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Creaming butter by hand - beat or cut and fold?

I never, ever bake, so I have no electric mixer. Thus I'm creaming butter by hand. Ought I beat the two together, or cut and fold the two together? I realize the goal is to add air to the mixture, but I'm unsure which is more effective. The former seems like it would beat the air both in and out, the latter seems like it might not add enough air into the mixture.

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  1. A large fork works fairly well. If you have a stout (not the wire type) dough blender you could start with that, then finish up with a large fork. It's the whipping action, not the pressing action, that brings the air into the mix so don't be afraid to use the wrist action to accomplish that goal.

    1. You want to beat, with a mixing sppon (the wooden type), since the objectives are to incorporate some air and mix the sugar in so thoroughly it dissolves.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Caitlin McGrath

        Well I used a mortar to smash the butter, then used the ole wood spoon to cut-and-fold until the mixture was incorporated well (which took forever), and then beat/whipped it until soft and expanded. Tiring work, although I think I made it harder on myself than necessary as I was paranoid about letting the butter get too warm, so I started with it still quite cold.

        1. re: fame da lupo

          I think it's much easier to use the back of the spoon to incorporate the sugar - just keep pushing it against the butter and sort of smear it against the side of the bowl. Then, as the butter softens up and the sugar dissolves into it, you can start fluffing the mixture up.

          1. re: Caitlin McGrath

            Wood does not transmit heat like metal, so wood is a better tool material for this...

      2. Agree with Caitlin McGrath, use a wooden spoon, that's what my Nana always used. And yes, the sugar needs to be dissolved. Make sure the butter is at room temp.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Phurstluv

          68F. Anything much warmer and the butter will start to melt, which will defeat its ability to help hold the air.

        2. i didn't think the purpose of creaming was anything but thoroughly softening the butter or fat and incorporating the sugar -- not beating air into the mixture.

          2 Replies
          1. re: alkapal

            The purpose is to create tiny air pockets where the gasses during cooking can fluff the cookie, making it less dense and more chewy.

            1. re: fame da lupo

              ok, good to know. the only thing i've really creamed is the shortening and sugar for my family's sour cream pound cake. now i'll cream with a conscience. ;-).


          2. Lots of great replies but don't over think it - just quickly get the butter and sugar together. Personally, I use a fork and pull it through the butter and then turn and pull again.

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              1 Reply
              1. re: Joe MacBu

                Yes I had read this awhile ago, hence my paranoia about letting the butter get too warm.

              2. It depends on what the end result is supposed to be. If you're making pastry or dough, generally you cut the butter into the mixture and then gently rub it in with your fingers, handling it as little as possible so that the dough stay light and airy (and as cool as it can)... if you're making a cake or some cookie recipes, it will generally say 'cream' the butter and sugar, which is to stir it and squish it in with the big spoon. When you beat the eggs in you put the air back into it and make it light and fluffy then.

                1. some banana bread recipes call for creaming, others just add melted butter, a lot easier. Is creaming really necessary or is banana bread with its density just a special case? when can you safely avoid creaming sugar?

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: divadmas

                    There are two methods of cake baking - the "cake method" and the "muffin method". The cake method involved creaming the butter and sugar together and then adding the wet and dry ingredients. The muffin method involves combining the dry ingredients and then adding any wet ingredients along with melted butter and/or oil, and is the method used for most quick breads and muffins (allthough they can be made using the cake method, too).

                    The main difference is in the end result - the cake method gives you a finer, more delicate crumb that we normally associate with layer and pound cakes. The muffin method produces a more coarse, rough crumb texture that we generally see in muffins and quick breads. Which method you choose depends on the results you want.

                    1. re: housewolf

                      I almost always melt butter when making cookies that call for creaming. Melting yields a flatter, crisper cookie but I prefer that.

                      On the rare occasions when I use a boxed mix that calls for oil, I sub melted butter.

                      1. re: greygarious

                        I wonder what using ghee would do to a cookie's flavor? If you were going with the melty route, that is.

                        1. re: fame da lupo

                          Interesting - it might have less of a buttery taste as the milk solids aren't there.

                          Like Greygarious, I like a thinner crispy cookie (otherwise I'd eat muffin tops) so I don't refrigerate the dough before baking. While I haven't yet actually melted it (genius stroke GG!), I don't hesitate to work the dough more than necessary with my hands, when they're the type of cookie you roll into balls.

                          I'm with Karl S on the virtues of the wooden spoon for creaming the butter, btw.

                          1. re: cinnamon girl

                            Here's how a) lazy, and/or b) obsessed with minimizing steps and equipment I am: Melt the butter on low microwave power, so it doesn't erupt. Then stir in the sugar, which will cool down the butter enough that I can crack the eggs right into the mixture as long as I then stir it up vigorously. Stir in the vanilla. Dump in the flour and top it with the leavening, salt, and any spices or cocoa. Swish that around without going into the liquid below, then stir it all together well. Finally, dump in the nuts, chips, etc. and stir again. One bowl, one wooden spoon, plus the cookie scoop and measuring cup/spoons to clean (the pan is parchment-lined). Pretty much the same M.O for cakes.

                            1. re: greygarious

                              Ha ha . . . this is pretty much my MO for most things too. When making brownies, or anything chocolate, everything gets mixed in the pot I melted the chocolate in (no microwave). Even better if I can weigh everything - still fewer things to wash. An added advantage to our way is that all of butter/chocolate/whatever ends up in our finished product, not down the drain. A disadvantage is that sometimes it's hard to watch (very closely anyway), other people bake . . . drives me a bit nuts seeing all the unnecessary steps and mess.

                  2. I find that when I am baking cookings I do not want to incorporate a lot of air into the batter. I am also currently without a suitable mixer, and I just use my hands to incorporate the sugar into the butter. If I were baking a cake, I would have to beat well to get the air incorporated.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: roxlet

                      Yes - I don't always want to incorporate air into cookie dough either. It really depends what you're making. A few years ago my little hand-held mixer died on me and to replace it I got a hand-held Kitchen Aide. (Don't want to take up valuable counter space with a stand mixer.) Anyway, it's a little work horse and I torture tested it. I got the one with dough hooks and immediately tried a croissant dough with it. Then pb cookies ... all sorts of things. If you're in the market . . . I'm just sayin'. Costs more than most other hand-helds though, but a lot less than a stand mixer.