Can You Really Over Cream Butter?
Ok, so I ask myself this at the bakery all the time. Can you really over cream butter? I mean, yes, I guess if you leave the mixer on for an additional 10-15 minutes, clearly (probably), there will be some detrimental effect to the recipe. But let's say you're a multi-tasker - I know all we do is multi-task at the bakery - and let's say you leave the butter creaming for an additional two, three, maybe even four minutes. I personally haven't seen too much evidence of either the butter changing in form or seeing it noticeably affect the finished product...granted I haven't really whipped it for that much longer than it is suppose to be whipped.
But that's the issue, isn't it? How long are you suppose to whip butter and sugar for? The directions always say "whip until light and fluffy." Well, "light and fluffy" to me is very vague. If 10 minutes is the proper time for that "light and fluffy stage," I think my butter looks light and fluffy at seven minutes...and also at 12.
At the bakery, we do have a method of preventing under-creaming when we want to cream the butter to its maximum capacity. Basically, once the butter and sugar start becoming that light yellow and pale state, we mentally note where the butter is on the side of the mixing bowl. Sometimes there are scratches or marks on the bowl to make this a bit easier. After a minute or two, if we haven't seen the butter rise up from its line before, we know it has reached the maximum level of its creaming state.
Great. That solves the under-creaming issue, but how about over-creaming? I've seen some bakers get really picky about over-creaming and granted - if a recipe calls for just "lightly creaming" or just combining sugar and butter till creamy, then they have a point. But my thought is I think once butter has reached it's "maximum volume," there's a pretty big margin for error of "over-whipping" it. I mean, I've stepped away from whipping butter for minutes at a time - something you can't do with things like whipped cream (or else you do get butter), and I haven't noticed a difference in the state of the butter.
You get butter by whipping heavy cream very quickly so that the fat molecules stick onto one another and eventually separate themselves from the leftover liquid - buttermilk. I used to postulate that over whipping butter would cause the fat globules to once again stick more to themselves and further make the butter separate into butter fat and buttermilk - essentially making a fattier butter from butter itself. But as I was experimenting (yes I do that for you guys) I actually didn't see that happening. What I did notice and what some "literature" online has indicated is that the more you whip butter and sugar, the softer it gets. This is partly from beating air into it, but it is also partly from the friction of the beater with the butter. When you over beat butter - I mean REALLY over beat it, the beating action does start melting the butter and melted butter does not hold onto air bubbles as well as a creamy butter. So what you essentially get is a mixture that has decreased in volume and becomes more similar to if you had just added butter and sugar without creaming it, which makes baked goods more dense.
Ok, so my final thoughts? I say begrudgingly that yes, you can over-cream butter, but only because you start melting the darn thing. I say the margin for error is pretty big, so if you're just starting out in the multi-tasking business, then yes, creaming butter SHOULD be your thing...you can kind of forget about it, come back a little later than maybe you should, and still, your recipe will come out okay.