Reverse creaming may sound like an old-fashioned baking term that you don’t see very often in cookbooks these days, but it’s a fundamental technique to master if you want to turn out sturdy yet tender cakes with a fine crumb.
Creaming is the more commonly used technique for mixing cake batter (you’re likely familiar with it even if you don’t realize it), and while both approaches can produce a delicious cake, there are distinct differences between the cakes’ rise and structure. Cakes mixed by creaming have a domed top and a fluffier, open crumb, while cakes made using the reverse-creaming method are flat in appearance and sturdier in texture, with an ultrafine crumb with few air pockets.
Creaming involves beating softened butter and sugar in a stand mixer until light and fluffy. Then you mix in the eggs, followed by liquid and dry ingredients. As soon as the flour is added, gluten starts to form, creating the structure that makes for an airy cake. This order of mixing makes the butter malleable, which allows other ingredients to blend in easily. And the tiny sugar crystals act like extra beaters, incorporating air. These tiny air pockets expand during baking, giving the cake lots of lift and an open crumb.
But sometimes you want a more velvety cake with very fine air pockets. We turn to reverse creaming when making coffee cake because we don’t want the streusel crumbs to sink; when we want to turn out an evenly stacked layer cake; and when we’re making filled cupcakes (see this page). For the reverse-creaming method, you start by combining all of the dry ingredients—including the sugar—and then you incorporate the softened butter. Last, you add eggs and any other liquid. With this approach, the butter coats the flour particles, creating a barrier that slows down gluten development. Gluten won’t start to form until the flour comes into contact with the water from the egg whites, so coating the flour particles with butter before the eggs are
added inhibits gluten development, making for less rise and fewer air bubbles. Just as important, since the butter isn’t beaten with sugar, less air is incorporated, which also translates to less rise and a flatter cake rather than a domed one—a boon for streusel-topped cakes and decorated layer cakes.
1 Cut butter into ½-inch cubes and allow to soften.
2 Add softened butter and any other fats to dry ingredients and mix on low speed until dry ingredients are moistened and mixture is pebbly or sandy. Increase speed and beat until batter comes together.
3 Mix in liquid ingredients in stages on medium-low speed, scraping down bowl between each addition.
4 Beat batter until light and fluffy and no lumps remain.
5 Thicker, less aerated cake batter will have sturdier, tighter crumb and flatter top when baked.