Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we’re sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.
Today: How to cream butter and sugar the old fashioned way.
Sometimes we want to be romantic about cooking, to do things with our own two hands. To do our non-appliance-wielding grandmothers proud. When we do, we’re going to have to know how to live without the mixers and the beaters of the world. (And, okay, sometimes you just don’t have a mixer nearby—thanks, Airbnb kitchen.)
After you read this post, you’ll be able to cream butter and sugar without anything but a bowl, a wooden spoon, and a fork. Dessert’s likely going to take you a little bit longer. Your arms are going to be a little more tired. But you’re going to let appliances steal none of the glory, and you’ll be rewarded well: with cookies, quick breads, cakes—that you’ve made with your own two hands. Which sounds like an occasion worth celebrating with another cookie…
Step one: Soften your butter.
This, of course, is a hands-off process, but if you want the best results, it does require a spry mind, or at least a functioning Google calendar. Friends, you must remember to take your butter out of the fridge or the freezer.
If it’s in the fridge, take it out about two hours before you plan on using it, depending on how warm your resident counter is. If it’s holing up in the freezer, move it to the fridge two days beforehand, and then follow the fridge protocol. Last-minute butter softeners, we direct you to our community’s wonderful solutions. And we urge you to remember next time. Soft butter is your BFF when creaming by hand.
Step two: Combine the butter and sugar with a wooden spoon.
To get the process started off on the right foot, make like you’d mix anything else together. This will set you up for success when you move on to step three. You can start with a wooden spoon, and mash the ingredients against one another. If your butter isn’t perfectly soft, you can get in there with your two hands—working the sugar into the butter will help it soften and combine.
Step three: Break out the fork.
This is the tool you’ll use to faux-cream. Using the back of a fork (choose one that is leggy with long tines), start beating the butter and sugar together, in the same motion you’d use to whisk your scrambled eggs. Keep at it—enlist a friend if you’re not ambidextrous—until there are no longer any streaks of butter. You’re looking for uniform, fluffy texture and a slightly lighter color. Depending on how much butter and sugar you have, this could take anywhere from 2 to 5 minutes.
Keep in mind that, unless you’re somewhat of a body builder, you won’t get the same lift (aka aeration) in your baked goods that you might with a stand mixer. But does it really matter? You’ve just creamed butter and sugar, appliance-free. And that’s going to taste pretty darn great.
Photos by James Ransom
Additional ideas from the editors:
If you’re not sold at “thin apple slices and a walnut cinnamon-sugar streusel,” then perhaps a moist, tender sour cream cake studded with chocolate chips will sell you.
What’s better in life than a warm tray of chocolate chip cookies straight out of the oven? I’m hard-pressed to find anything. This recipe from author Phyllis Grant is a tried-and-true classic chocolate chip cookie with a few brilliant techniques. The trick to a crispy edge but gooey center? “You must take them out of the oven when they’re still raw in the center,” says Grant. “People will tell you you’re crazy. Ignore them.”
Two kinds of ginger bring a fiery kick to this springy rhubarb buckle, and after making this, you may just want to add candied ginger to all crumb toppings from here on out. If it’s not rhubarb season, substitute any fruit like apples in the fall or stone fruit in summer—just be sure to adjust the sugar accordingly to the sweetness of the fruit.
Lots of butter and a little shortening create tender, melt-in-your-mouth sugar cookies that have a more nuanced flavor than most thanks to vanilla seeds, nutmeg, and honey.
This layer cake is like the sophisticated older sibling to chocolate-peanut butter cake. Tahini brings toasty nuance to the buttercream and rounds out the moist, sour cream and oil-based chocolate cake. Try it for your next birthday, special occasion, or chocolate-cake-doesn’t-need-a-special-occasion kind of day.
What’s on your “to-bake” list? Let us know in the comments!