There is a Method to My Madness


The most frequently asked question in the history of my blogging career is “Can I substitute this____ with that____?”

And my answer is usually an emphatic “NO” when the substitution in question is just utterly ridiculous (like can I use M&M’s instead of flour in my recipe)  but more often I will reply with a “Yes, however not without a difference in the outcome.”

Recipes are written a certain way, for a reason. All ingredients are there in perfect ratio to one another and perform specific functions within that recipe.

So to just rearrange this with that, well….it just isn’t that easy. Additionally the way we mix the ingredients into the recipe plays an equal if not more important role in the outcome of your baked goods. For more information on recipe ingredient substitutions click here—> Substitutions, I don’t have that in my country

But if it is substituting SOLIDS for LIQUIDS in a recipe (or vice versa)  then stay right here and put your science caps on!

Creaming Method
The Basic Creaming Method is one of the most used methods in baking. It is done with the paddle attachment of the mixer (a hand beater can also do the job the quite well) and it is an act of incorporating the fats (typically butter and/or shortenings) with the sugar in the recipe most often granulated and/or brown sugar. But it is not merely incorporating it with no regard, there is a science that takes place that is very important to understand.

Under a microscope, a grain of sugar will prove to have pointy jagged edges. During the creaming method, the sugar is smashed into the fats over and again, which is why we typically cream something for a few minutes on a rapid speed. The mixture will get lighter in color and fluffy and even appear to “grow”. This constant jamming and jabbing of the sugar crystals into the fat is what produces pockets of air which help form the base stabilization for the remaining ingredients in the batter, then when all is placed into a hot oven, those bubbles creates steam, which aids in rising, which finally results in a tender crumb and fine texture of the cookies and cakes we love so much!

Now let’s not forget there is more to the creaming method than just mixing the fats and sugars.
There is a standard order in which we add the other ingredients.

  • First it is the fats and the sugars
  • Next it is the liquid ingredients; typically eggs and extracts
  • Last is the flour and dry ingredients.

You can be safe to assume that from here on out, whenever you see the instructions “Creaming Method” you will follow this order no matter what the quantities of ingredients, and you are home free!

Many people ask me if they can use castor sugar, diabetic sugars or even eliminate or cut down significantly on the sugar in the recipe.
In some recipes YES you CAN!

But the rule of thumb is that you cannot interchange liquid for solids in the recipe and expect the same result.

Now that you understand the science behind the creaming method, you may now easily see which recipes you can substitute with other sugars, such as liquid sugars or diabetic sugar replacements.

You can also see the answer to the most popular question: Can I use Oil instead of Butter (or vice versa)

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  1. Hi Gretchen, i missed your newsletters a lot! Welcome back. Just want to latch onto this conversation because everyone’s searching out and I did make yours and everybody loved it – the very best so far. I did do a substitute – SORRY – in South Africa we have a thing called Holsum fat and apparently (if you’re a LCHF dieter like me – oops, and then I bake a cake – massive double standards is my second name) it is made of palm oil. Even at room temperature it never ever melts down. So with creaming it does become like butter and makes quite a big fluff of super white unhealthy looking stuff. In LCHF we learn the palm oil is good, but that’s an oxymoron since it IS a cake and it’s simply for the white. I must sound like the Joker in batman (staunch suppporter of low carbing but but but then I bake cakes over weekends) – so far you were the best help for me in this regard. Listen stand under running laughter in your life girl!

  2. Thank you so much for this post!! I thoroughly enjoy learning about the science behind baking!! Please post more about other mixing methods! (eg. in your vanilla cupcake recipe – why do you alternate the addition of the flour and milk?)

  3. What method does a boxed cake fall under? The wet and dry are all dumped in together and you can use butter or oil interchangeably (with slight differences). You can add stuff to spruce them up and do not really have to worry about the order, just dump it in. I use to use them all the time but now I rarely do however this blog has really got me to thinking about what is going on inside that batter and a boxed cake has me scratching my head…how does it work?…I LOVE all your sciencey stuff! I’m so thankful to have found you, just about 2 weeks ago now, and have already tried 2 of your cake recipes and 3 of your frosting recipes. All AAAAHMAZING!

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