A lot of people ask me how we get that amazing texture in our cupcakes. And while most people know that I’m pretty stingy with our secrets, this is something I don’t mind sharing with other potential bakers. Some of you are familiar with the two methods, and you probably have a preference, but I wanted to discuss the two methods and identify their key differences.
The most popular method is the creaming method – this method is used for cakes, cookies, brownies, etc. The process starts by creaming together the sugar and softened butter. What this does is perforate the softened butter to create little pockets to allow for even distribution of the dry ingredients into the butter, which helps the cake become lofty as it bakes. After creaming the sugar and butter, the eggs and flavoring (i.e. vanilla) are added, and any remaining wet ingredients are then added, alternating with the dry ingredients.
The Creaming Method generally produces more lofty cakes, but more loft usually means bigger texture in the cake, with bigger air pockets. This is especially true when using all purpose flour (which I never recommend for cakes). The creaming method also takes significantly more time to complete than the 2-stage method, which increases the production of gluten in your batter, and gluten creates tough, dry cake. The creaming method also requires the use of another bowl to hold your dry ingredients prior to mixing.
The method we use is the 2-stage method. I think most professional bakers use this method, however I have seen plenty of bakers on Cupcake Wars on Food Network still using the creaming method. It all depends on your recipes, and your own personal preference.
The 2-stage method starts by putting all of your dry ingredients into your mixing bowl – sugar, flour, salt, baking powder/soda, powdered milk, whatever you use that’s dry. Turn the mixer on and let the dry ingredients incorporate while you prepare all your wet ingredients (butter, vanilla, eggs, milk, oil, whatever you use that’s wet.). Butter should be room temperature, or at least soft, but contrary to popular belief room temperature eggs and milk don’t make any difference over cold eggs and milk in the final product (Not to mention it’s not safe food handling practice to allow those items to come to room temperature before using them). I first add the softened butter to the dry ingredients and allow it to incorporate well. While it’s mixing I mix together the rest of my remaining wet ingredients – eggs, dairy, vanilla, etc. – in a small liquid measure (since we have to measure the liquids anyway). With the mixer running, I add about half the wet mixture to the dry mixture, scraping down the sides as it mixes. When that becomes incorporated, I add half of the remaining wet ingredients, scrape the bowl, then add the last half of the wet ingredients. With a final scrape, all of the ingredients should be well incorporated and you can stop the mixer. Don’t over mix!
We prefer the 2-stage method because it takes about half the time, and we don’t have to dirty up all our bowls to make cupcakes. Our only dishes are the mixing bowl, and the measuring cups we’d be using anyway. It also results in velvety, slightly denser cupcakes with a small crumb, and virtually no disappointing air pockets. The quick incorporation of ingredients helps prevent the formation of long gluten strands, so the cupcakes are very tender and soft.
So if you have a killer cupcake recipe, try both methods and see how it changes your cupcakes – you might be surprised at how well one method works over the other. 😉