Make cake? Stop creaming your butter and sugar together


Reverse creaming is like the confidence exercise of cakes. It seems backward and absurd at first, but once you get the hang of it and understand what’s going on, you’ll still believe it.

You’ve probably baked a cake using the creaming method. It goes like this: Using an electric mixer, you beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then add the eggs one at a time, followed by the liquid and dry ingredients. Although creaming is a perfectly acceptable method of making a cake, it can lead to overmixing, which can result in a dense, tough dessert.

Now imagine changing the order of things. Rather than starting with butter and sugar, you start by rowing your to dry ingredients – flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda – followed by butter and liquid ingredients. This is how reverse creaming (also known as the two-step method) begins. It’s a technique that’s nearly impossible to mess up, and it’s how expert baker and cookbook author Rose Levy Beranbaum bakes all of her cakes.

With two degrees in food science, Beranbaum has a wealth of knowledge. His books have long been a resource for those aspiring to become better bakers. She wrote her master’s thesis, “Sifting Flour Affects the Quality of a Yellow Cake,” while a student at New York University, and it led her to pursue a culinary career. Beranbaum first shared the reverse skimming method in a 1982 issue of Illustrated Cookbut the technique did not become popular until she published The cake bible in 1988.

In the bestselling book, almost every recipe calls for reverse creaming. Over the phone, Beranbaum told me she had learned the technique from commercial baking books. The original method was designed for professional bakeries using high fat, but the method described in these books would not work with butter. Beranbaum, who says she “never liked following the rules,” decided to make her own. “In my many experiments I’ve found that if the butter is at the right temperature – and that’s a pretty good range between 65º and 75º [Fahrenheit], it will work perfectly,” she says. “So this creates a faster, better, and easier way to mix a cake.” It takes ten minutes to prepare and produces a perfect cake every time.

Start by mixing your dry ingredients

Beranbaum starts by using an electric mixer to combine his dry ingredients. In The Baking Bible, she explains that sifting isn’t enough to evenly distribute the dry ingredients unless you do it multiple times, and that “using the blender instead is a great time and energy saver.” If you’re using a hand mixer, be sure to use a large bowl to prevent the flour from flying all over the place.

The butter goes dry.

Photo by Joseph De Leo, food styling by Kaitlin Wayne

Add your butter and make sure it is at room temperature

Here are some words of wisdom from Beranbaum: “Everything has a temperature, and in cooking, that makes all the difference.” Beranbaum thinks reverse creaming is a foolproof method for cakes, as long as the butter is at room temperature. Your butter should be soft but not so soft that it starts to puddle. By mixing the butter with the dry ingredients, the flour and its gluten-forming proteins are coated in fat, minimizing gluten development and resulting in a more tender cake. Beranbaum adds the room-temperature butter to the well-mixed dry ingredients with a small amount of the liquid called for in the recipe — “just enough to disperse the fat,” she writes — then beat it in for 90 seconds. This helps air the cake and gives it some structure.