Reverse creaming is like the confidence exercise of cakes. It seems backwards and absurd at first, but once you get the hang of it and understand what’s going on, you’ll still believe it.
You’ve probably baked a cake using the creaming method. It goes like this: Using an electric mixer, you beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then add the eggs one at a time, followed by the liquid and dry ingredients. Although creaming is a perfectly acceptable method of making a cake, it can lead to overmixing, which can result in a dense, tough dessert.
Now imagine changing the order of things. Rather than starting with butter and sugar, you start by rowing your to dry ingredients – flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda – followed by butter and liquid ingredients. This is how reverse creaming (also known as the two-step method) begins. It’s a technique that’s nearly impossible to mess up, and it’s how expert baker and cookbook author Rose Levy Beranbaum bakes all of her cakes.
With two degrees in food science, Beranbaum has a wealth of knowledge. His books have long been a resource for those aspiring to become better bakers. She wrote her master’s thesis, “Sifting Flour Affects the Quality of a Yellow Cake,” while a student at New York University, and it led her to pursue a culinary career. Beranbaum first shared the reverse skimming method in a 1982 issue of Illustrated Cookbut the technique did not become popular until she published The cake bible in 1988.
The cake bible
In the bestseller, almost every recipe calls for reverse creaming. Over the phone, Beranbaum tells me that she first learned about the technique from commercial baking books. The original method was designed for professional bakeries using high fat, but the method described in these books would not work with butter. Beranbaum, who says she “never liked following the rules,” decided to make her own. “In my many experiments I have found that if the butter is at the right temperature, and that is a pretty good range between 65° and 75° [Fahrenheit], it will work perfectly,” she says. “So this creates a faster, better, and easier way to mix a cake.” It takes ten minutes to prepare and produces a perfect cake every time.
Start by mixing your dry ingredients
Beranbaum starts by using an electric mixer to combine his dry ingredients. In The Baking Bible, she explains that sifting isn’t enough to evenly distribute the dry ingredients unless you do it multiple times, and that “using the blender instead is a great time and energy saver.” If you’re using a hand mixer, be sure to use a large bowl to prevent the flour from flying all over the place.
Add your butter and make sure it is at room temperature
Here are some words of wisdom from Beranbaum: “Everything has a temperature, and in cooking, that makes all the difference.” Beranbaum thinks reverse creaming is a foolproof method for cakes, as long as the butter is at room temperature. Your butter should be soft, but not so soft that it starts to puddle. By mixing the butter with the dry ingredients, the flour and its gluten-forming proteins are coated in fat, minimizing gluten development and resulting in a more tender cake. Beranbaum adds the room-temperature butter to the well-mixed dry ingredients with a small amount of the liquid called for in the recipe — “just enough to disperse the fat,” she writes — then beat it in for 90 seconds. This helps air the cake and gives it some structure.
If you forgot to temper your butter (i.e., let it warm to room temperature), Beranbaum recommends cutting it into several pieces and popping it in the microwave for a few seconds. Avoid cold butter, as your cake batter will not emulsify properly.
Add the rest of the ingredients and avoid under-mixing
Finally, you will mix your remaining ingredients in a separate bowl and add them to the batter in three steps. Because the flour is coated in fat, it is very difficult to overmix a cake made with the reverse creaming method. But you still have to be careful! While overworking a cake batter can result in a tough, dry cake, undermixing can be just as bad. According to Beranbaum, “the undermix does not form enough gluten, resulting in a crumbly coarse grain and a very flat top crust with a slightly sunken center.” The problem won’t just be texture: “If it’s sunken,” she told me, “it’s probably because the cake wasn’t well baked, which affects the taste.
With Beranbaum’s reliable method, you could have a cake batter made and baking in less than ten minutes. Reverse creaming may not seem intuitive if you’ve always started your cakes by creaming the butter and sugar first. But the method saves some prep time and ensures you won’t waste time eating tough, disappointing cakes again.
Super Moist Yellow Cake with Rich Chocolate FrostingGenevieve Yam
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Originally appeared on Epicurious