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I have this "weekend meyer lemon cake" recipe:

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The problem I am facing while making the cake is that I don't get the creamy mixture, mixing sugar and butter. it's like bread crumbs right now, or something like that and sugar crystals are still visible and distinguishable. Should I go on by adding the eggs as the recipe calls for or should I wait for the butter to melt and try to beat the sugar and butter until creamy?

  • What temperature was the butter when you started? If it's in stick form, you should be able to pick it up and bend it (unwrapped) without it breaking. – Joe Oct 7 '14 at 18:22
  • @Joe: I put it on the counter straight from the freezer for about 20-30 minutes and I thought it was at room temp at the time I started beating sugar and butter. But now I can't separate them, how should I get the creamy result now? – Gigili Oct 7 '14 at 18:31
  • Also, are you using a hand mixer or are you using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. I have never creamed butter and sugar as successfully with a hand mixer as i have with my stand mixer. People swear it can be done, though. – Stephen Eure Oct 7 '14 at 18:43
  • @Gigili : it takes more than an hour when coming out of the fridge ... coming out of the freezer, it was way too cold to process. You can try covering, and letting it sit for an hour or two, then try mixing again to see how it behaves. Generally, if I'm going to be baking something that requires creaming, I take the butter out the night before to sit at room temperature (unless it's the middle the summer, as it'd melt too far) – Joe Oct 7 '14 at 18:53
  • @StephenEure: Unfortunately I am using a hand mixer! – Gigili Oct 7 '14 at 19:09
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There may well be more than one issue here.

  1. The type of butter. If you're using what is sometimes sold as "cooking butter" then this has a much lower moisture content than normal butter, and so it is very difficult to get the sugar to dissolve enough to cream.

  2. Sugar choice. Granulated sugar is much more difficult to cream than than caster (superfine) sugar due to the large crystal size.

  3. Recipe proportions. It is more common to use roughly equal weights of butter and sugar when creaming them together; here there is more than twice as much sugar compared to butter, so I am not at all surprised that it is not ending up as a very creamy mixture.

As the aim of the beating process is to dissolve the sugar and to add air, adding one of the eggs and beating well would allow you to achieve both of these.

  • Thank you for your answer. Now that you mentioned that issue on recipe proportions, I think the amounts of ingredients in this recipe is off! I ended up with a batter which was more like a cookie batter than a cake batter, since I didn't want to think about throw the whole thing away, I added a few table spoons of milk to it before putting in the oven! – Gigili Oct 7 '14 at 21:12
  • @Gigili There are a lot of kinds of cakes. For example, the batter for a coffee cake is generally pretty thick (similar to muffins), while the batter for layer cakes is often a lot more liquid. – Cascabel Oct 7 '14 at 22:33
  • If you must pull your butter from the fridge, learn how to soften it in your microwave. Unwrap the butter, put it on the wrapper, in the microwave. 4 seconds with each side down, with a break inbetween works well on my microwave. It may leave you with hard ends on the stick, or a melting center. You have to play with it over time to get it right. Once the butter is the right temp, soft, but not melting, creaming goes pretty quick, and there is no butter pebble phase. – Wayfaring Stranger Dec 17 '16 at 1:07
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Disclaimer: as noted in the comments below, this technique requires a fair amount of baking experience, care, and to some degree, luck.

One helpful technique used for butter-creaming is to chop the butter into small pieces, place over a pan of softly simmering/hot water, and whisk until the butter is in a creamed state (with care taken not to melt the butter; usually the butter has to be taken off the double-boiler a few times to whisk any melted butter back into the rest if that occurs); the end result should be an opaque and thick bowl of creamed butter with a consistency ranging from a thick custard to standard, machine-creamed butter (the whisking helps retain form, and a lower temperature can help prevent the butter from getting too warm). The sugar can then be folded in until homogenous and whisked further until peaks are formed (if they have not already).

There is a fair amount of sugar in that recipe compared to butter, so creaming it may require more effort. Also, using a finer-grained sugar ("bakers'" sugar, for example) can help getting the mixture to a creamy state as the sugar crystals can more readily dissolve and dissociate into the butter; this however can require more vigorous whisking to introduce the needed air bubbles into the mixture since the finer grains of sugar will introduce less air when mixed.

This technique also comes especially handy when baking in batches that result in quantities of butter too large to cream in a standard standing mixer (and thus hand-creaming is required).

  • This won't create creamed butter, just a mix of melted butter and sugar. Such a mix will behave very differently in a cake from creamed butter. – rumtscho Dec 14 '16 at 22:38
  • You don't melt the butter (it stays white and opaque, not translucent and yellow); the heat is used merely to soften it to a gelled state. At this consistency, it is also possible to whisk the butter and sugar mixture to soft and medium peaks. Perhaps you could try and let me know how your attempt goes? I'd be curious to know! – acidnbass Dec 14 '16 at 23:06
  • Ah, so I must have misunderstood it, you are trying to soften the butter without melting. I have tried that before, and it never behaves like slowly-softened butter, even if you manage to keep it much firmer than a custard. There is also always the risk of it inadverently melting completely even with tight watching - one time I tried this shortcut I had to run to a store in the middle of baking because I suddenly had a lump of solid butter sitting in a puddle of melted butter on my hands. I never do this on purpose, only as a last attempt to save a baking project. – rumtscho Dec 15 '16 at 11:28
  • @acidnbass I have used the technique you suggested, with great success. I would say, however, that it is a fairly high-risk strategy and, as rumtscho says, you can end up melting some of the butter completely before softening the rest at all. Maybe not advisable for a beginner baker. – canardgras Dec 15 '16 at 14:30
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    @Rumtscho and Canardgras Thank you both for your input. I recognize that it can be a dicey affair using this technique. I've updated it to include more details as well as having added a disclaimer. Since this technique can make creaming a much quicker and easier process, especially when the amount of butter than needs to be creamed prevents the use of a standard standing mixer, and since personally I still have found it very useful, so I've decided to leave it here as it may inspire others when searching for answers for their own issues. – acidnbass Dec 17 '16 at 0:08

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