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Complete guide- How to make the best butter cake (8 simple steps)

(Part two of the best butter cake series)

I thought I know everything about baking butter cake a few years ago.

During one of the baking session, I fumbled.

The cakes were dense, with cracked top and uneven rising.

The result was not only disappointing but embarrassed to divulge to my guests with high expectation.

After the disastrous incidence, I spend the next few years fine-tuning the formula, looking into minute details of mixing, temperature control, ingredients, etc.

Finally, I can now boast my butter cake is luscious, tender, with a delicate flavor and velvety texture. Most importantly, the formula guarantees to yield a consistent result. No more lumps, cracks, large pits and coarse texture like before.

I thought it is time to share my baking experience with everyone. And that is the reason to write this complete guide to baking the butter cake.

My greatest satisfaction is to know that this guide can help you to bake an excellent butter cake.

Why do I write about butter cake instead of other types of cake?

First, it is the easiest cake to learn, and with a large margin of error. Secondly, I have learned so much through failure and success and want to show you the mistakes and tricks that I have picked up throughout the years.

Read the part one of How to Make the Best Butter Cake to understand how to choose the ingredients and the rationale of setting up the recipe.

 

Please note that I am writing from the perspective of a non-pastry chef. This guide will save you all the hard work of finding the answers to the questions about baking butter cake and avoid most of the common mistakes.

Let’s look at how to make the best butter cake right away.

I have divided this guide into eight steps:
Step 1- Cream the butter and sugar
Step 2- Prepare the dry ingredients
Step 3- Measure the wet ingredients
Step 4- Add the egg and milk to the batter
Step 5- Add the dry ingredients
Step 6- Scaling and panning
Step 7- Baking temperatures and the duration
Step 8- How to keep the butter cake

butter cakes

Watch this video- the summary of how to make the best butter cake.

Step 1- Cream the butter and sugar

I start the process with mixing the sugar and butter together.

Textbooks and cookbooks refer this as the creaming process because the combination looks like cream. The texture of butter cake made by this way is velvety and soft. I tried to use other methods, but the texture is denser than what I prefer.

You can learn more about other mixing techniques in an authoritative book called Professional Cooking by Wayne Gisslen [1].

How to get it done?

creaming butter cake

Creaming butter and sugar together

Creaming is the method to beat the sugar and butter together to form a homogeneous batter. Air bubbles will trap in the mixture during the process. The tiny air bubbles expand during baking to form the light, airy, fluffy and soft texture of the cake. [2]

Cut the butter into 1cm slices and place them in the mixer bowl. I will wait until the butter softens before adding sugar. Soft butter is more efficient to trap the small air bubbles when it combines with sugar, which is important to develop the volume of the cake.

The mixing speed affects the outcome significantly. High speed is more efficient to trap air bubbles and therefore forms a more creamy and fluffy texture. On the other hand, low speed requires a longer time to achieve the same result, and at times may even fail to whip up a smooth texture.

The type of mixer attachment also affects the outcome of the butter-sugar mixture. I always use the wire whisk to cream the butter and sugar. Choosing the wrong attachment and you will doom to disaster in creaming.

While dough hook is best for making bread, flat edge beater is useful to make the biscuit dough. You can read more about the different types of wire whisk, dough hook and flat edge beater in this article. [3]

How long should I mix it?

creaming butter and sugar

Creaming completed- creamy and fluffy

It should be between three to six minutes.

The mixing time depends on the quantity of the batter, the speed of mixing and the shape of the wire whisk. Visual observation is the most reliable method to decide when to stop mixing.

Stop when the batter become very light and fluffy, and the color turns from the initial bright yellow to pale yellow. The texture should now look like whipped cream.

Fortunately, there is no issue to mix longer than require. Therefore, it is a good practice to mix a bit longer to ensure it is light and fluffy.

Key points:

  1. Start mixing the sugar with butter only when the butter is soft enough.
  2. Use high speed to mix.
  3. Use a wire whisk to mix.
  4. Mix until the color turns to pale yellow, with the texture, resemble whipped cream.

