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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.

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.)

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. 

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

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.

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. 

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

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