If you’ve ever made a batch of chocolate chip cookies (which I most certainly hope you have), you’ve undoubtedly been given a deceptively simple place to start out: “cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.” But, what does that mean exactly and why is it necessary? Can you do it by hand or do you need a stand mixer? Should you just give up and get store-bought treats instead?
Don't worry, we've prepared the ultimate guide for you the next time you need to whip up a batch of cookies. Here’s everything you need to know about the fundamental baking technique of creaming butter and sugar and the importance it plays in cookies, cakes, and other baked goods.
What Does It Mean to Cream Butter and Sugar?
To cream softened butter and granulated sugar together is to aerate the mixture until it’s about doubled in size and turns from a more intense buttery yellow to a lighter, softer, pale pastel yellow. It serves a couple of purposes, not often outlined in detail directly in recipes, but nonetheless interesting and important for the final product:
- Creaming butter and sugar allows the sugar to be evenly dispersed throughout the cake or cookie, helping to create a light and fluffy final structure through this network of fat, air, and sugar crystals that traps the gases your other leavenings (baking soda or baking powder for instance) will give off.
- Creaming is often one of the first steps in recipes that call for it, with all other ingredients being added to the aerated mixture, and adding all this air to the base of these batters also extends the yield of your baked good. In other words, not creaming the butter and sugar properly will lead to fewer, denser cookies.
How to Cream Butter and Sugar, Step-By-Step
- Gather your tools and prep your ingredients. While you can cream butter and sugar using your hands, an electric mixer (either a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or a hand mixer with beaters) is the best tool to make this a quick and painless process with outstanding final results. You’ll also need a large bowl, your soft butter (still cool, but pliable—ideally about 60°F) and sugar.
- Cream, at medium speed, for about 5 minutes. If your kitchen is hot, it may take less time to achieve the “light and fluffy” texture called for here, and if it’s cold, it make take more. However, err on the side of caution, as it is possible to overdo it and actually beat all the air out, leading to dense bakes. In addition to light and fluffy, use these descriptors as your guide: doubled in size, pale yellow. If you want to be super, super sure that you’ve hit the right mark, take a bit of the mixture between your fingers. You should barely feel any of the sugar and it should feel moist but not oily. If it feels like wet sand, you need to keep going, but if it feels oily and gritty, you’ve gone too far.
- Remember to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Use a rubber spatula once or twice during the creaming process to scrape down the sides of your bowl and paddle or beaters. This removes and reintegrates any dense butter and sugar clumped up there that can come back to haunt you later.