You know you’re obsessed with baking when you describe to a friend that watching the stages of creaming butter and sugar is a “euphoric experience.” Luckily that friend was none other than my co-blogger Chef Edwin, so he did not report me to the authorities and the men in white coats never came to get.
From very early in my baking career I began seeing the phrases “cream butter,” “cream butter and sugars,” or “cream until light and fluffy.” Of course, I had no idea what this meant, and I heard a variety of explanations when I asked others.
The best and clearest step by step explanation that I’ve found was in my frequently raved about favorite cake book CakeLove: How to Bake Cakes from Scratch by Warren Brown (thank you again for the wonderful gift, Lisa!). Warren Brown is also a bit of a personal hero to me because he went to law school, became a lawyer, realized he didn’t enjoy it and left to open a bakery! He writes:
“For a while before I started baking, I didn’t recognize the disconnect between my daily conscious self and the voice of discontent in my head. I acted happy but I was really torn. I don’t know when this started but the conflict seemed normal. I just figured I’d deal with it like everyone else who was moping about in their late twenties: bury it, ignore it, or wait for something to change. But settling started to take a toll. I felt like a bobbing mooring, not going under but also not going anywhere. Even though I knew that I wanted out of practicing law, I didn’t know what I should do instead or how to get there. To figure it out I tried looking at my future retrospectively, picturing myself twenty years in the future. I envisioned two possible paths: work hard for twenty years and develop an expertise in law, then pursue the dreams that were already building in my head; or skip the middle-aged agony and get on with my pent-up passions right away. I chose the latter because my gut said, “Who are you kidding – avoid the midlife crisis you can predict! Start baking!”
If that’s not a battle cry, I don’t know what is. I withdrew from law school in 2006 after realizing very early on that law school and I were incompatible in every way. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made. I have not opened a bakery (yet?), but clearly I have great respect and admiration for Warren Brown (Mr. Brown, if you need a new spokesperson, please contact me).
But back to creaming – creaming aerates your cake batter and adds bubbles to it, making it light and fluffy instead of dense or tough. It also allows your cake to rise and develop a great texture.
The absolute best way to do it is to combine room temperature (not microwaved) butter with your sugar(s) in a stand mixer on the lowest speed using the paddle attachment (not whisk). If you don’t have a stand mixer but you see a good deal of baking in your future, then consider giving the economy a little boost and investing in one. I use it constantly.
Do not rush the creaming process. As the sugar pushes through the butter you’ll see the volume slightly increase as the mixture becomes fluffy, light yellow and a little grainy. Creaming should take at least 3 minutes; do not turn up the speed on the mixer any higher than low. If you don’t have a stand mixer, do your best with electric beaters. You really can’t get the same effect trying to do this by hand. Also, creaming is not a concern for brownies or cookies.
When done properly, as I said above, watching the butter and sugar push and pull and become fluffy is so satisfying! You will make some truly mouth-watering cakes. And if at first you don’t succeed – keep plugging away!