 

Step 2- Prepare the dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking powder)

I mix the flour, baking powder and salt together while waiting for the butter to soften.

This step is essentially a no-brainer. However, I would like to mention about the necessity of sieving the flour as I see it.

There are contradicting opinions on the issue of sieving the flour. The rationale is sieving can remove lumps and impurities. It also aerates the flour and makes it easier to incorporate into the wet ingredients. Sieving the dry ingredients together also helps the baking powder and salt distribute evenly.

But I do not sieve the flour.

The flour I order from a trusted local flour mill is clean and free from lumps. I find that cakes made from sieved and unserved flour are identical.

I wonder whether my supplier sends me the pre-sieved flour without letting me know.

Therefore, I just mix the flour with salt and baking powder with a whisk before adding it to the wet ingredients. I do this to minimize the time required to combine with the batter, which will discuss in detail in Step 5.

Key points:

  1. Sieve the flour only if it is lumpy.
  2. Mix the flour, salt, and baking powder together.

Step 3- Measure the wet ingredients (eggs, milk)

eggs for butter cake

Crack all the eggs in a bowl

I use an electronic weighing machine to measure the ingredients. I have converted all the measurements from cups and liters to grams. While this may not be important, I find that this is the best way to work in the kitchen. This method simplifies the recipe and gets away the possible confusion among gram, liters, cups, and tablespoons.

I use gram as the single unit of measurement in my kitchen. It boosts efficiency and minimizes human errors among my kitchen staffs.

I crack all the eggs into a large bowl and milk in another. It doesn't matter whether both are mixed them together. I separate them just to make sure if I pour too much milk, I can still salvage the extra if they are in separate bowls

Key point:

  1. Use electronic measuring machine to measure dry and wet ingredients for accuracy and convenience.

Step 4- Add the eggs and milk to the batter of butter and sugar

Creaming is the most important part of the cake making proccess. I fumbled before because I was impatient. The cake lose volume when I added the milk and eggs before the butter and sugar mixture becomes fluffy and light.

Therefore, it is crucial to mix until the color turns to pale yellow, with the texture resemble whipped cream before adding the liquid ingredients.

I mix in the eggs and milk at high speed. Some cookbooks suggest to add the egg alternate with milk, and pour into the butter mixture a little at a time. The purpose is to let part of the eggs well combined first before adding the next lot to ensure it is well absorbed.

I pour ALL the eggs into the batter follow by milk a minute later. As long as I continue mixing it at a higher speed, the egg and milk will eventually combine well with the batter.

The idea of pouring all the eggs at one go into the mixing bowl is not in line with the recommendation from most of the cookbook and baking experts. I am working in a kitchen with minimum manpower and looking for a method that is efficient. This method works well and saves time.

What about the attachment of the mixer and the speed?

Attachments for the mixer

From right: wire whisk, flat blade and dough hook

Mix with high speed with the wire whisk, just like for butter and sugar. It does not mix well with the flat edge beater at low speed, which I did try before. High-speed mixing aerates the mixture further to add volume to the structure, which is paramount for a light and smooth butter cake.

Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl to ensure even mixing. Continue mixing until it becomes homogeneous.

I usually do not set the timer to remind me when to stop mixing.

The time varies with the mixing speed, the amount of the mixture and types of the whisk.

Therefore, the best way to decide when to stop mixing is to by observing the color and texture. Stop mixing once the mixture becomes curd-like and pale yellow. It takes between three to five minutes.

Key points:

  1. Use high speed to mix.
  2. Use wire whisk for mixing.
  3. Pour all the egg and milk into the batter while keeping the mixer running.
  4. Use a spatula to scrape off any ingredients stick on the side of the mixer.
  5. Mix until it is light, fluffy, creamy and become pale yellow.

