A countless number of times I have read baking instructions to only mix a batter briefly to avoid toughening your baked good, but I have often wondered if this quip was fact or fiction when it came to whipping up a butter cake. In my experience, regardless of mixing time, American-style butter cakes do not toughen up in my kitchen’s scientific lab. As a result, I believed that the mixing time would have minimal impact on the cake structure.
To test my assumptions I mixed up a standard cake batter, either mixing just until blended (finishing by hand), for 5 minutes, or for a full 15 minutes before baking. When the cakes came out of the oven, I was pleasantly delighted, and I believe you will be as well!
Let’s start with a brief overview of how toughening of cakes works. Every cake has a balance of structure builders and structure weakeners.
Egg proteins, dairy proteins, gluten, and starches are the most common structure molecules.
Fats, sugars, liquids, acids, and fiber are all weakening substances.
If your recipe is out of balance, with too many structural components and not enough weakeners, you may end up with a tall and fluffy cake that is tough, chewy, and unappealing. An uneven recipe that is heavy on weakeners, on the other hand, may taste delicious but be short in height and break apart quickly when stacked or sliced. Bakers are always modifying recipes to obtain the exact combination of ingredients that will provide the nicest texture while still tasting delicious.
How thoroughly and how long you mix a cake batter affects some of the structural aspects. Gluten proteins, for example, are activated by mixing in the presence of water. If you mix a batter that contains flour and water for a long time with little fat or sugar you will end up with long strands of gluten and a tough, chewy baked good.
In principle, the fat and sugar in the cake batter oppose the production of gluten strands, reducing the gluten-forming effects of a lengthy mixing period. What surprised me in my experiement was the fact that mixing actually destabilized or weakened the protein network of the cake. The least mixed cake was architecturally the strongest, while the 15 minute mixed cake was so delicate and soft that I couldn’t get it out of the pan without breaking it.
A variety of elements seem to be at work in this structure reduction process.
1. The longer you mix, the more fat distribution/protein coating happens, resulting in increased protein weakening.
2. A longer mixing time results in more sugar dispersion and dissolving. The sugar interacts with the proteins in the batter, diminishing their structural capacities and interfering with starch-mediated structural components. The thoroughly dissolved sugar in the long mixed cake also seems to effect browning processes, as seen in this top down view of the cakes.
3. A longer mixing time allows for greater response of leavening chemicals, which reduces the growth of air pockets and results in a “shorter” cake.
So, if you are baking a fat and sugar-rich cake the longer you mix the denser and weaker your cake structure will be, contradictory to the popular belief that it will lead to toughening of the cake. The 5 minute mix time produced a cake with a great texture and a reasonably soft crumb. It should take between 2 and 6 minutes. The time required for mixing can vary depending on the recipe, but this should give you a general idea.
I hope this knowledge is useful as you continue to experiment with mix times in your batter-blending excursions.
Now see why your Oven Temperature Really Matters !
Then find out if Your Cupcakes Need A Rest? .
Now read my article, Mixing Up The Perfect Cake .
See how long it takes to combine butter and sugar!
Next see If Sifting Makes a Better Cake .
I think you’ll be surprised by my results!
What happens if you undermix a cake?
Undermixing – If you don’t mix the batter long enough, the ingredients won’t be incorporated well. Less air will be whisked into the recipe, resulting in less batter and a crumbly cake.
What’s the best way to mix cake batter?
For mixing cake batter, the creaming technique is the most often used. It incorporates plenty of air into the dough and helps it rise, creating a stable, yet tender, finished product. For the best results, all components should be at room temperature. Start by beating the butter and sugar together, then add eggs one at a time.
How do you properly mix a cake?
The usual method is a third of the flour, half the milk, a third of the flour, the remaining milk, and finally the remaining flour; it’s helpful to scrape the bowl midway through this process. Adding flour and liquids alternately guarantees that all of the liquid (typically milk) is absorbed into the batter.
Should cake batter be baked immediately?
It’s always best to bake the cake batter right after you mix it up, but if you can’t, then you can store it in the mixing bowl, covered with plastic wrap in the fridge for a day or two. If you need to keep the batter fresh for a longer period of time, place it in a frozen ziplock bag.