Loads of cake recipes open with ‘cream the butter and sugar together’, or ‘beat the butter and sugar together until creamy’. For cookies you can normally get away with simply beating together. But cakes? They can be a little more demanding.
New bakers can sometimes struggle with getting cakes to rise, and under-beating at the beginning can be one of the main reasons. As you beat the butter and sugar, you’re adding air and slightly dissolving the grains of the sugar. As the batter heats in the oven, the air bubbles expand and cause it to rise (along with the bubbles from the raising agent too).
Before you even start – is your butter this soft?
It needs to be soft enough to paddle around the bowl with a spoon, but not greasy or melting. Give it a few seconds in the microwave (be very careful doing it this way), or leave in a warm place if you have time. Cutting it into cubes first will speed things up and help the butter to melt evenly. Mary Berry likes to put her butter directly into a bowl of luke warm water – but I always wonder what happens to any last bits of liquid in the bowl.
Now to get beating. The best and quickest path to fluffy butter and sugar is with an electric hand beater or stand mixer. Here’s my vintage Kenwood in action.
But with elbow grease and a wooden spoon you’ll get there in the end.
So, do you normally stop here?
You may be in a rush, or have an aching arm, but trust me, keep going and you’ll see the difference in your baked goods. Make sure you scrape the sides of the bowl down every so often so that every last bit gets beaten.
What you’re looking for is a pale, soft bowlful with a texture almost like buttercream frosting. The volume will have increased too. If you’re using caster (superfine) sugar, it’s likely that your mixture will cream more quickly. Granulated sugar is just fine, but will never be quite as fluffsome.
When you think you’re done, give it 30 seconds more, for good luck. Now you’re ready to add the eggs and everything else as the recipe states.
Happy baking x Jane