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Type 1: In a typical quickbread (and certain cake recipes), the instructions will say to mix just until combined, no actual stirring or beating. I think this is because (assuming this is made with wheat flour, either white or whole), overstirring or beating would cause the gluten to develop which would result in a chewy texture, not usually desirable in this case.

Type 2: Then there's the type of cake where the sugar and butter are creamed and then if I recall eggs are added and then the flour. It's not a problem to continue mixing it, in fact mixing is not only okay but required. This tends to result in a light, fluffy cake.

My question: If my premise for Type 1 is correct (overbeating develops the gluten), why does it not hold true for Type 2?

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Your premise for Type 1 is correct, however you seem to have misunderstood Type 2: It is no problem to continue mixing the butter-sugar-egg mixture, but as soon as the flour is added, the gluten starts to develop and you should just mix until combined.

For Type 2, creaming the butter and sugar helps to incorporate a lot of air into the mixture, resulting in a light and fluffy texture. This continues when the eggs are added. Proper creaming takes some time, but at some point further mixing does not improve the result any more.

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It's not a problem to continue mixing it, in fact mixing is not only okay but required

You seem to have misunderstood something. It is as much or as little a problem as with the other type of cake. The more you mix it after full incorporation, the worse your cake texture will be. You have probably overestimated the effect of overmixing in the first type (probably you mean muffin-method, or "throw everything into the bowl at once" cakes). They are still quite edible if you mix them a few minutes with a mixer, they are just not as great as when you mix less. But mixing when the flour is added is required in both cases (to incorporate the flour) and has the same negative effect in both cases (gluten development) so the optimal moment for both is to stop when just incorporated.

The texture of the second method will always be fluffier than the first, this is just how the method works (and the main reason to use it for certain cakes).

  • True, I did misunderstand how Type 2 cakes are made. It's been years since I made one, but was clearly confusing beating the butter/sugar/eggs with continuing to beat after addition of flour. Now I get it! Thank you. – Arlo Nov 7 '19 at 0:24

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