The creaming method is the one we most often undertake when making baked goods. The other method brothers and sisters are biscuit and muffin. How much do we really understand what we’re doing and how to do it right so that our cakes and cookies turn out right?
The typical recipe calls for creaming fat and sugar, adding eggs, assembling dry ingredients, assembling wet ingredients, and adding dry and wet to the batter alternately, starting and ending with the dry. Why?
Step 1: Cream fat and sugar
Typically you need to beat your fat first, and that’s usually butter. This helps get the consistency to be “plastic” which will help when sugar is added. It’s very important that all ingredients, even milk be at room temperature (67 degrees). No amount of putting the butter in the microwave at 50% power will substitute for a few hours on the counter. When the butter has been whipped for a minute, sugar can be added. Here’s where technique matters. What are you making?
If you’re creaming for a cake, you want a good five minutes of beating. If you’re making cookies, a mere minute or two is fine. What’s happening is the sugar crystals are punching holes in the butter and forming air pockets. These air pockets puff and rise in the oven during baking. If you want a bouncy, springy cake, cream for a longer time at high speed. If you want flat, dense cookies, cream for a short amount of time at low speed, stopping when the ingredients have must come together If you’ve ever had a friend complain of a dense cake, chances are she didn’t cream long enough.
Step 2: Add Eggs
Eggs need to be at room temperature. If you add cold eggs to your creamed butter/star, you’ll seize up the butter and turn it back into a block, losing all those air pockets. Most recipes say beat well after each egg, and for good reason. Butter is fat. Egg whites contain water. Fat no likey water. Think lava lamp. To make an emulsion, and keep the two together, it requires elbow grease in the form of a good 30 seconds of beating after each egg. Use a timer, don’t guesstimate. Stop and scrape the bowl after each addition.
Step 3: Assemble the dry team
Sifting the dry ingredients adds air and ensures even distribution of the chemical leavening. If you want a cake that resembles swiss cheese, skip this step. Whisk for a good 30 seconds to ensure that you’ve accomplished this. Cake flour is often called for because it is lower protein, will make a cake with a tender crumb, and it’s slightly acidic which will help the eggs in the batter set quickly. You could use all purpose flour but it will yield a doorstop cake.
Step 4: Assemble the wet team
Milk? Is it at room temperature? Sour cream? Same thing. Now is also the time to add any extracts, food colorings, melted chocolate, etc.
Step 5: Alternate adding dry and wet to the batter, starting and ending with dry
Why? If we add all the liquid first, we get soup. Adding the flour to this soup seizes up the gluten and gives us a nasty gummy ball floating in our bowl. If we add all the flour first, we’re doing the muffin method. Pouring all that liquid on top of defenseless flour requires gentle agitation to bring together without overworking the gluten, which means our mixer won’t cut it. Ever make a cake by hand? To avoid these pitfalls, we alternate the ingredients so we have the right balance of tender vs. tough. If you have any solid additions, like nuts, fruit, etc. now’s the time.
Italian Cream Cake
adapted from Cooking Light
0.5 cup butter, softened
1.25 cups granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks
2 cups cake flour
1 tsp baking soda
0.25 tsp salt
1 cup low-fat buttermilk
0.25 cup finely chopped toasted pecans
1 tsp coconut extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 large egg whites
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. For proper pan preparation, spray two 9″ cake rounds and line with circles of wax paper, coating the circles with additional spray and dusting with flour.
Creaming method – Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift dry ingredients in a bowl and add alternately with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour. Stir in pecans and extracts.
Play musical bowls if you only have one work bowl for your mixer – beat egg whites at high speed until stiff peaks form (do not overbeat). Take 1/3 of the whites and vigorously stir into the prepared batter to lighten, before gently folding in the remaining 2/3. Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake for 23 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
Cool in pans 5 minutes on a wire rack. Loosen cake layers from the sides of the pan and invert onto racks, discarding wax paper. Cool completely before assembling.
1 tbsp butter
8 oz low-fat cream cheese
4 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
0.5 cup finely chopped toasted pecans
Beat cream cheese and butter in a mixer until combined and smooth. Gradually add in powdered sugar, beating at low speed until smooth. Do not over mix. Add vanilla extract and pecans and use the “stir” setting to combine.
To assemble, place one cake layer on a plate, cover with 1/3 of frosting, place the other cake layer on top, inverted (for a flat top cake) and cover with the remaining frosting.