Bake

How to Cream Butter and Sugar Without a Mixer

Starring: your own two hands.

September  4, 2019

Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: How to cream butter and sugar the old fashioned way.

How to Cream Butter and Sugar from Food52

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Forget, for a moment, the 20-minute meals. Push the no-bake desserts out of your mind. Ask the 5-minute lunches to take a walk, just for a minute. 

Sometimes we want to be romantic about cooking, to do things with our own two hands. To do our non-appliance-wielding grandmothers proud. When we do, we’re going to have to know how to live without the mixers and the beaters of the world. (And, okay, sometimes you just don't have a mixer nearby—thanks, Airbnb kitchen.) 

After you read this post, you’ll be able to cream butter and sugar without anything but a bowl, a wooden spoon, and a fork. Dessert’s likely going to take you a little bit longer. Your arms are going to be a little more tired. But you’re going to let appliances steal none of the glory, and you’ll be rewarded well: with cookies, quick breads, cakes—that you’ve made with your own two hands. Which sounds like an occasion worth celebrating with another cookie...

How to Cream Butter and Sugar from Food52

Step one: Soften your butter.
This, of course, is a hands-off process, but if you want the best results, it does require a spry mind, or at least a functioning Google calendar. Friends, you must remember to take your butter out of the fridge or the freezer. 

If it’s in the fridge, take it out about two hours before you plan on using it, depending on how warm your resident counter is. If it’s holing up in the freezer, move it to the fridge two days beforehand, and then follow the fridge protocol. Last-minute butter softeners, we direct you to our community’s wonderful solutions. And we urge you to remember next time. Soft butter is your BFF when creaming by hand.

Step two: Combine the butter and sugar with a wooden spoon
To get the process started off on the right foot, make like you’d mix anything else together. This will set you up for success when you move on to step three. You can start with a wooden spoon, and mash the ingredients against one another. If your butter isn't perfectly soft, you can get in there with your two hands—working the sugar into the butter will help it soften and combine.

How to Cream Butter and Sugar from Food52

Step three: Break out the fork.
This is the tool you’ll use to faux-cream. Using the back of a fork (choose one that is leggy with long tines), start beating the butter and sugar together, in the same motion you’d use to whisk your scrambled eggs. Keep at it—enlist a friend if you're not ambidextrous—until there are no longer any streaks of butter. You’re looking for uniform, fluffy texture and a slightly lighter color. Depending on how much butter and sugar you have, this could take anywhere from 2 to 5 minutes. 

Keep in mind that, unless you’re somewhat of a body builder, you won’t get the same lift (aka aeration) in your baked goods that you might with a stand mixer. But does it really matter? You’ve just creamed butter and sugar, appliance-free. And that's going to taste pretty darn great.

How to Cream Butter and Sugar from Food52

Photos by James Ransom 

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Kenzi Wilbur

Written by: Kenzi Wilbur

I have a thing for most foods topped with a fried egg, a strange disdain for overly soupy tomato sauce, and I can never make it home without ripping off the end of a newly-bought baguette. I like spoons very much.

25 Comments

Carleta September 24, 2019
It works just as well to use your hand from start to finish. Your body heat softens the butter, you can feel the lumps in the sugar to smash, and after the texture gets fluffy, you can keep on going to incorporate eggs and vanilla. The bonus after you scrape the yummy off and wash your hand- how very soft your skin will feel
 
Debbie September 22, 2019
This is how I was taught to do it. Wooden spoon. I would ask my mother if it was good enough but usually the answer was to keep beating. I must admit, I now usually use my stand mixer.
 
Marie N. April 12, 2019
I have an uncle that was a cook in the U.S. Army. He was helping to prepare and cook the food that was to be served at my rehearsal dinner 39 years ago. The meal was being prepared at another family members home who did not own a mixer. My uncle asked me to cream the butter & sugar for a cake he was planning to make. When he handed me the bowl with butter, sugar, and a fork inside to do the creaming I was in shock. He kept me at that creaming until he felt no grittiness as he swiped his fingertip along the bottom of that bowl. I do believe that was likely the best creaming of butter & sugar that I've ever done. I'll always remember it.
 