Step 5- Add the dry ingredients

It is time to add the dry ingredients when the batter becomes homogenous, light, fluffy, curd-like and pale yellow,

Gluten forms when the flour mixed with liquid can toughen the cake. I was paranoid of the formation of gluten when I made butter cakes years ago. In fact, there were times my cake were under mixed, with tiny lumps of unmixed flour left in the cake. Ever since then, I had struggled with the problem but eventually I found the solution.

The trick is to mix until no more visible lumps in the shortest possible time.

This is how I do it:

Combine the flour, salt, and baking powder together before adding to the batter. Since the dry ingredients are well combined, I can shorten the time of mixing without worrying of the uneven distribution of the dry ingredients.
Use the wire whisk to mix. The attachment has multiple wires and is very efficient in mixing, thus shorten the time required.
Pour all the flour into the batter in one action. The time required is shorter than by adding it in batches.
Scrape down the side of the mixing bowl.
Mix with the slowest speed to minimize gluten formation.
Stop immediately once the batter is homogenous and free from lumps.

Overmixed cake is tougher and may form noticeable pits and holes (think of bread). The cake can crack, and develop long tunnels in extreme cases. [5].

Since I am making a batch of four cakes, it is labor intensive to do it manually. However, you can use a hand held wire whisk if you just make one at a time.

Key points:

  1. Mix the dry ingredients before adding to the batter.
  2. Pour all the ingredients to the batter in one action.
  3. Use slow speed to mix.
  4. Use a wire whisk to mix.

Step 6- Scaling and panning

Fill up the baking pans and start baking is nothing technical, but I have a list of tips and tricks for you to make it super easy and efficient.

I used 8-inches (20cm) square cake pans. Each cake is 1.3kg before baking. Net weight after the cake cool down completely is 1.1kg.

Tips:

  1. Prepare the baking pans before making the cake to bake it without any delay.
  2. Pan with removable (or loose) bottom is ideal as you can remove the cake easily by inverting it.
  3. Always apply some oil to the sides and the base of the pan.
  4. Place a piece of baking paper on the base of the pan. The paper will secure to the surface by the oil. The size of the paper should be the exact size or slightly smaller than the base. If the paper is too big, the edge of the paper will curl up, resulting in a slightly rounded bottom edge.
  5. Also, make sure the paper is flat because the folds may stick into the batter. I have difficulties to remove it from the cake without damaging it.
  6. Weigh the batter on an electronic weighing scale. This method is the most convenient way to ensure the weight of all the cakes is identical. You do not have to do this when you make one cake, but it is handy to have an electronic kitchen scale.
  7. Give the cake pan several sharp raps on the table to free any large trapped air bubbles. Tap to smoothen the batter. The small unevenness will disappear when the temperature rises in the oven. Bake immediately.

Step 7- Baking temperatures and the duration

fresh butter cake

Freshly baked butter cake

I usually preheat the oven until the internal temperature became stable.

I have used both domestic and the commercial oven.

The temperatures and times for baking butter cake can vary from oven to oven. The temperatures mentioned in the recipe is only a rough guide.

This variation is due to the size and position of the elements of the oven, which affect the time and temperature required.

For instance, I am using a gas oven with two rows of straight burners. One is on top, and the other one at the bottom runs from left to right across the center. I have a small electric oven with U-shape upper and lower elements. The cakes baked in these ovens turns out to be different in color and volume with the identical time and temperature setting.

Heat distribution has more time to distribute evenly in the larger oven before reaching the cake surface. On the contrary, heat elements for the smaller oven are closer to the cake, and hence the variation of temperature at different parts of the oven can be quite significant.

Bear in mind that the temperature shown on the control panel of the oven may not be the actual temperature. That is exactly why I may not getting the desired result even though I follow hundred percent of the recipe.

The best way is checking the color of the cake visually when it comes to deciding the doneness of the cake.

Here is how I do it

I will set the timer ten minutes earlier than the targeted baking time. The cake should become slightly brown and set firmly. It is safe to open the oven door to check the doneness without affecting the quality. Continue to bake for another ten minutes if the color has not reached the expected tone.

I only use the oven that I am familiar with, especially when I want to bake cakes for important occasions.

If you bake more than one cake, do not let the pans touch each other in the oven. Leave at least 3 cm in between to enable proper air circulation to ensure the cakes rise evenly.

After baking, remove the cake and cool at room temperature for a few minutes until you can hold the pan with your hands.

Since butter cakes are rich in oil, there is no need to run a knife around the sides. Invert and drop the cake onto a cake board and loosen the detachable base by tapping it lightly. The cake will fall into the cake board gently.

Key points:

  1. The actual internal temperature of different ovens is different although the setting is identical.
  2. Use only your trusted oven.
  3. Preheat the oven. Use a pan with removable base. Apply oil to the baking pan.
  4. Make sure the size of the baking paper is the same as the base or slightly smaller.
  5. Leave 3cm in between pans in the oven,
  6. Check the color of the cake visually to decide the actual baking time required.

Step 8- How to keep butter cakes fresh

The flavor of a freshly baked butter cake is irresistible, and that is why we say ‘sell like hot cakes.' However, there will be situations you need to keep it for a few days or even weeks.

Can butter cake stay fresh for an extended period?

Butter cake can stay fresh in the refrigerator (4°C) for three to four days. I will keep the butter cake in the freezer if it is for more than a week. Here is the method I use:

Steps:

  1. Let the butter cake cool completely after baking.
  2. Place the cake on a cake board, put each cake in a plastic bag. Loosely seal the bag with cellophane tape.
  3. Place the bag of cake into another plastic bag. Store the cake in a plastic container or a cake box.
  4. Keep them in the freezer.
  5. Remove the cake from the freezer a day before serving.
  6. Let the cake defrost at room temperature with the double layer of plastic bags unopened.
  7. When the temperature rises to above freezing point (0°C), remove the bags and place it into the chiller.
butter cakes recipe
4.5 from 2 reviews
Butter cake recipe
Author: 
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: Fusion
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 1 cake
 
This is a simple rich butter cake recipe.
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Remove the butter from the chiller and let it soften.
  2. Mix the butter and castor sugar together by creaming method. Mix with a wire whisk at high speed until fluffy, light, creamy and become pale yellow.
  3. Add the eggs into the butter and sugar batter. Mix for a minute.
  4. Add the milk and mix again until the mixture is homogenous and curd-like.
  5. Combine the flour, salt and baking powder in a separate bowl.
  6. Add the dry ingredients to the batter and mix at low speed. Do not overmix.
  7. Preheat the oven.
  8. Apply oil to the cake pan.
  9. Place a piece of baking paper in the pan with removable base.
  10. Pour the batter into the pan.
  11. Give the pan several sharp raps.
  12. Bake at 170°C, both top and bottom temperatures for 60 minutes.
Nutrition Information
Serving size: 1 slice (120g) Calories: 480 Fat: 30g Carbohydrates: 47g Sugar: 25g Sodium: 0.4g Protein: 7g

 

Conclusion

Making butter cake is both science and art. I hope this practical guide will help you to bake a perfect butter cake that you want. Any recommendations, comments, corrections and questions are welcome. Please shout out at the comments column below.

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Useful references for baking butter cake

1 Professional Cooking by Wayne Gisslen (7th edition)
2 On food and cooking, the science and lore of the kitchen- Harold McGee
3 http://www.partselect.ca/Resources/KitchenAid-For-Christmas.aspx
4 http://www.thekitchn.com/is-sifting-flour-for-baked-goods-really-necessary-213894
5 http://oureverydaylife.com/long-mix-flour-baking-cake-30711.html

butter cake recipe

 

butter cake recipe pin
Complete guide- How to make the best butter cake (8 simple steps) was last modified: March 18th, 2017 by KP Kwan

15 Comments

  • KP Kwan

    Reply Reply September 25, 2016

    Hi, this is KP Kwan. I am happy to see you in this comment area, as you have read through my recipe. I am glad to reply any questions and comments as soon as possible.

