My Secret Motivation: The Music of BwB!

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Hey Y’all! It’s been an incredible ride with all of you so far. Before I go into today’s fun topic, I just want to say “thank you” to all of you who’ve found your way here, whether you’re a loyal subscriber or a first-time visitor. It’s my hope that you find this site to be a useful aide in your baking journey, and that you’re getting information that’s helping you become a better baker, one step at a time.

I often get asked about what keeps me motivated to blog, bake, and sell baked goods at my newly reopened bakery (gloriabakery.co for those of you in Maryland!).

The truth is, I honestly have no idea. Baking and blogging are just things that I love with my whole heart, so I just…do them.

There is one thing, however, that keeps me motivated above all else.

And that, Family, is my music. My earbuds are as much a part of my mise en place as my flour.

I am literally never without music when I’m baking or blogging. Or doing anything else for that matter. My creative life exists in the beautiful space between sound waves and cocoa powder.

In this Post:

My Music Taste

Friend, my music taste is all over the place. It’s so eclectic that my husband recently asked me if I was having an identity crisis.

He sure did. On a Saturday morning, while I was singing Marc Anthony’s “Valió la Pena” at the top of my lungs, he looked at me with great concern and asked me that very question.

I’ve known that song for YEARS.

I love 90s R&B and hip hop. Marc Anthony? He is maestro, and seeing him live in concert was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. The Hamilton soundtrack? I know the whole thing. But I’m not someone who’s married to a particular genre or artist. My only requirement is that music make me feel something. And, Honey, “Never Too Much” by Luther Vandross makes me feel something. That intro grabs me every time.

For baking and blogging, I put together a playlist of *some* of my favorites on Spotify. Feel free to click here and take a look and see if any of your favorites are on there!

Most of the time when I’m working, I just shuffle that playlist and let it run. In certain circumstances, though, I need to hear something specific.

Because of course I do. I’m a baker. We like rules.

Some of My Current Favorites (This List Literally Always Changes)

I usually run my BwB Official playlist on shuffle in the background while I work. Sometimes, though, I just. want. to. hear. something. specific when I’m doing a particular task.

You’re about to see a glimpse of my totally random mind. Enjoy!

Favorite Song for Whipping Egg Whites–“Natalie” by Bruno Mars

This song has nothing to do with eggs or baking in the literal sense. My rational mind knows that. The story is this: Bruno is mad about some woman named Natalie who ran away with all his money. He makes sure to point out that she did it for fun. This only infuriates him even more.

The point is, there is absolutely nothing about this song that should make it my go-to for whipping egg whites by hand.

However, in my mind, “Natalie” is the only song that I need to hear when I’m doing this:

The cadence of the whisk with this beat in my ear makes me feel happy and accomplished. I could whip egg whites all day when I’m listening to this song.

Well, at least until my shoulder gets tired.

Favorite Music for Early Morning Baking–Sam Cooke’s One Night Stand! Live at the Harlem Square Club

My day begins every day at 4:00 a.m. Which means that I’m usually in my kitchen somewhere between 4:30 and 5:00 a.m.

When you’re baking that early, you need great music.

The album that always puts a giant smile on my face is Sam Cooke’s Live at the Harlem Square Club. Cooke was a singular talent, and is sometimes credited for being the creator of soul music.

That’s a big deal.

While that assertion has been debated many times over, what is absolutely not ever debatable in my kitchen is Sam Cooke’s genius. What’s also not debatable is the fact that Sam Cooke can make me dance at 4:45 in the morning when I’m prepping lemon pound cake. There are no skips on this album. None.

As much as I love my BwB playlist, there aren’t many whole albums on that list can make me dance, laugh and sing from start to finish at 4:45 in the morning. From the between-song banter to his soulful, live vocals, this is my go-to when it’s still pitch-black outside and I need to be productive.

Favorite Music for Late-Night Baking: Jhené Aiko’s Souled Out

Friend, I prefer early morning productivity to late-night productivity. I prefer it by a mile.

If I’m baking late at night, it’s only because something has to be done. I may or may not be my cheerful best at these times (I’m not). But sometimes you just have to gut it out and do it.

That is when Jhené Aiko’s Souled Out album usually comes into play. When it’s Christmas Eve and the cinnamon rolls still aren’t done? When I’m running on fumes and still have a sink full of dishes and a cake in the oven at 11:00 p.m.? Jhené’s sometimes-subtly-angry vocals help me push through. She’s brilliant in her use of double meanings in her music, and her voice? HER VOICE?

My goodness. Her voice is direct and piercing and sensually soulful. And Souled Out takes you on a ride and a half. Again, there are no skips on this album for me.

Plus, there’s the added bonus that I can enjoy it at low volume and not wake up my whole family.

Because if I’m baking and making a mess at 11:00 p.m., I really, really need to be alone.

Conclusion

There are so many things I could add to this post, but it would end up being 19,000 words long. I just really, really enjoy music when I’m baking and wanted to share that love with some of my friends. I’m always looking for new music, so please feel free to email me some new suggestions!

