine with the sugar, the mixture becomes lighter in color and more cohesive. Make sure to scrape along the sides and bottom of the bowl to release any unmixed ingredients from the sides of the bowl. Once incorporated, beat for 1 minute on high speed to ensure a light and fluffy texture.
If the recipe calls for adding eggs next, make sure to add the eggs one by one, mixing thoroughly after each addition. While recipes do not always call for room temperature eggs to be used after creaming, it is important to note that adding cold eggs to the butter and sugar might cause the fat in the butter to coagulate, reversing all of the warming and mixing that you just did. So, if you use eggs straight from the fridge, make sure to add them one by one and beat thoroughly to ensure a consistent product.
Practice the Creaming Method with any of these recipes: