In cakes that call for solid (versus melted) butter, there are two ways to incorporate that butter into the batter. The creaming method requires beating the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy before adding the remaining ingredients. The reverse-creaming method requires combining the butter with all the dry ingredients before mixing in the remaining ingredients.
Since both approaches produce tender cake, does it really matter which method you use?
We made two layer cakes using the same ingredients (flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, baking powder, butter, milk, and egg whites) in the same proportions. We mixed one batter using the creaming method and the other via the reverse-creaming method. We then baked the cakes and asked tasters to compare the texture and appearance of each cake layer. Then, to get really geeky, we used a highly sensitive tool called the Brookfield Engineering CT3 Texture Analyzer to measure the firmness of each cake.
Tasters struggled to find any difference in tenderness between the two cakes. Even the texture analyzer measurements confirmed the firmness of the two cakes to be remarkably similar. That said, the cakes exhibited significant structural differences. The creamed version had a slightly domed top and a fluffy, more open crumb, while the top of the cake that we made using the reverse-creaming method was even and its crumb ultrafine and velvety.
Both mixing methods produce equally tender results. Their differences boil down to the crumb’s rise and structure. For everyday baking, fluffy, slightly domed creamed cakes are fine. For fancy cakes with multiple layers, the flat top and plush crumb of a reversed-creamed cake can be more desirable.