Unlike so many of the baking rules that I follow in my kitchen, these rules are very flexible. There are times when all I want to hear is female hip hop and R&B artists from the 90s. Others when I will spend hours upon hours with Anthony Ramos and Ed Sheeran and not even realize how much time has passed.

For more chill moods? Leslie Odom, Jr. and Asa (pronounced Asha) are currently in heavy rotation. And, while I’m not a card-carrying member of the Beyhive, Beyonce is very well-represented in my earbuds.

And, my Friends, I cannot post this on October 15, 2021 without mentioning that 🚨ADELE released new music TODAY!🚨

There’s literally so much more music on my BwB Official playlist that didn’t even get mentioned here. The long and short of it is that it’s all amazing music that makes me feel something. Music is one thing that really keeps me going when I do this work. The baking. The writing. The planning. The troubleshooting. It inspires me to feel like I can accomplish anything, and that’s a pretty cool thing.

See you next time!


My son told me to tell you all to “have a good day and subscribe!” 😊 So here’s the subscription link in case you’d like to do just that!

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Finished pumpkin spice pound cake with glaze.

Pumpkin Spice Pound Cake (With Recipe!)

Hi there! It’s Fall, which means that Pumpkin Season is officially upon us!

Pull up with your pumpkin spice tea and your coziest cardigan, Beloved. This one’s quite a read. It also includes a picture tutorial so that we can make it together!

In this Post:

About Pound Cakes

The quintessential American pound cake got its name from its ingredients. A pound of flour, a pound of sugar, a pound of eggs, and a pound of butter. In theory, you should be able to take (roughly) a pound of each of those ingredients, with some milk, leavening, salt and other accoutrements added, and come up with a delightfully dense, rich cake with a tight crumb.

For many Black Americans in the United States, the words “pound cake” evoke powerful memories. To this day, pound cakes appear at weekly Sunday dinners and also at special holiday dinners. Pound cake travels neatly with the beloved family who’s leaving to go home after a wonderful visit. Pound cake can be a vehicle for ice cream, but also does just fine by itself. Pound cake still represents home to those who have moved far away from family.

My first memory of pound cake included me watching my mother use her Cuisinart hand mixer to mix her famous 7-Up cake, while telling me stories about what it was like to grow up in Demopolis, Alabama. She told me stories about her first crush, about growing up as the youngest of seven(!) children, and about how my grandmother was love personified while she mixed that batter. We also had some challenging conversations when she told me–over pound cake–what it was like for her as a young Black girl to come of age in the Deep South during the 1950s and 1960s. And every single one of those stories meant everything to me. They mean even more to me now that she’s not here and I’m raising my own children.

When she was done telling stories, that 7-Up cake would be in the oven and and a beater would be in my hand. I understood my assignment. That was the magic of pound cake for me; it was a connection between me and the family that was very far away. Pound cake, to me, meant connection. That connection endures to this day.

There are innumerable stories about Black people boarding buses and trains from Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, and the entire Southeastern United States, heading north and west to Los Angeles, Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, and New York during The Great Migration. Those migrants carried with them with bags of homemade rolls, fried chicken, and pound cake. It is a cake that endures even today, connecting generations of families in a special way that many foods cannot.

It is why, when I re-open my custom bakery (The Gloria Bakery) this fall, those pound cakes will be prominently and proudly featured on that menu.

About This Pound Cake

This pound cake in particular was really fun to develop. First of all, it involves pumpkin spice, which I’m told is pretty popular in the fall. Also, because pumpkin is full of water (even the canned stuff!), it presented an interesting challenge for me to get the texture just right.

I love the tight crumb of a well-executed pound cake. It’s just so…satisfying. Plus, I can walk around the house with a slab of pound cake and not have it crumble all over my clothes. #NoJudgmentZone

To maintain that tight crumb with this pound cake, I ended up replacing all of the liquid with semi-solid pumpkin puree. While you can replace canned pumpkin puree with the fresh stuff, the additional water could lead to inconsistency in the cake texture. No worries though! If you love fresh pumpkin, just place your fresh pumpkin puree over a bit of cheesecloth, set in a deep bowl. A couple of hours later, you’ll find that a lot of the water has drained!

The Technique

Mise en Place

The cake in this recipe has a lot of dry ingredients, which can make it seem like a much more complicated bake than it really is. But once those dry ingredients are tucked into their bowl and stirred together, the rest is easy peasy!

As usual, Beloveds, the secret is in the mise en place. Any recipe can look complicated before your ingredients are neatly prepared and ready to go.

For this recipe, my mise en place looks like this:

As you can see, my dry ingredients are together in their bowl, and all of my other ingredients are separated and measured as well. At this stage, I’m ready to mix!

In the Mix

Like many standard cake recipes, this one uses the creaming method. The creaming method simply means that you mix room-temperature butter and sugar together until the mixture has increased in volume, the the color is lighter, and the texture is much less grainy. You can click here to read more about it.

