Cold vs. Softened Butter for Creaming

By Cook's Illustrated Published July 2013

Most recipes that call for creaming butter and sugar ask for softened butter. Is it OK to start with cold butter and just cream it longer?

When you cream softened butter and sugar, the grains of sugar are forced through the fat, leaving millions of microscopic air bubbles in their wake and giving the butter a fluffy appearance. In the heat of the oven these bubbles expand, contributing to the lightness of the finished product. Room-temperature butter is best for aeration (we’ve found that about 67 degrees, or when the butter gives slightly when pressed, is ideal). If the butter is too firm and cold, the fat won’t hold air; if it’s too soft and warm, the bubbles collapse.

We cut 8 ounces of fridge-cold butter into small pieces and beat them at medium speed in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. It took 15 minutes for the butter to become as malleable as room-temperature butter, but without the sugar in the mix to aerate it, we had a hard time visually gauging its texture. Instead, we had to take its temperature—a fussy extra step.

Here’s what worked: We added the sugar (1 cup) to the cold butter from the start. Then all we needed to do was beat the mixture until it turned pale yellow and fluffy, the usual visual indication that butter has been nicely aerated. This took a total of about 15 minutes, compared with the 3 minutes that it takes following the conventional method of first beating softened butter and then creaming it with sugar. In sum, as long as you’re willing to put in the extra mixing time, go ahead and use cold butter when creaming—just add sugar from the start.