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Kitchen Basics: Creaming Butter and Sugar

Susan writes the blog Cardamom Kitchen to share her culinary experiences as an Indian-American rooted in the Midwest. Luckily she's also sharing her experiences with Whole Story readers by demystifing essential cooking skills with step-by-step instructions and her own handsome photos.

Creaming Butter

Butter has the weight of gold around the holidays. At least 80 percent milk fat, it adds a richness and melt-in-your-mouth quality to baked goods that oil and shortening cannot deliver. Butter also carries the flavor of lemon peel, vanilla, and other extracts that transform desserts from being tasty to the thing of dreams.

Of equal importance, butter contributes to the structure of baked goods. To produce cakes with a tender crumb and cookies that rise just right, butter is often beaten with sugar or "creamed." When combined, the sugar crystals cut into the butter like tiny shards of glass creating air bubbles. Baking powder and baking soda cause the air bubbles to expand. Bungle the creaming process and your cake will have the consistency of a tattered kitchen sponge. Your cookies will resemble coasters. I learned this the hard way. 

How to Cream Butter and Sugar

To cream butter so it’s spot on, fit a standing mixer with a paddle or dust off your handheld mixer.

Bring the butter to room temperature. This step is crucial as air pockets will not fully form if the butter is too cold or too warm. You’ll know a stick of butter is at the right temperature if a gentle poke leaves a shallow imprint and the corners of the stick are still sharp. (Many people warn against microwaving butter to bring it to room temperature. However, when I’m in a pinch I’ll heat butter in the microwave for 5 seconds at a time to bring it to room temperature. I flip the stick between each interval to make sure it's being heated evenly.)

Creaming Butter

Slice the butter into 1/4-inch pieces and place it in a large, deep bowl as it will flit around as you begin to whip it. 

Creaming Butter

Beat the butter on slow speed for a minute to soften it.

Creaming Butter

Increase the speed of the mixer to medium and beat the butter until it resembles thick icing. Using a spatula, scrape down any butter that has crept up the sides of the bowl.

Creaming Butter

With the mixer still running, slowly add one-third of the sugar along the side of the bowl. Once the sugar is blended in, add the rest of the sugar in increments until it is fully incorporated. 

Creaming Butter

Continue to beat until the mixture becomes pale yellow and fluffy. 

Creaming Butter

I’d love to see your tips for creaming butter and sugar! Share them with your fellow cooks in the comments section below.

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Susan B says …

I usually decide to bake cookies at the spur of the moment. I put the butter in the microwave on 20% power for about a minute and then check using the same method you do, then cream it til it looks like yours does. I use a wooden spoon as I hate cleaning electric mixer blades. I'll have to plan ahead and pull out the butter. Perhaps them my cookies will rise more.

Hanan Muhammad says …

I cream my butter the same way. Cakes and cookies comes out the same way.

Christina says …

I cut the stick of butter into small pieces before bringing it to room temperature, as this gets the butter to room temperature faster.

Facing Cancer Together says …

Is it wrong that I just want to eat that right now? Forget making cookies - give me the butter and sugar! ~Catherine www.facingcancer.ca

babz says …

What are your thoughts on using salted or unsalted butter when you have the opposite of what the recipe asks for? Does the salted butter carry more water content?

Yvette says …

Thank you, I will try it. I will see what difference it will make. It does sound like it will make the cake or cookies more tender.

Anne says …

Susan, are the photos of the butter on the plate from your kitchen? If so, can you tell me what pattern those plates are? I love them and have been looking for a replacement for my current blue and white china.

bobbyjoemichael says …

mmm butter

Pat Worsley says …

I have never creamed my butter this way. I usually put the sugar in and then add butter. So thank you for the info. I will try this next time. So, can ytou tell me why people warn against bringing the butter to room temp in the microwave? I loved this article.

Trissha says …

I'm real leary of the calorie/fat/cholesterol/sugar content. Any comments on using spreadable butter (in a tub at 50% of regular calories) and a stevia or splender sugar substitute?

Elva R says …

I would like to point out that when shopping for butter, make sure to get unsalted for baking unless your recipe calls for salted.