There’s video too! Click here to learn the stand mixer technique, or here to see how it’s done with a hand mixer.

Proper creaming is absolutely essential for this recipe to succeed. If you’re looking for help to figure out proper creaming technique, I hope that blog post and those videos help you achieve the pumpkin spice pound cake of your dreams!

Here’s what the creamed butter and sugar should look like for this recipe:

Once the butter has reached this stage (~5-7 minutes on low/medium speed in a stand mixer, or ~11-13 minutes on medium speed with a hand mixer), you’re ready to add your eggs. For eggs, add them one at a time and mix each one on medium speed until thoroughly combined. For a recipe with six eggs, I usually scrape the bowl after the third and sixth eggs.

Once all of the eggs are incorporated, your batter should look dreamy and luscious.

Time for your one teaspoon of vanilla and another good mix until incorporated:

After the vanilla, give your bowl a good scraping with that silicone spatula. This is the last time during this mixing session that you’ll be able to mix mix mix to your heart’s content with a machine.

Because now it’s time for that flour mixture. First, add the first half of your flour and mix on lowest speed until just combined. You can even leave a few streaks of flour at this point:

Remember, Friend, that the introduction of flour means the start of gluten development. And too much gluten development will mean a tough cake!

Once you’ve gently mixed your first batch of flour, add all of your pumpkin at one time. Again, mix until just combined. With half of your flour already onboard, you’ll want to reduce the mixing time at this point.

From the “after” picture, above, you can see that the the pumpkin is mostly incorporated, but it’s not completely mixed into the batter. That’s okay! You can stop mixing at this point. Time for your second flour addition:

The mix on the right is where you should stop 🛑 mixing with a machine. It’s at this point that my handy-dandy silicone spatula comes into play.

I use the silicone spatula to get a get a good final scraping in my mixing bowl. Going around the sides and bottom of the bowl, I collect all of the loose flour and then do 10-15 gentle turns around the bowl. The result is always a smooth batter that’s not over-mixed and is ready for the oven.

Into the Oven!

This next part is not a popular opinion.

But I’m going to tell you anyway.

I don’t prepare my cake pans before I start mixing my cake batter. I know this is not a normal recommendation, so feel free to disregard it.

If you’re still reading, hear me out!

In my experience, butter and flour left in a cake pan for too long can cause an unappetizing crust on the outside of my finished cake. One day, purely by happenstance, I forgot to prep a pan before mixing my cake batter, so I just took two minutes after the batter was done and prepped the pan at that time. I’ve done it that way ever since. Before I prep my pan, I also check my cheap-o oven thermometer to make sure that my oven is truly at 325°F. (For my top oven, this means setting it to 335°F.)

You have to work pretty quickly if you choose to prep your pan after your batter! That’s why it’s helpful to take out some extra butter for your pan at the same time that you take out the butter for your recipe.

With all bundt pans, you have to butter them to within an inch of their lives before moving on to the next step. Please, Family, do not fall for the “non-stick” cake pan claims. THEY ARE NOT TRUE. I’m also not a huge fan of cooking sprays, since I find they don’t help produce the caramelization that I like to see on the top of my bundt cakes.

This is what I mean by “butter them to within an inch of their lives”:

After you’ve reached this stage, add flour and maneuver the pan around until you’ve covered all of the buttered surfaces. It’s important to remove any remaining flour when you’re done with this step (I remove extra flour by banging the pan over a countertop or clean sink):

After this step, I gently pour my batter into my prepped pan and gently even out the top with my silicone spatula:

Then it’s onto a baking sheet and into my 325°F oven for 55-75 minutes. The cake is done when a cake tester comes out clean and the top springs back under your finger, OR when an instant-read thermometer reads somewhere between 210°F and 215°F.

At this point, you can place the cake on a cooling rack and place the cake and cooling rack on top of some parchment paper. Allow to cool for ten minutes.

After the ten-minute timer goes off, invert the cake on top of the cooling rack, gently put it down atop the parchment paper, and say a very quick prayer (if you pray).

Then, gently lift the pan and wait for release. While there will inevitably be a few tiny crumbs that are left on the pan, as you can see, the beautiful detail from the cake pan is clearly present in the finished cake.

The Game-Changer: Simple Syrup

::Friends, come close::

This next tip is the real difference between home bakers and pros.

Two words: simple syrup.

Simple syrup is equal parts water and sugar boiled together until they achieve a watery-syrup texture. There are innumerable variations on a “simple” simple syrup, but the most common one is the plain one. For bundt cakes, I find that 1/3 cup of sugar and 1/3 cup of water is a perfect amount.

I make the simple syrup by just adding those two ingredients together, bringing them to a boil, then reducing to a simmer until all of the sugar is dissolved. I do not want simple syrup that has the consistency of corn syrup or maple syrup. I prefer that it be closer to a watery syrup texture, so that it doesn’t grab crumbs from the warm cake when I’m brushing it onto my cake with a pastry brush.

