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I love to make some cookies but have limited kitchen appliances. I don't want to cream the butter and sugar by hand -- I did that before and it was not fun!

Is it possible to make good cookies without creaming the butter and sugar or should I just buy a hand-mixer?

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You may wish to edit the title of your question to say 'without'. –  daniel Jul 25 '10 at 9:23
    
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5 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

The only way that the butter could be incorporated without creaming would be to melt it. Melting butter, or allowing it to get too soft, even if just left at room temperature too long will result in what I call "pancake cookies"...those that just spread out and run all over the baking sheet. This is also the reason that butter should NEVER be softened in the microwave.

Creaming butter and sugar aerates the butter with tiny little air pockets. The reason it becomes lighter in color is due to the air that has been incorporated. The moisture inside the air pockets from the butter itself to eggs, milk, etc. turns to steam and the steam (aided by any leavening that might be called for in the recipe) helps the cookies to "puff".

If you don't cream the butter and sugar you'll most likely have very poor results. The expense of the wasted and ingredients and your time would be enough to pay for an inexpensive hand mixer.

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There was a Cook's Illustrated article a year or so back on chocolate chip cookies that recommended toasting the butter for 1-3 minutes, which is a step beyond simply melting it. I tried it out, and it does add a ton of complexity to the flavor of the cookie.

That recipe called for creaming with a whisk, but since the butter was liquid, it was very easy.

It made for a great chocolate chip cookie, but I'm not sure how well it would translate to other cookie types.

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Actually, you can do very well with melted butter if you are willing to refrigerate the dough for an hour or so afterwards. The reason you get pancake cookies is that the gluten doesn't have time to set in the oven before the liquid butter runs. If you firm it back up, it works beautifully. Here is an Alton Brown recipe that exemplifies the technique.

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Further to that, allowing chocolate chip cookie dough to rest in the fridge for 24-36 hours before baking (yes, this requires an astonishing level of self-control) will give you cookies with a lot more depth of flavour. –  daniel Jul 25 '10 at 18:43
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If you can, you should do this anyway - even if you have creamed the butter. –  Shog9 Jul 25 '10 at 19:18
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You do need to cream the butter and sugar. It's a principle part of the method.

You don't need to buy a mixer. All you need is a wooden spoon. Try dicing the butter into small cubes (before mixing) if you find it difficult.

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Yes it's possible, they just won't be nearly as fluffy and yummy.

However, creaming butter with sugar is trivial. It sounds like you tried it with butter fresh out of the refrigerator. You should let the butter come completely to room temperature before trying to cream it. I typically set it out at least an hour prior. Cutting it into small pieces can help it warm up quicker too.

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Creaming the butter and sugar is kind of an important step. The--simplifying here--sharp edges of the sugar slice through the fat globules in the butter, making them smaller, which makes the end result more tender. –  daniel Jul 25 '10 at 8:38
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