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Why do some cake recipes require creaming butter and suger, and others just say 'dump it all in and mix?

mikeofaustin's picture

Why do some cake recipes require creaming butter and suger, and others just say 'dump it all in and mix?

I'm currently trying to understand cake recipes, and I see both types of recipes, the 'mix it all together in a large bowl', and others that want you to cream the butter and suger together first, then add eggs, etc.  This 'creaming' is supposed to give the cake 'fluffyness'.   However, I find it hard to belive the others wouldn't be 'fluffy' too, otherwise, the recipe wouldn't have lived.. 



Barkalounger's picture

I've found that creaming sugar and butter (which incorporates small air bubbles), and then slowly incorporating eggs (to wrap binder and moister around the air bubbles...or something like that) makes for a much lighter and fluffier end product.  I'm sure this will get me in trouble (and I'm not trying to be a snob), but my guess is that the "throw everything in at once" recipes live on because they're easier, and because they produce cakes that are "good enough" (better than most store-bought crap, but never anywhere near as good as the more carefully-made cakes)

mariana's picture


Hi Mike,

in both cases the fluffy structure of the butter cake is created by aerating butter with sugar and using some leavening (soda and/or baking powder). During baking, gasses from the chemical leavening will additionally expand the batter and enlarge the existing air pockets created by beating fat with sugar.  

The creaming method is traditional and can be done by hand using a simple wooden spoon or wisk: first, cream butter with sugar until very fluffy, then add eggs and dry ingredients, other liquids. 

The mixing method is modern and is used when you have a high power mixer, handheld or stationary. Here, the cake mixture is made with shortening and cold eggs or with soft butter and room temperature eggs (i.e. everything is at 65-75F). Shortening creams nearly at any T, but butter aerates best when it is at 65-75F. Then you can cream butter/shortening, sugar and flour toghether, along with the rest of the wet ingredients and the butter/shortening will be aerated just as well.  The resulting cake grain is finer and more velvety and the crumb is more tender than with the creaming method, because the gluten in the flour is never in direct contact with liquids, flour particles are coated by butter/shortening during mixing.

If there is no beating at all (barely mix everything and dump it in the cake tin), then the fluffy structure is due only to the chemical leavening: soda or baking powder.



apprentice's picture

Hi Mike,

Given human creativity and the inventions of the industrialized era, cake mixing methods defy simple classification. Years ago, there were certain types of cake -- egg sponges, pound and layer cakes -- each with its own defined mixing method. These have been transformed so that now we have a lot of hybrids.

Among batter type cakes, there's the traditional creaming method with variations. For example, the sugar/batter method that Mariana described. Most cakes made with this method can also be made with a variant called the flour/batter method. Here, fat and a portion of the flour equal to the weight of the fat are creamed together first. This develops a stronger structure sometimes helpful in supporting fruiit (as in cherry pound cake). Eggs and sugar are then beaten until foamy and added to the first batter in stages. Finally, other ingredients are folded in.

A newer and increasingly popular method for batter cakes is the blending method of which there are many versions. In one, the dry ingredients are mixed with the fat. The liquid is then added in stages. Yet another blending method starts with dissolving the sugar in warm water. Etc., etc.

As you've noticed, the all-in method is another approach. It became possible in the 1930s with the development of emulsified shortenings that allow for high ratios of sugar and water. These are the so-called high ratio cakes that dominated the baking industry for many years but are now losing favour because of concerns about trans-fats. The only caution with this method (apart from the health issue) is to put the liquid ingredients into the bowl first to avoid possible dry particles remaining at the base and not getting properly mixed in.

Mixing methods for foam-type cakes (sponges, angel food and chiffon) are another story. I think your question relates more to the batter type -- yes? It's a fascinating subject. I find that more understanding of ingredients and how they work together can add a whole new level of joy and success to baking.

Felila's picture

You might want to look at Rose Levy Beranbaum's Cake Bible. She's a proponent of mixing the flour and the butter and THEN adding the liquid.

Thanks to her book, I went from making chewy one-inch high cakes to baking light and fluffy creations that are often requested for church occasions. 

mikeofaustin's picture

Hmmm... it looks like it's more of a science to making cakes. 

mikeofaustin's picture

Found this little page... 

nbicomputers's picture

it depends on the formula.  the people that said that creaming adds air bubbles as right.  in fact a properly creamed mix will account for 25% of the levening.  A mis that needs to be creamed if not done right will hav a  heavy and dence crumb also properly creamed mixs will be smoth if you ofer vream or under cream the liqued when added will curdle the mix. it would still bake but be heavy

when using a cake flour creaming the flour and fat is also ok for things like pound cake that is the method that will produce the best results.

as for dumping everything in the bowl there are som formulas that have a very high percentage of sugar based on the flour som as high as 150 percent. in that case the flous cake only and the fat which is special made to hold liqued in high percentages are mixed till soft not flufy but soft then the sugar and other dry items are added as as a portion of the liqued about 1/3.  the mix is mixed very slowly and the rest of the liqued is added in 4 parts also slowly in order not to curdle the mix.

these types of cakes are called hi-ratio due to the high sugar contant. but when baked they have a very close but light grain and are very soft with good keeping time a hi-rato type of cake can be frozen for months wraped in plasrtic and will almost as good as the day they were baked