For a great video tutorial on how I use simple syrup on my cakes, check out my YouTube video, entitled “Three Tips for Making Great Cakes”! Specifically, you can jump to 3:15 in the video for the simple syrup technique.

Or you can watch the whole thing because I kinda love it. 😊

I brushed simple syrup on half of the cake and snapped a quick picture so that you can see the difference:

The Final Glaze

This, Friends, is the hardest part of the proceedings. This is the part where you wait.

Once that warm cake is brushed with warm simple syrup, it’s time to leave.

No, really. Go do something else. Because it’s going to be 3-5 hours before you can touch this cake again for the final glaze.

To make the glaze, mix the maple syrup, maple extract (not mandatory, but extremely delicious), butter, confectioner’s sugar, salt, and cinnamon in a small bowl.

Whisk the mixture gently until combined. Don’t worry about lumps! Just keep stirring gently.

You’re done when the mixture has the texture of honey.

At this point, you can either use a spoon or a spouted measuring cup to pour the glaze on your finished, cooled cake.

I’ve used this method a lot…
This has been a go-to for glaze lately.

That’s it! You’re done! Time to enjoy this wonderful taste of fall that was inspired by the humble, amazing pound cake.

You’re ready! I hope you love this pumpkin spice pound cake as much as my family does. If you tried it and love it, tag me on Instagram @beginwithbutter so that I can see your masterpiece!

The Recipe

Print
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Finished pumpkin spice pound cake with glaze.

Pumpkin Spice Pound Cake


  • Author: Shani
  • Prep Time: 40 minutes (active)
  • Inactive Time: 3-5 hours
  • Cook Time: 55-75 minutes
  • Total Time: ~5-7 hours
  • Yield: 14 servings 1x

Description

A delightful fall treat that incorporates classic Southern bundt cake techniques with a delicious pumpkin spice blend!


Ingredients

Units Scale

For the cake:

  • 3 cups (384 g) all-purpose flour, plus two tablespoons for dusting bundt pan
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup (230 g) butter, room temperature, plus more for greasing bundt pan
  • 3 cups (600 g) sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 425 g pumpkin puree, fresh or canned (not pumpkin pie filling)

For the Simple Syrup:

  • 1/3 c granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup water

For the Maple Cinnamon Glaze:

  • 1/3 c maple syrup
  • 1 tsp butter, melted (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp maple extract (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 3/4 c (90 g) confectioner’s sugar

Instructions

  • Set your oven to 325°F.  It’s highly recommended to use an oven thermometer for baking, since ovens themselves are often inaccurate when it comes to temperature.
  • Combine the flour, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a medium bowl and set aside.
  • Place room temperature butter into a large bowl (or the bowl of your stand mixer) and mix on medium speed until smooth.
  • Reduce mixer speed to low and gradually add sugar in two separate batches.
  • Mix on medium speed for 5-10 minutes, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl every 1-2 minutes, until the butter/sugar mixture is light and fluffy.  For more on how to properly cream butter and sugar (one of the most important steps!), click here.
  • Add eggs, one at a time, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl after the third egg and the last egg.
  • With the mixer on low speed, gently add half of the flour mixture.  Mix until almost combined, with a few streaks of flour remaining.
  • With the mixer off, add all of the pumpkin puree at one time.  Mix only until just combined.
  • Add the rest of the flour, again mixing until almost combined.  There should be just a few streaks of flour remaining.  (See photo above.)
  • Remove the mixer from the bowl and finish mixing the recipe by hand by scraping the sides and bottom with a silicone spatula and doing a final mix (about 10-15 turns).  
  • Prep your 10-cup bundt pan using the reserved, softened butter and flour.  
  • Put batter into the prepare pan and bake at 325°F for 55-75 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.  Alternatively, you can check with an instant-read thermometer.  The cake will be done when the internal temperature reaches 210°F to 215°F.
  • After removing the cake from the oven, place on top of a cooling rack for ten minutes while you make the simple syrup.

For the Simple Syrup:

  • Combine granulated sugar and water in a small saucepan.
  • Heat on medium-high heat until mixture is boiling.  Reduce to medium-low heat and simmer until the sugar is completely dissolved.
  • Remove from heat and use a pastry brush to brush simple syrup on the whole cake.  Allow to cool completely (3-5 hours).

For the Final Glaze:

  • Combine maple syrup, maple extract, butter, confectioner’s sugar, salt, and cinnamon in a small bowl.  
  • Stir gently with a small whisk until smooth.
  • Using a squeeze bottle or a spoon, pour the glaze over the inside and outside of the cake.  Some of the glaze will spill over the sides.  
  • Allow the glaze to set up for 15-20 minutes and enjoy!

 

Notes

  • This is a big, flavorful cake.  You’ll need at least a 10-cup bundt pan to make sure that it doesn’t overspill.  The combination of leavening and the air pockets from your creamed butter and sugar will make it overspill a smaller bundt pan.
  • This can be halved and made into a pumpkin loaf as well!  A 9″x5″ loaf pan is best for this one.
  • Category: Dessert
  • Cuisine: American

I hope you enjoy this little taste of fall from Begin with Butter! I love this cake with my whole pumpkin spiced heart and I can’t wait to see you all make it!

