While there are scores of methods used in baking, many recipes for cakes, muffins, cookies, and more utilize one of two methods: the muffin method or the creaming method. (The muffin method is not just for muffins and is common to many recipes.) Once you understand these two methods, you will quickly recognize the method in any recipe and instantly know what you must do to mix the batter or dough properly. Understanding these methods and how they work will make you a better baker.
The Creaming Method
In the creaming method, we cream the fat (butter or shortening) with the sugar until light and then add the other ingredients. In the muffin method, we mix the liquids and the dry ingredients separately and then stir them together until just combined.
In the creaming method, place the butter or shortening in the mixing bowl of your electric mixture. Add the sugar, spices, and salt and cream the mixture together with the paddle attachment for the mixer. (Of course, recipes that call for oil instead of butter or shortening cannot be creamed unless you substitute butter or shortening.) The objective is to drive the sharp sugar crystals through the butter or shortening creating tiny voids of air in the mixture. This entrained air will help the muffins rise.
The creaming method has two advantages: The sugar and fat are well-dispersed in the batter and the entrained air tends to make for a light, fine crumb in the muffins.
Steps in the Creaming Method
- With the paddle attachment of an electric mixer, cream together the butter or shortening and sugars, spices, and salt until light.
- Add the eggs one at a time, creaming after each.
- Add the liquid ingredients and stir them in. Do not over-stir or you may reduce the entrained air in the creamed mixture.
- Mix the flour and leavenings together and then add them to the creamed mixture. Mix until just combined.
- Place in tins or a pan and bake immediately as set forth in the recipe.
The Muffin Method
The muffin method is quick and easy. Mix the dry ingredients together. Mix the wet ingredients together including the eggs then add the wet mixture to the dry mixture with a spatula and you’re ready to bake. (Don’t use the electric mixer.) Stir the two mixtures together with a spatula only until combined—not lump free—so that the gluten in the flour will not be developed.
(One advantage of the muffin method is that both the dry and the wet ingredients can be mixed the night before. Store the wet ingredients in the refrigerator and then add the wet to the dry ingredients in the morning and you’re ready to bake. You’ll save time on that busy morning.)
Steps in the Muffin Method
- Whisk all the wet ingredients together including the eggs and oil or melted butter.
- Whisk the dry ingredients together.
- Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Stir with a spatula until just moistened.
- Place in tins and bake immediately as set forth in the recipe.