Saturday, September 1, 2012

The "Reverse Creaming" Method

After seeing this technique take hold and become a growing trend, I think it is time to give credit where credit is due. I saw a reputable cooking show the other night where the baker said, "We came up with the idea to mix this cake a little differently - we mix the butter into the flour." And I thought, "You didn't just come up with that!"

Rose Levy Beranbaum rocked the baking world when her book The Cake Bible was published in 1988. In this book, she shared interesting new techniques for mixing and baking cakes, based on a very scientific approach. She had painstakingly researched cakes, breaking down the process like a series of scientific experiments. She came up with an idea that sounds simple on the surface: Mix the ingredients in a different order for better results - specifically, mix all of the dry ingredients together first, then add the butter into the flour so the fat coats the flour. Doesn't sound like anything revolutionary, but to generations of bakers who had always followed the old "cream the butter and sugar together first" rule, this was almost sacrilege. I remember my mother thinking it was downright crazy. I'm sure if my grandmother had been still alive, she would have rolled her eyes skyward and muttered something about the new generation trying out all kinds of weird things!

After flipping through my much-loved copy of The Cake Bible (with many notes in the margins), I cannot find anywhere that Rose actually gives this method a name. I think that other bakers, needing a quick way to reference this technique, are the ones who called it the "reverse creaming" method. In her initial explanation, Rose describes it like this: "In the traditional method, the butter and sugar are creamed before adding the other ingredients. The method I have chosen for my butter cakes is faster, easier, and virtually eliminates any possibility of toughening the cake by overbeating. Creaming still takes place but in a different way: All the dry ingredients are first combined with the butter and a minimum amount of liquid, which coats the flour before adding the remaining liquid ingredients." (From The Cake Bible, Part 1, page 23)

I have tried this method on virtually every butter cake recipe I bake, and it really does work. I do not use it every time, but I use it more often than not. More and more, I am seeing new recipes come out using this method instead of the old-school creaming method, and when I develop my own butter cake recipes, I usually use this method as well. I imagine there will come a day when new bakers using modern recipes will only be familiar with this technique, and creaming the butter and sugar first will be something reserved for cookie making.

Have you tried this technique? What do you think of it?