-S ❤️


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Five Technique Tips for Holiday Baking

Beloveds…IT’S GO TIME. Fall has officially entered the chat, which means one thing:

The. Holidays. Starting with Halloween and going through New Year’s Day, we will be in a consistent baking bonanza.

Cookies. Cakes. Breads. All the cinnamon rolls.

With so much available yumminess, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by it all. Fear not, Friends. Today, I have simple simple tips to help you be a calm, cool baking boss during the holidays.

Ready? Me too! Let’s Go.

In this Post:

Start Practicing Early

The Holidays are a baker’s Game 7, so I’m going to give it to you straight: the day of your holiday meal is not the time to “try” that Outrageous Coconut-Creme Meringue Cake from Fine Cooking for the first time.

Friends, even for experienced bakers, the day of the holiday isn’t the day to make that dessert. Because that baby…is a handful. A stunning centerpiece, for sure, but most definitely not something to make the same day that you’re serving it.

In general, it’s best to practice your holiday baking dishes at least once or twice before serving them on the big day. I typically start holiday baking practice early in the fall (around early October…but I’m weird) so that I can plan for each holiday, test my recipes, and tinker if necessary.

My recipe book. ❤️ Quick tip: I write all of my recipes in pencil.

Holiday baking will still be plenty stressful, but I can use the lessons learned from those practice runs in October to benefit the cookies, pastries, cakes and bread that I make in November, December and January.

Avoid Improvising During the Final Bake!

I know that I literally just said that I tinker with baking recipes. However, what you won’t catch me doing during the final bake is improvising. Friends, by the final bake, the time for playing around has come and gone. That’s when my recipe is locked into that blue recipe book, I’m double-checking ingredient amounts, and I’m baking to the letter of that tested recipe.

The end goal is to make something that tastes utterly delicious. And, by the time it’s time to bake the holiday goodies, I’ve tinkered and tested and come up with something you truly believe in. At that point, it’s just time to execute what you know and make that utterly delicious thing.

Don’t Overcommit Yourself

Once you get the reputation as the “best baker in the family”, you’ll start getting requests during the holidays for your Greatest Hits. Literally all of them. Literally for every holiday. I say this from experience, Friends: if you don’t plan your holiday menu, you will quickly get overwhelmed by your baking responsibilities.

That defies the spirit of the holidays and that is not fun.

To avoid overwhelm as I’m practicing recipes for the holidays, I typically match a recipe with a specific holiday. To stay more focused and efficient, during my October planning phase I might even create a table that looks something like this:

RecipeHolidayBake DateNotes
Carrot CakeChristmas12/23/21Needs refrigeration. Make sure there’s space!
Apple PieThanksgiving11/25/21Make dough and filling on 11/24/21 so I just have to build and bake the pie on Thanksgiving Day.
Easy peasy.

You don’t have to create this chart, but it can help you visualize how much work you’re committing yourself to for specific holidays. And, it can help you tell Aunt Janice that no, you won’t be making her favorite carrot cake for Thanksgiving, but she will see it on Christmas Day. She’ll have apple pie on Thanksgiving though!

Aunt Janice doesn’t want you to overextend yourself either.

Get Ingredients and Equipment Early

Certain ingredients become a whole nightmare to find around the holidays. Red food coloring? Vanilla? BUTTER? Asking your local grocer for these ingredients in the days before a major holiday can get you this response:

Please, Family, avoid real tears in the grocery store and stock your ingredients early. Even if you start stockpiling gathering your ingredients in September and October, most baking staples can be stored safely until you need them in November, December and January.

And, PSA, you can freeze butter to help it last longer. (Thanks Spruce Eats!)

This same philosophy works for new equipment. Fall is the time of year that many new bakers like to get started on their new baking journeys. It melts my heart to think of all of the people who are joining this wonderfully warm baking community this fall. It’s highly recommended to get all of the baking equipment that you need early in the fall, so that you’re not fighting with latecomers on. The only one that wins in that scenario is Amazon Prime.

Not sure what you need to get started? I’ve got your back! Click here for a FREE copy of my Buying Guide for Beginning Bakers!

Work in Your Wheelhouse

The holidays are the best time to showcase your Greatest Hits. While it can be really fun and extremely rewarding to present your family and friends with something spectacular that you improvised the day before the major event, it can also backfire spectacularly. It’s also super stressful to pull off something like that!

And aren’t the holidays stressful enough?

Most. Definitely. Stressful.

While it is true that with great risk can come great reward, great risk carries great risk too.

If you’ve spent the entire year perfecting layer cakes, it’s probably best to let the resident sourdough queen bring the bread to the holiday event. If everyone works in their gift, then everyone wins.

Conclusion

Holiday baking can be some of the most fun and rewarding baking that you do for the entire year. I hope these quick tips help you as you prepare for your holiday gatherings, big and small, this season!