Hà T. January 10, 2017
Hi, i live in a tropical country. The temp around here is 30~33, 27 28 in the morning and night so the butter will soften very quickly when i am creaming it. Before it get buff up, some parts kinda turn into luqid. Can i cream it for couple of minutes and put it back in the fridge then start again until it's light and luffy?

Thank you!
 
Hà T. January 10, 2017
*liquid
 
Shelley M. December 13, 2014
Does a food processor do the creaming properly?
 
Lori December 3, 2014
My grandmother did it all with her hands. The heat of her hands melted the sugar into the butter.
 
dchu March 23, 2014
I like to use a potato masher or ricer.
 
Jean H. March 7, 2014
Cream butter and sugar with a mixer??? Always the back of a wooden spoon. The spoon used only for baking.
 
ginny April 3, 2014
just how my grandmother taught me.
 
AntoniaJames April 9, 2014
And how my mother taught me, when I was a young girl, before we had an electric mixer of any kind. Back of a wooden spoon, all the way, not bothering with a fork; it's even possible to do it with butter out of the fridge, if you're patient. (Cut it into small bit and get to work. The friction will warm it up in no time.) ;o)
 
Lorena March 6, 2014
I didn't feel old until I read this. I'm 30-something and this is how I learned how to cream butter since we didn't own a mixer. This is still how I do it. The only time my mixer comes out is if I'm baking a cake or mixing masa for tamales.
 
Sherlock October 7, 2014
I'm 33 and we always had a mixer. I honestly never thought about this.
 
Melanie A. March 6, 2014
I must be a bit older or maybe just more old fashioned but I was really surprised to come across something explaining how to do this. My 86 year old mother still creams her sugar with a wooden tool my dad had made for her. It's like a big wooden ball on a stick that weighs about 1 kilo and works a charm.
 
KierstenL March 6, 2014
Who creams butter with a fork??? The whole principle is to have the sugar crystals cut into the fat to aerate it. How can you do that with a fork? You started on the right track - mix with a wooden spoon. You could have stopped there. Using a wooden spoon to mix in the butter and sugar is the perfect mechanism for combining the two smoothly. Bonus points goes to those who use the back of the spoon to "push" the butter and sugar together. This creates a light fluffy texture sans mixer. Your finished product in the picture looks greasy and not well incorporated.
 
je M. March 6, 2014
My hand mixer broke halfway through creaming butter and sugar the other day for blackberry jam shortbread, and I had to finish by hand just like this. I was contemplating replacing it, but now maybe I won't. You're right, my grandmother didn't have one.
 
Carol March 6, 2014
I remember my mother and grandmother using this technique, long before mixers were household appliances. They made angel food cakes by beating the egg whites by hand as well.
 
Virginia P. March 6, 2014
I did this just the other night making Ginger Molasses cookies. I don't have a mixer so, I do this every time I bake anything actually. It works really well. And yes, it takes a bit more time and some arm/neck strength but not a ton. :)
 
Melanie B. March 6, 2014
I remember in home ec. class about 20 years ago that we would stand the bowl (with the butter and sugar in it) in a sink of hot water and would beat it. This would soften the butter, then (before it would melt) we would take the bowl out, wrap the base in a tea towel, hold it in one arm (cradled next to our bodies) and continue beating, with a wooden spoon, until it was creamed. Sometimes I still use this method if I can't be bothered getting the mixer out.
 
Melanie B. March 6, 2014
Oh and also if I go somewhere that doesn't have a mixer available!
 
Katelinlee March 6, 2014
What a nice home ec. class. Mine involved this French toast made with off-brand Wonder Brand that still makes me shudder.
 
Sherlock October 7, 2014
Hohhot. Thanks for this!
 
Nancy M. March 6, 2014
Oh come on. Just get out a mixer.
 
Sherlock October 7, 2014
My Kitchen Aid standing mixer was stollen during a move and I cannot afford another one. Also some people simply can't afford one at all. It's a good skill to have.
 
Spicy T. March 6, 2014
O. em. gee. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for this tip!!!