  • s

    Reply Reply September 28, 2016

    Hi KP Kwan. Your pictures look good. Did you happen to mention the size of the pan you used for the cake?

    • KP Kwan

      Reply Reply September 28, 2016

      Hi S,
      I use 8-inch square cake pans. Weight before baking is 1.3kg and after baking is 1.1kg.
      I have added this information at the beginning of Step 6 in the guide.
      Thanks,
      KP Kwan

  • Gee

    Reply Reply October 31, 2016

    Hi! If I were to use 8″ pan what will be the height?

    • KP Kwan

      Reply Reply October 31, 2016

      The highest point of the butter cake is about 4 to 5 cm in the middle after baking.

  • Jin Fong

    Reply Reply November 11, 2016

    Hi,

    Can I heat the butter melt into liquid and then beat them using wire whisk?

    Instead of beating butter with sugar, can I use egg to beat with sugar, is the texture is the same?

    Thanks.

    • KP Kwan

      Reply Reply November 12, 2016

      I suggest you do not melt the butter. Here is the reason:

      The mixing method in this recipe is called creaming method. During the incorporation process, the friction between the crystalline sugar and the butter will form small air cells. Therefore, the batter will become light and fluffy and the volume increase.

      Butter that is too warm will not hold as much air and give as much volume as at room temperature (best at 21°C). As a result, the cake will become denser.

      If you make sponge cake or chiffon cake, you need to beat the eggs until the volume is triple and add the melted butter to it later. However, the amount of butter should be much less. This way is called whipping method which is not suitable for butter cake with high-fat content.

  • Regine

    Reply Reply January 5, 2017

    You wrote–>I used 8-inches (20cm) square cake pans. Each cake is 1.3kg before baking. Net weight after the cake cool down completely is 1.1kg.

    Does this mean that this recipe gives more than one 8 inch square cake pan? If yes, how many square pans? I see you wrte each cake is 1.3kg before baking. Does this include weight of the pan?
    Thanks!

    • KP Kwan

      Reply Reply January 5, 2017

      Hi Regine,

      The recipe is for one cake only. The weight does not include the cake pan.

      Thanks,

      KP Kwan

  • Hacna

    Reply Reply February 3, 2017

    Hi, how many eggs did you used for this recipe. I just used six, coz each weight almost 50g.

    • KP Kwan

      Reply Reply February 3, 2017

      Dear Hacna,
      I used six eggs, each 50g, exactly just like what you did.
      Hope you enjoy the butter cake.
      KP Kwan

  • Hamizah

    Reply Reply February 9, 2017

    Hi Kwan

    I noticed you didn’t add in any vanilla. Is it ok to add in? Thanks

    • KP Kwan

      Reply Reply February 9, 2017

      Hi Hamizah,

      You can add vanilla to the butter cake. You do not need to change the formula.

      I did not use vanilla because I like the flavor of butter and want the butter flavor to stand out. The exclusion is just my preference.

      Hope this helps 🙂

      KP Kwan

  • Yuwadee Nswd

    Reply Reply February 19, 2017

    Cake flour is just only the flour for baking cake, not be all purposed, right?
    I ever made other recipes for butter cakes , am not sure what its wrong..its come out good but a bit dried, not be moist and buttery as your recipe.
    I will try next time, thanks for sharing

    • KP Kwan

      Reply Reply February 19, 2017

      Dear Yuwadee,
      You can get the ‘all purpose flour’ to make butter cake. It is interchangeable with ‘cake flour’.
      If my cake come out a bit dry, I will likely try the following;
      1. Increase the sugar content. Sugar act as softener.
      2. Increase the amount of butter used, which help to make it softer.
      3. Increase the amount of liquid (egg, milk, juice) but not more than 1.2x of the weight of the flour.

      If you find the above is too complex, just reduce the amount of flour will do. It should work.

      Hope this helps.

      KP Kwan

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