In the last post, we explored the importance of creaming time for volume and texture in cupcakes. This step forms the foundation for the cupcake’s rise when it bakes. Another important factor for creaming is the temperature of the butter. Just like creaming time, butter temperature affects the amount of air in the batter. Today, we’ll explore how butter temperature affects cupcake rise and texture.
Goal: To see and taste a difference in cupcakes made with butter that’s too warm or too cold
Recipe: Vanilla Cupcakes from Pretty. Simple. Sweet.
Method: Divide the butter into three portions. Warm one up, keep another at room temperature, and refrigerate the third. Make batter from each portion of butter. Divide into cupcake tins and bake.
Results: As the butter temperature changed, we noticed differences in
– Creaming time
– Batter homogeneity
– Batter consistency
Conclusions: If you get all the ingredients into the bowl, you’ll get a decent cupcake. To get the highest rise, use room-temperature butter. Cold butter can work, too, but it’ll take more time to cream. Warm butter will not produce as tall of a rise, but the resulting cake can be delightfully moist and tender.
Ingredients and Equipment
- 111g Countryside Creamery unsalted butter, divided
- 200g Baker’s Corner granulated sugar, divided
- 186g Baker’s Corner all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp Clabber Girl baking powder
- 1/4 tsp Stonemill iodized salt
- 2 large Goldhen eggs, at room temperature
- 120g Friendly Farms whole milk, at room temperature, divided
- 12-tin muffin pan
- KitchenAid 5-speed hand mixer
Baking the Cupcakes
- Line a 12-muffin pan with muffin cups and preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Divide the butter into three portions (37g each). Microwave one portion until it’s soft enough for a finger to cut through (warm). Let the second warm to room temperature (RT), and leave the third in the fridge (cold).
- Divide the sugar into three portions (47g each). Combine flour, baking powder, and salt (191g total). Divide into three portions (64g each). Whisk the eggs together (108g total) and divide into three portions (36g each). Divide the milk into three 40g portions.
- To each portion of butter, add a portion of sugar. Cream the warm and RT mixtures at medium speed for 2–3 minutes, and cream the cold mixture at medium speed for 4–5 minutes.
- To each portion, add eggs and mix until combined. Then add half (52 g) a portion of flour, mix, add an entire 40g portion of milk, mix, and add the remaining flour. Mix until just combined.
- Divide each batter into four muffin cups (55g per muffin). Bake 20 minutes, cool 5 minutes, then remove muffins to a rack until completely cooled.
To better understand these results, I suggest checking out the earlier posts about butter’s roles in leavening and texture. It may also be helpful to review what happens in under- or over-leavened batters.
Because the warm butter was so soft, I creamed it for the same amount of time as the room-temperature butter. The sugar was incorporated quickly to make a sandy, wet mixture. I wanted to cream the cold butter for the same length of time as well, but it was nowhere near ready in three minutes. Because the cold butter was hard, it was difficult to incorporate the sugar, so I ended up creaming it for a couple minutes longer.
After the creaming step, the cold butter continued to pose problems. Even though the eggs were at room temperature, the butter remained chunky because it was cold, and it did not blend into the eggs as easily as the other two butter mixtures.
When the batters were fully mixed, they differed in thickness. The thickest batter was the warm butter batter, and the thinnest was the cold butter batter. This was probably a function of how much the sugar dissolved in each batter. In the last post, we saw that larger undissolved sugar crystals thin a batter, but sugar that’s already dissolved doesn’t. Sugar dissolves more in warm butter, so the final batter is thicker. In cold butter, sugar remains in larger crystals, and the final batter is thinner.
As the cupcakes baked, they rose to different heights. The cold butter cake was the shortest, most likely because it was under-creamed. Cold butter isn’t malleable, so it can’t hold much air. Most of the creaming time was used to warm the butter to room temperature, and I stopped before the butter contained enough air. Although we can cream cold butter if our mixers are powerful enough, it takes more time to beat it until it’s light and fluffy because it first has to soften enough for us to force air in.
The warm butter cupcakes were also slightly shorter in height. Butter that’s too warm holds less air because the soft, melty butter collapses on any air pockets that we may add. Liquid oils cannot hold air for the same reason.
Out of all the cupcakes I baked for experiments, the warm butter cupcakes were by far the most unique in texture. I actually liked them a lot—they were the most tender and moist. You can see in the photo below how crumbly they were compared to the others. They probably wouldn’t be sturdy enough to hold up as a layer cake.
As we’ve discussed, fat is important not just for aeration, but also for tenderizing. Fat coats flour and prevents the gluten proteins from absorbing water and forming structure. The softer the fat, the more effectively it coats the flour and prevents gluten formation. Furthermore, because the fat prevents water absorption, it leaves more water free to contribute moistness to the cake. In these cupcakes, because the warm butter was softest, it prevented the most gluten development and created the most tender cake.
As for the cold butter cupcakes, they were under-creamed. As we discussed in the last post, under-creamed cupcakes are denser and tougher, so these cold butter cupcakes were not as light or tender as the warm or room-temperature butter cakes..
Butter temperature is important for successful creaming that leads to good rise and texture. Butter that’s too cold will warm and whip up to the same texture as room-temperature butter, but that requires extra power and time. At the other end of the spectrum, butter that’s too warm does not hold air as effectively as room-temperature butter. As a result, the baked cake has a coarse crumb, but it’s delightfully tender and moist. For the best rise and texture, use butter that’s at a cool room temperature, around 65–70°F (18–21°C).
Corriher, Shirley O. Bakewise; Scribner: New York, 2008.
Figoni, P. How Baking Works, 3rd ed.; John Wiley & Sons, Inc.: Hoboken, 2011.