Recipe Breakdown: What is creaming?

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Recipe Breakdown: What is creaming?

Creaming is the first baking step in most cookie and cake recipes. Usually, the directions read “Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.” Did you know that this is one of the most important steps if not THE most important steps in the entire recipe? If done correctly, it should take nearly 10 minutes to complete.

What is the Science Behind Creaming?
Creaming incorporates the maximum amount of air bubbles so a recipe will rise in the oven and be light in texture. It is done by beating with a hand mixer or standing mixer with a paddle attachment, the “fat” which is usually butter, first and then adding sugar, usually granulated white sugar, and creaming the two together. Fat can also mean vegetable shortening, margarine or lard.  The sugar can be white or brown.

When butter and sugar are creamed together, the rough sugar crystals cut into the fat, creating air bubbles that are held in by it. These small air bubbles serve as a nuclei for leavening gases and steam. If the fat and sugar is creamed correctly, the entrapped air is more evenly dispersed around the fat leading to more even rising.

It’s important to remember that leaveners simply enlarge the air bubbles that already exist in the batter; they do not create more. A cookie or cake will rise when leaveners, such as baking soda and/or baking powder, are moistened and heated. They release carbon dioxide which gravitate to the air bubbles and expand them like very small balloons. If not creamed properly, the result will be a cake that is lopsided, one that has not risen as high as it can or one that will first puff in the oven and then fall.

The proper way to cream…don’t skimp on time!
1.  Use the paddle attachment on your standing mixer or the beaters with your hand-held electric mixer.
2.  Make sure to use room temperature butter (around 65ºF) cut into 1” pieces, placed in the mixer bowl.
3.  Using your mixer, begin at low speed to first soften the butter. Then increase the mixer to medium, for approximately 1 minute, until it is smooth.
4.  Beat fat into a plastic-like consistency. Be mindful not to over-beat. Over-beating the butter can soften it too much, which will diminish its ability to trap and hold air.
5.  With the mixer still set on medium, slowly add in the sugar at the side of the bowl. The best way is to add it 1 tablespoon at a time, taking approximately 10 minutes to complete. If you don’t have the time, you can slowly add the sugar in a steady stream or in small clumps (brown sugar) at the side of the bowl while mixing. Make sure to scrape the sides and the bottom of your mixing bowl often with a rubber spatula.

How do I know when to stop the creaming process?
Stop creaming when the mixture becomes light in color and fluffy in texture.  The volume of the mixture will have increased and when touched, it should have the consistency of a thick gritty mayonnaise.

Paula’s Note:  if at any time during softening the butter or creaming, the butter starts to separate or break down, it is usually because it is too warm. To correct, place the butter or butter and sugar mixture in the refrigerator for approximately 10 to 15 minutes, even if half-way through creaming. This should chill and harden the fat so you can resume again.

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Reader Comments:

I need help with making cookies. I made cookies one time that turned out perfect, they were chocolate chip cookies. I made some this weekend and they turned out like cake cookies and the chocolate chips didn’t even melt. What am I doing wrong?

By Shneice Barnette on November 03, 2009

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