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How to Cream Butter and Sugar Like a Pastry Pro

Psst: Welcome to Ask a Food Editor, our new series where we answer the culinary questions keeping you up at night. Or, OK, keeping you from eating the best meals of your life (which may be even worse, TBH). Have a question for us? Email katherine.gillen@purewow.com!

Dear Katherine,

When a baking recipe says to “cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy,” what exactly does that mean? How long should I mix the two ingredients, and what speed should I use on my mixer?

Sincerely,

Cookie Queen

Dear Cookie Queen,

I sometimes think that baking recipes assume everyone has the same knowledge when the reality is that a baking dictionary would be super helpful to most (novice or not). Lucky for you, learning how to cream butter and sugar is simple. It’s all about knowing what to look for.

SheraleeS/Getty Images

First, What Does It Mean To Cream Butter And Sugar?

Creaming is a baking technique that involves combining a softened fat (usually butter, but not always) and sugar until it becomes voluminous, fluffy and, well, creamy. It’s most often done with a stand mixer (such as a KitchenAid).

What’s the point of creaming butter and sugar? Can’t you just stir the two together?

Creaming butter and sugar accomplishes an important effect: It incorporates air into the final mixture to help leaven your baked goods and create a tender crumb. To get all science-y, the tiny sugar crystals cut through the softened butter and leave air pockets in their wake, which then capture the gases released by the leavener in the recipe and adds loft to your cookies (or cake, or quick bread).

If you skip the creaming step, the recipe will most likely turn out heavy and dense instead of light and tender. But if you over-cream the butter and sugar, you’ll likely end up with something gummy and dense. If you know what visual cues to look for, you’ll end up with perfectly creamed butter and sugar every time.

It’s all about buttah

Proper creaming is a delicate balance of mixer speed, timing and butter temperature, but I would argue that the most important factor of the three is the butter. You want it to be softened…but not too soft (and not melted). If the butter is too cold, the mixture will be dense. If it’s too soft, it will be oily. Neither is good for a cookie or cake.

When you press a finger into the butter, it should give easily but still be solid and maintain some structure. There are about a million hacks to soften butter fast, but none are as reliable as simply taking the butter out of your refrigerator 30 to 60 minutes before you want to use it.

Katherine Gillen

How To Cream Butter And Sugar:

Your butter is the ideal temperature, and now you’re ready to start baking. Here’s how to cream butter and sugar using a stand mixer.

Step 1: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the softened butter and sugar.

Step 2: With the mixer on medium speed (about 3 to 4 on a KitchenAid), cream the butter and sugar, scraping down the bowl as needed, until it’s pale yellow in color and visibly fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Voilà, you’ve just creamed butter and sugar. Pretty easy, right?

Katherine Gillen

Mistakes To Watch Out For:

Other than butter temperature, you’ll also want to be mindful of your mixer speed and timing. Modern stand mixers are equipped with pretty powerful engines, so you can stick to a moderate speed (usually 3 to 4 or “medium”) to get the job done. And with your butter softened, it shouldn’t take more than five minutes at the very most.

If you’re worried that your butter and sugar aren’t creamed properly, here are a few cues to look for:

  • If the mixture is under-creamed, it will look yellow, chunky and grainy, and spread like natural peanut butter. Rub it between your fingers and it will feel like wet sand.
  • If the mixture is over-creamed, it will be nearly white in color, with an oily yet gritty texture like a body scrub.
  • Properly creamed butter and sugar will feel smooth and, um, creamy. The butter and sugar will look homogenous.

Now, go forth and bake a batch of cookies like a pro.

Xx,

Katherine

Food Editor, PureWow