See you next time!


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Knowing When to Stop A Technique

If you’ve read my recent post about whether you need a stand mixer to start baking (spoiler alert: you don’t), you know that I almost sent a mixer to an early end because I just let it run and run. And run. Then run some more.

Besides the fact that I ended up breaking the motor of my mixer, I realized, too late, that I wasn’t learning anything about baking by just throwing everything into my mixer and letting it run. I wasn’t learning when to stop. 🛑

This one.

Friends, knowing when to stop is an important part of learning any baking technique.

Without getting too “foo-foo” about baking, let me just say this: there is always a point where you need to stop doing a technique. While you can definitely learn about the breaking point for creaming butter and sugar by simply creaming your butter and sugar mixture until it’s a greasy mess, I’ve found that that’s a frustrating way to learn.

So today I’ve done it for you! 🤦🏾‍♀️

Today, we’ll talk about three different techniques, and I’ll give you a picture tutorial of where each one should stop.

Proofing Yeast

Proofing yeast simply means adding fresh or dry yeast to warm water (110°F-115°F), giving it a pinch of sugar, and letting it rise for 8-10 minutes. If you’ve done it correctly, your yeast should bubble and dome. Like this!

This is ready to use right now. You can see a foamy bubbles the top on the water, which means that fermentation has taken place in a big way. The bubbles are solid and uniform. This yeast is itching to get into the game.

This yeast is not ready yet. While the water is tan-colored (which means that the yeast is mixed in well), there is no fermentation activity whatsoever. No bubbles. No foam at the top. If your yeast looks like this at the 8-10 minute mark, it is probably dead:

If your yeast looks like this after 8-10 minutes, you don’t want to use it. If it won’t rise in warm sugar water, it’s not going to do a single solitary thing in your cinnamon roll dough.

And, finally, this yeast is over-proofed.

There’s literally…nothing between the 1 cup mark and the 1 1/4 cup mark. Nothing! You can tell that it’s over because the bubbles have started popping and combining, what’s left of the bubbles looks non-uniform, and it’s reverting back to a liquid state. There’s no saving this. Again, you’re going to want to start over.

But yay! At least your yeast isn’t dead!

Here’s the before and after that you’re looking for in this process:

This process usually takes anywhere from 8-10 minutes in 110°F-115°F water. This is pretty standard for home baking recipes. There are a number of ways to proof yeast, but, as a home baker, this is the most common way you’ll see in most of your online and cookbook recipes. Now that you know what not to do, you’re ready!

Creaming Butter and Sugar

It hurt my heart to do this, Family. It really did. But I love my BwB Family, so…I ruined perfectly good butter and sugar to show you what over-creamed butter and sugar look like.

First, though, let’s take a look at what properly creamed butter and sugar should look like.

So fluffy. So cloud-like. So beautiful. So ready for eggs and vanilla and all that good stuff. This process takes anywhere from 5-15 minutes, depending on your equipment (stand mixer, hand mixer, wooden spoon), the butterfat content of your butter, the ratio of sugar to fat, and how soft your fat might be.

Want more specifics about how to achieve this? Click here!

What makes this perfect, you ask? As you can see in the photo, the creamed butter and sugar is very fluffy in texture. There are small bursts of puffiness throughout and there’s a huge volume of it on top of the spoon. What you can’t tell from the picture is that the grains of sugar are actually a teeny bit dissolved from the mixing process, and so the mixture is a tad smoother than when we started. We love this. This is IT.

Family, we don’t love this because it’s not done:

This is the same butter and sugar from the pictures above! But it’s what that butter and sugar looked like when it was first combined together. As you can see from this picture, it’s a much darker yellow, very compacted in the bowl, and it’s visibly lacking the puffy, cloud-like texture of the finished product. It also looks crunchy because it is crunchy.

Friends, this is where the butter and sugar was slightly overbeaten but still usable:

In this picture, you can see that, while the mixture still has some fluffiness, it’s not 360° of fluffiness like it was before. This is still usable, but it’s not optimal.

And here, Family, is where the butter got ruined:

You can see from this picture that the butter and sugar mixture is much smoother. That is because it’s been over-beaten and the air pockets that you worked to form have started to collapse. What you don’t see in this picture is how this mixture slid on the spoon because it had become much more greasy. And that, Friends, is what happens when butter and sugar are over-beaten. The mixture becomes a greasy, flat mess. It’s fine for spreading on toast or bagels, but ill-advised for cakes.

Here’s the before and after:

This is perfection.

Cake and Muffin Batters

I’m not exaggerating when I say that finishing batters and cookie doughs with a silicone spatula is poetic to me. There’s something about doing those last few turns with your hands that is just…::sigh::

Stopping your mixer when there’s just a touch of unmixed flour, and then finishing your batter or dough with your hands is a great way to avoid over-mixing. But let me start at the beginning.

For batters and doughs that use the creaming method, you can mix much more aggressively before you add flour. That would typically include your butter and sugar, your eggs, and your extracts. Once that flour (or the “flour mixture”, as many recipes call it) is added to the batter, you’re on borrowed time with that mixer.

