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Creaming is a baking method in which butter and sugar are aerated to create a fluffy, light base for cakes or other baked goods. Simple, yet often done incorrectly, creaming can be accomplished with a electric stand or hand mixer or be whipped by hand. This method is often essential to produce light, fluffy cakes or non-dense cookies.
Room temperature butter or margarine is most often used when creaming, but shortening or another solid fat can also be used. Fat that is too cold and hard is difficult to mix, and fat that is too warm and soft will not hold its shape. Therefore, softened but not melted fat is necessary so the air bubbles can be retained in the mixture. Ultra fine sugar is often used, but regular granulated sugar may be used for some recipes or can be ground into fine sugar. Regardless of its texture, most often white sugar is used in creaming.
Depending on the chef, a stand mixer or hand held mixer is the preferred choice for creaming. If a stand mixer is used, a paddle attachment is necessary. A stand mixer is generally more powerful and so can thoroughly aerate the butter when used. Since it is more powerful, however, there is a greater danger of overmixing. Whipping the butter and sugar by hand is also an option, but takes a considerable amount of time and usually requires an experienced chef to do properly.
Whatever appliance is used, the butter is first whipped alone. This breaks up the butter into a smooth, more spread out mixture, which makes it easier to incorporate the sugar. It also begins the aeration processes, introducing small air bubbles into the fat.
Once the butter is creamy, the sugar can be added. Sugar is added gradually, beating in each small addition before another is included. Periodically, the sides of the bowl should be scraped so all the butter can be mixed in the bottom of the bowl. As the sugar is added, the butter will lighten from a yellowish cream color, eventually turning to a very pale yellow or off-white. It should also increase in volume.
Overbeating or underbeating are common mistakes for beginners when trying the creaming technique. Both result in less fluffy mixtures. Overbeating causes the butter to become too soft and thus unable to hold as many air bubbles, whereas underbeating does not provide enough air bubbles. When complete, the cream mixture should have a cloud-like fluffiness and not appear gritty. If touched, however, the butter-sugar mixture will feel a little gritty because the sugar is not dissolved in the fat, only mixed evenly into it.