Creaming butter and sugar is one of the most common steps when making baked goods like cookies and cakes, but it’s also a step that’s commonly misunderstood. Learn how to cream butter and sugar and get the answers to some frequently asked questions about this technique.
When you’re a veteran baker, sometimes you take for granted the tips and tricks you have learned over the years.
One of the most important techniques in baking is learning how to cream butter and sugar properly. But it’s also one of the things that we sometimes forget to teach new bakers!
If you’re new to baking and have been confused about why creaming butter and sugar together is important or how to know when it’s ready for the next step in the recipe, this is the post for you. We’re going to talk through the basics of this important technique and learn how it can change the outcome of your baked goods.
WHAT DOES “CREAMING” MEAN IN BAKING?
If you’re a new baker, you might have heard of the “creaming method” or read about creaming butter and sugar. But what does it really mean?
Creaming or the creaming method is the process of incorporating sugar into softened butter. When done correctly, it evenly incorporates the sugar throughout the butter and creates tiny pockets of air throughout that give the mixture a “light and fluffy” texture and appearance.
These days, you might see creaming listed in your recipes simply as “beating” or “mixing” the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Why is it important?
Creaming butter and sugar together correctly does two things for your baked goods:
- It distributes the sugar evenly throughout the batter.
- It helps your baked goods rise more evenly and gives them a better texture by incorporating tiny air bubbles into the butter.
Skipping this step or not doing it properly can result in flat, dense baked goods. So if you want a light, tender crumb in your vanilla cupcakes or a perfectly chewy texture in your chocolate chip cookies, it’s important to learn how to do this step correctly.
HOW TO CREAM BUTTER AND SUGAR CORRECTLY
So let’s talk about how to cream butter and sugar correctly so you end up with perfectly textured cookies and cakes every time. I promise this method isn’t hard. You just need to know what to look for and give it the time it needs.
What you need
You will need three things to properly cream butter and sugar:
- Softened butter
- A mixer
You must use softened butter for this method. Cold butter won’t mix correctly. Butter that is too soft or borderline melted will just result in a greasy mess.
I have a few tips for how to soften butter if you forget to set it out ahead of time.
When it comes to sugar, granulated and brown sugar both work great. Powdered sugar is not typically used for the creaming method because it dissolves so quickly. The crystals in granulated and brown sugar, on the other hand, work into the softened butter well.
I also recommend having either a stand mixer with a paddle attachment or an electric hand mixer. You can cream butter and sugar by hand with a wooden spoon, but it will take a lot longer and a lot more effort from you!
How to do it
If your recipe says to cream the butter and sugar or beat/mix the butter and sugar together, add the softened butter and the sugar to the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or to a large mixing bowl.
Using your stand mixer or an electric hand mixer, mix on low speed for about 30 seconds. This will combine the two ingredients together so sugar doesn’t fly out of the bowl when you increase the speed.
Once everything is combined, increase the mixer to medium speed and beat for about 3-5 minutes. Make sure you scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed, at least a couple of times during the mixing process.
You’ll know the mixture is ready when it has lightened in color, looks “fluffy,” and you can no longer see the sugar crystals.
Now you can move on to the next step in your recipe!
How long does creaming butter and sugar take?
The amount of time it takes to properly cream butter and sugar will usually depend on your mixer. If you’re using a powerful stand mixer, it might only take about 3 minutes. An electric hand mixer might need closer to 5 minutes.
That’s why it’s important to know what to look for so you know when you’ve hit that sweet spot: lightened/pale color, fluffy texture, and no visible sugar crystals.
Is it possible to over-mix butter and sugar?
Yes, it is. Even though it is more common to under-mix when you’re creaming butter and sugar, it is possible to over-mix.
If you keep mixing the ingredients for too long after they are properly creamed (past the “fluffy” stage), the mixture will “break” and start to look oily/soupy, grainy, or like whipped cream.
I don’t have a mixer. Can I do this by hand?
Yes! Use a wooden spoon to mix the butter and sugar together. You won’t get a super “fluffy” mixture like you will when using a mixer, but it will lighten in color and become creamy.
This will probably take around 10 minutes, depending on your arm strength.
Can you use browned butter with the creaming method?
Baking with browned butter is one of my favorite ways to add extra flavor and a little twist to my baked goods. That nuttiness just can’t be beat!
If you want to brown your butter before using it in a recipe that calls for the creaming method, follow the steps in my tutorial on how to brown butter, then allow the butter to cool until it solidifies again. You may need to pop it in the fridge to help make this happen.
Once the brown butter is back to the same texture as softened butter, proceed with your recipe.
Can you use other fats with the creaming method?
Yes. Vegetable shortening is easy to use because it is already soft at room temperature and creams well with sugar. Some recipes, such as cream cheese pound cake, may also call for softened cream cheese to be used with or instead of butter.
You can use vegan butter or margarine as well. Just make sure you let it soften at room temperature before using it.
Fats that are liquid at room temperature, such as olive oil, are not able to be substituted in recipes that call for the creaming method.
How to Cream Butter and Sugar
- Softened butter amount as listed in your recipe
- Sugar granulated or brown; amount as listed in your recipe
- Add softened butter and sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a large mixing bowl with an electric hand mixer.
- Beat the butter and sugar together on low speed for about 30 seconds to combine, then increase the mixer speed to medium.
- Continue beating on medium speed for 3-5 minutes, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula a couple of times throughout the process.
- The mixture is ready for the next step in your recipe when it has lightened in color, appears “fluffy,” and you can no longer see the sugar crystals.