Ladies and gentlemen, I believe I’ve reached another career milestone. I have perfected the butter cake.
It’s probably the most basic of all cakes. But for the life of me, I could never get it right.
Blame it on these three words: Light and fluffy.
Almost all butter cake recipes call for the creaming method, which means – according to Secondary One home economics – beating the crap out of butter and sugar. (There were no electric beaters way back in Marymount Convent School, so creaming involved using a wooden spoon and beating the crap out of butter, sugar and sweat.)
But here’s the catch. The instructions always say cream until “light and fluffy”. So my question is, what the hell does “light and fluffy” mean? Does “light” refer to the colour, or the texture? And as for “fluffy”, how can this word ever be applied to cooking?
So I had never succeeded in making a cake that required creaming-till-light-and-fluffy. Either I didn’t beat it enough, or I beat it too much, because the cake always turned out dense and heavy. It had gotten so bad that I developed an aversion to recipes that required creaming-till-light-and-fluffy. And, believe me, that’s about half the global population of cake recipes.
But a twist of fate came in the form of that cookbook review I was writing for the newspaper. Like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, I culled various tips for butter cakes from different sources, and it resulted in a stupendous cake I made a few days ago – so light, buttery and meltingly soft that it was almost out of this world.
So for the sake of posterity (and opening my million-dollar-raking, award-winning bakery, ahem), here are the magic steps to creaming-till-light-and-fluffy. It’s for the classic recipe that requires equal parts butter, sugar and flour:
1. Beat butter (softened) till smooth before adding sugar.
2. Add sugar bit by bit, so that the butter is not “choked” by it. When “light and fluffy” enough, the mixture has the colour of cream cheese. Also, your electric beater lifts off easily from the batter when you raise it, and it leaves feather-like peaks on the surface.
3. Add beaten eggs (at room temperature!) bit by bit, beating all the time. Stop the moment it is combined.
4. Fold in flour gently.
5. Add enough milk (at room temperature!) until the batter drops from a spoon by the count of three.
The final step is, I think, the crucial one. So many times in the past, I’d followed strictly the amount of milk dictated in the recipe, but the cakes always turned out stodgy and dense. But this time, when I added enough milk that the batter drops off the spoon by the count of three, its consistency is like a thick custard – resulting in a cake that’s beautifully light. So the problem all these years had been a simple lack of moisture! Ah-so!
I cannot wait to make another one.