A well-known instruction for seasoned bakers and a familiar directive for more casual ones, creaming together butter and sugar appears early in countless baking recipes. But as ubiquitous as it is in cake recipes and cookie recipes , incorrectly creaming butter and sugar is one of the most common mistakes bakers make and can result in flat, dense, or soggy sweets. Here, discover why this step is so key to turning out a delectable finished product, plus how to do it properly.
Why Cream Butter and Sugar?
Creaming butter (typically unsalted ) and sugar is often the first step in a baking recipe, the base to which ingredients like eggs, flour , and other mix-ins are added. As the butter and sugar are beat together, it aerates the mixture, or creates air pockets, which contribute to the volume of your finished product—the lighter and fluffier your butter and sugar mixture, the lighter and fluffier your cake will be. The creaming process also evenly distributes the sugar throughout the butter, ensuring that it is distributed throughout your batter and therefore your finished treat as well.
Tools You Need to Cream Butter and Sugar
Recipes that include a creaming step will usually make sure you know exactly what you need to get the job done, but here is a head start.
1. Stand or hand mixer
To achieve the ideal texture, you need to beat the butter and sugar for a while. A stand mixer or hand mixer will make the creaming process significantly easier.
2. Large mixing bowl
Choose a bowl that's large enough to avoid any bits of butter or sugar flying out once you start beating, and large enough to hold the other ingredients when you add them to the batter.
3. Rubber spatula
You may need to scrape down the bowl a few times to ensure that all the butter is incorporated, so a rubber spatula comes in handy.
How to Cream Butter and Sugar
Creaming butter and sugar is easy with these steps.
Step 1. Soften the butter
Starting the creaming process with softened butter is absolutely critical: butter that is too cold and hard won't mix thoroughly with the sugar, and butter that is too soft and melty won't hold the air pockets and will result in a dense and soggy dessert. Softened butter (also sometimes referred to as room-temperature butter) should be soft enough that when you press on it with your finger it leaves an indent but the butter is still cool to the touch.
The best way to soften butter is to leave it out on the counter for at least 45 minutes before you start baking (or you can soften it in minutes using one of these methods ).
Step 2. Cube and add the butter
You don't have to cube your softened butter, but it does speed up the process a bit since you don't need to wait for your mixer to break down the sticks. Once it is cubed, toss the cubes into your mixing bowl. You can wait until adding the sugar before mixing, or, for extra fluffiness, whip the butter for a couple minutes in the bowl until soft and creamy.
Step 3. Add the sugar
Once the butter is in, go ahead and add the sugar to your bowl as well.
Step 4. Beat the butter and sugar
Now the creaming begins. If you are using a stand mixer, fit it with the paddle attachment. Starting with your stand mixer or hand mixer on medium speed, beat the butter and sugar until it is pale yellow, light, fluffy, and has visible volume, using your spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
You can increase the speed of your mixture as the sugar gets more and more incorporated. It should also look uniform; if it looks grainy and you can still see the sugar, it needs more time. Likewise, it is possible to overbeat your mixture—if it starts to look soupy and oily, you've gone too far. This whole process typically takes between 2 and 5 minutes.
Can You Cream Butter and Sugar by Hand?
Your arm is definitely going to be sore if you try to cream butter and sugar by hand, but it is possible if you don't have a stand or hand mixer. First, cut the softened butter into thin pieces and add it to a mixing bowl with the sugar. Use a fork to mix them together until they form a relatively uniform paste, then stir vigorously with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, constantly folding the mixture in on itself, until it is pale yellow and creamy, which may take up to 10 minutes. Your mixture likely won't have the same volume it would if you used a mixer, but it should be the same color and texture and it will work just fine to make a mouthwatering sweet treat.