And that, Dear Friend, is why I will turn off my mixer and gently fold a batter once it reaches this point:

On the left, you’ll see a lemon pound cake batter. On the right, a chocolate chip cookie dough. You’ll also see all kinds of lumps in the cake batter and a noticeable lack of chocolate chips in the cookie dough. This is typically the point where I like to stop mixing with a mixer, whether it’s a stand mixer or a hand mixer.

I use one of these beauties to finish.

With my silicone spatula, I can finish the batter or dough without the threat of over-mixing. If I’m working with a very stiff dough, and the last couple of turns involve an addition (like fruit or chocolate chips), I might allow myself 3-4 turns with my mixer and then I continue folding in my additions in as gently as possible with my spatula. I try to avoid that, though.

Here are the finished better and dough once I’ve run the spatula through them:

You can see with the chocolate chip cookie dough that the chocolate chips got mixed into the cookie dough evenly, and that I was able to incorporate all of the raw flour with the spatula. Working with a spatula to finish ensures that I don’t accidentally go overboard with mixing, which ensures that the flour is incorporated without being overdone.

Here are the before and afters!

Lemon pound cake:

Chocolate Chip Cookies:

For more on why over-mixing your batter or dough is a bad thing, take a look at this post!

Conclusion

This was fun! Although it was totally against my better judgment to ruin ingredients, I thought the visuals would be helpful for those of you who are asking yourself if you’ve gone too far with a technique.

Until next time! And feel free to subscribe so that you don’t miss any of the exciting updates for this fall!


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Home » Featured Recipes » baking 101

UPDATED! How to Cream Butter and Sugar (With New Video!)

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Scene: {Daybreak} Your kitchen. You’re preparing to bake.

Ready to bake!

You’ve cleaned off that old KitchenAid stand mixer that you got as a gift, or you’ve unboxed that brand new KitchenAid hand mixer that the Amazon delivery person left just this morning. Because you’re You, you even turned on your equipment on to make sure that it works before you get started.

You’ve checked the recipe *generally* to make sure that you have everything that you need.

You’ve gathered your ingredients and prepared your mise en place. Your oven is set, your pans are prepped, and you’re ready to be a TOTAL KITCHEN BOSS.

You’re feeling good. You’re ready to start.

“Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.”

**Record scratch. Freeze frame.**

Beloved, if you have no idea what that means, you’re in the right place today. In this post, we are getting to the nitty gritty of what it truly means to cream butter and sugar using both a stand mixer and a hand mixer. This term appears constantly in baking recipes, and it’s confusing for so many people.

Creaming butter and sugar is also critical to the success of a recipe, so it’s super important that you get on the good foot with this technique. Otherwise, you can set yourself up to fail before you even start.

Let’s go!

In this Post:

TL;DR: I’m Just Here for the Videos

For those of you who are visual learners (or if you’re just in the mood to dance), I cover this subject very briefly in these video shorts; one is dedicated to the stand mixer, and the other–you guessed it–is dedicated to the hand mixer. Feel free to take a look and then come back here to fill in your learning!

Here’s the video for how to cream butter with a stand mixer:

And here’s a video for how to cream butter and sugar with a hand mixer:

They’re both really good, short videos to show you how to properly cream butter and sugar in each machine. For even more specifics, Family, keep reading!

What Does it Mean to Cream Butter and Sugar and Why is it Necessary?

Creaming is simply the act of combining granulated sugar and fat (usually butter, but sometimes cream cheese, shortening, or a mixture of fats) until the mixture is lighter in color, increases in volume, and the granulated sugar crystals are not as grainy. A finished creamed butter should look cloud-like and should feel silky, luscious, and ever so slightly grainy.

As I just mentioned, there are several different types of fat that you can use for creaming. In this post, I’ll discuss butter, but this creaming method can be used interchangeably for each type of fat.

This process is hugely important for baking recipes. You see, when you cream butter and sugar together, you’re manually whipping air into your baked goods. This air works with your leavening to create rise!

If your cakes have a tendency not to rise, dear reader, read on! Proper creaming changes everything and it’s the first recommendation that I make when someone comes to me with this specific problem.

Ingredient Rules

First, and this can’t be overstated: PLEASE DON’T USE COLD FAT. In order for maximum creaming effectiveness, the butter needs to be truly soft. Cold butter won’t combine well with granulated sugar, the sugar won’t blend at all, you will tax your mixer, and you will never arrive at the Texture Town destination that you seek.

You should be able to make an indention in your butter with the side a spatula or your finger.

To soften butter, the best method is to put it on your countertop…and leave it there. How long you leave it there depends on a couple of factors: 1) the room temperature (my kitchen is usually between 72°F and 75°F), 2) the butterfat content of your butter (I typically use Kerrygold or Finlandia); and 3) the size of the butter that you’re working with (I always cube my butter before letting it sit on the countertop to help it soften even faster).

