If you're a baker, you've come across the phrase "cream the butter" in many a cake and cookie recipe. You no doubt know it has nothing to do with cream (the stuff that floats on top of milk) and that it means beating your butter to a creamy, fluffy consistency.
Sugar is also an essential part of the creaming process. Some recipes call for creaming butter with sugar, while others tell you to cream your butter before mixing in sugar.
Creaming butter isn't complicated but you may have some questions about this super important baking technique. I mean, why is it so important?
Why Cream Butter?
Creaming butter incorporates air into it. When you add sugar, those granules act like little knives that cut out small air pockets in the butter. By trapping the gases released by your leavening agent, the air pockets help cookies and cakes rise to perfection in the oven.
The sugar you use, by the way, could be granulated white, brown or even confectioners', although the coarser grains of granulated white or brown sugar are the sharpest little knives.
Salted or Unsalted Butter — Does it Matter?
Yes and no. The problem with salted butter is that the amount of salt is not consistent from brand to brand. With one brand you might get perfect cookies, with another you might end up with salt licks. Using unsalted butter and adding your own salt gives you more control.
As an aside: You can cream other solid fats besides butter, such as lard and shortening.
What If I Just Don't Cream My Butter?
Honestly, if you were to just mix the butter and sugar into your batter along with everything else, you might still come out with an okay baked good. There are even recipes that explicitly tell you to "dump" all the ingredients together.
But for many classic recipes, skipping the creaming process will result in a heavier, less delicate texture.
Of course a lot of classic recipes don't require creaming at all, such as those (like brownies) that call for melted butter mixed into the batter. ( Want brownies now? Check out how to make them here! ) And recipes that call for cold fat, such as pie crust, will have you actively avoid creaming in order to get a flaky texture.
Do I Need an Electric Mixer?
No, you don't. You can cream butter and sugar by hand and get a serious workout at the same time.
How Exactly Do I Cream Butter?
This is a great basic method for when one isn't specified in the recipe. But you should still refer to your recipe for quantities.
What You Need
- Mixing bowl
Let's Get Creaming
1. Make Sure to Soften
Soften your butter by placing it on the counter until it reaches cool room temperature. You want it to be soft, but not super squishy. If you touch the butter, it should retain its shape but offer very little resistance. If the butter is oily or starting to melt, it won't cream as well.
Softening the butter to room temperature can take up to an hour. Resist the temptation to speed things along with your microwave. (It works in a pinch, but it's not ideal.) Instead of rushing things, re-read your recipe and measure out your dry ingredients while you wait.
2. Cut into Cubes
Cut the butter into approximately ½-inch cubes, then transfer to a large mixing bowl. Starting on low speed, beat the butter until the cubes break up and meld into a creamy mixture. This should only take about 30 seconds.
Increase the speed of the mixer to medium. Beat the butter for 1 or 2 minutes. Stop the mixer every so often to scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula and to wipe off any butter that is caught in the beaters.
4. Add the Sugar
With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the sugar. Increase speed to medium. Once again, stop the mixer every so often to scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, and to wipe off any of the butter-and-sugar mixture that is caught in the beaters.
5. Keep Mixing!
Continue mixing until the mixture has almost doubled in mass and has lightened to a white-ish-yellow color. The beaters will leave small ridges in their wake and a spoon or spatula will leave a trail after you stir. This takes up to 5 minutes.
6. Know When to Stop
Once it reaches this point, stop mixing. Soon after the point of creamed perfection, the mixture will start breaking up again and look clumpy — that means you've gone too far.
Your butter is creamed. Now get to work finishing that cake!