Room temp matters for obvious reasons; the higher the temperature of your kitchen, the faster the melt and the quicker you can get to the fun part. The butterfat content matters because higher butterfat butters will melt faster than lower-butterfat butters. For more on this, check out my post on butter! The size of the butter plays into this as well; the smaller the chunks, the faster it starts to melt.

Under the conditions that I described above, I’m usually ready to get baking in about an hour (the cubing really moves things along). For low butterfat butters, unless your kitchen is very warm, I would not recommend moving onto the next phase for at least 90 minutes or more.

In order to get baking, you should be able to press a butter knife or the tip of your finger into the butter and make a good indention.

While it might be tempting to speed up this process in a microwave, it’s highly ill-advised because the butter will likely soften unevenly, with some spots that are properly softened and other spots completely melted.

The next thing to consider about your ingredients is that you cannot use confectioner’s sugar for this task. You need the solid sugar granules to create air pockets in the butter and to increase the volume of your butter. Confectioner’s sugar, with the consistency of powder, cannot do this. It’s a good start for buttercream though!

Finally, while some recipes will tell you to “mix on high speed”, that’s truly unnecessary. In a KitchenAid stand mixer with properly prepped ingredients, you’ll have a great creamed butter in 3-5 minutes on medium speed (somewhere between speeds 4 and 5). While a hand mixer will take a few minutes longer, you still don’t need to use the highest speed setting. Don’t tax your mixers for butter and sugar! Save that for the double pizza dough recipes!

Or don’t. You really shouldn’t tax your mixers, or you could end up in a sad place, like I did here.

Tools Needed

There are three different methods for creaming butter, and they each require different tools:

  • The Stand Mixer Method: You’ll need a stand mixer, the mixing bowl for that mixer (they lock into place so it’s important to have the bowl that’s meant for that specific mixer), your ingredients, and a rubber spatula.
  • The Hand Mixer Method: You’ll need a hand mixer, a mixing bowl, your ingredients, and a rubber spatula.
  • Mixing by Hand: You’ll need a wooden spoon, a fork, a mixing bowl, your ingredients, and, you guessed it, a rubber spatula.

In this specific post, we’ll cover creaming techniques that are done with stand and hand mixers. The method of creaming butter and sugar by hand is super nostalgic and and fun and I’ll cover it another time!

Technique for Creaming Butter

Once your butter is nice and soft, you’re ready to go. Start by adding just the butter to your mixing bowl and mix on low/medium speed (stand mixer: between speeds 2-3; hand mixer: between speeds 1-2) for about two minutes. I find that this helps the butter get to a consistent temperature and texture throughout, and makes for a better finished product.

Next, with your mixer still on low speed, slowly add the sugar. At this stage, the mixture will have the look and feel of wet sand. The hand mixer video will show you what this looks like with that tool!

Great. Now I want to go to the beach.

Once the sugar is completely added, you can gradually increase your speed until you reach a medium speed (stand mixer: between speeds 4-5; hand mixer: between speeds 3-4). At about the 2 minute mark, use your silicone spatula to get all in that bowl and scrape the whole thing. I mean it! Everything! Scrape the mixture off the rim, sides and bottom of the bowl and send it all back to the action. This is a messy business and ingredients are expensive! 😊

At this point, the mixture will be a tiny bit smoother and a tiny bit lighter in color. You’re not done yet.

Turn the mixer back on medium speed and let it go for another 1-2 minutes. If you watch the butter and sugar at this stage, you can actually see it start to loosen, grow in volume, and get noticeably lighter in color.

Yes. I have done this.

You’ll notice that it looks like there’s much more of it in the bowl; this isn’t true! You’re still working with the same amount, but this is aeration happening before your very eyes. And it’s amazingly cool.

Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Time to check your work with your rubber spatula. With a stand mixer, I’m usually done with creaming by the end of the second mix. Typically, with my hand mixer, it needs one more good mix before it’s ready to move onto the next step.

The Finished Product!

Your finished, creamed butter should be roughly two shades lighter than the butter that you started with, and it should be at least 2-3 times the volume of what you started with. Also, texture-wise, you’ll notice that the grains of sugar aren’t as hard and pronounced as they once were. That’s because they’ve started to dissolve during this process!

The completed, creamed butter should look kind of like this:

If you’re here, great! Time to give your mixing bowl one last good scrape and move on the “incorporating your eggs” part of the festivities. If not, don’t worry. Mix on low/medium speed for one-minute intervals until you’re there. You don’t want to go too long because you could actually end up over-creaming your butter and NOBODY WANTS THAT.

Just FYI: over-creamed butter is white, grainy, and greasy. This makes a good spread for toast or bagels, but it won’t do its job in your baked goods.

Conclusion

I hope you enjoy this tutorial and that it’s helpful for you on your baking journey. Remember, you’ll get better with practice so keep on baking! You’ll develop a feel for all of it, including creaming butter and sugar.

Got any lingering questions? Leave them in the comments section below!

Until next time. — Shani ❤️

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