To Cream or Not: Gluten Free Sugar Cookie Trials

Gluten Free Sugar Cookies

This is the second of four posts in a series on Gluten Free Sugar Cookies. The first post on How to Cream Butter and Sugar may be found here. The third post (currently scheduled for Friday) will be How to Roll Out Sugar Cookies, and the fourth post, (check back on Sunday) will be my recipe for Gluten Free Sugar Cookies. Yes, I’m drawing this out so you’ll keep coming back =)

So, the other night I was surfing around looking for gluten free recipes that call for the creaming of butter and sugar. All was right with my world. I was sure that your cookies would be better with the proper butter and sugar creaming technique. It was a pleasant time.

And then I hit Gluten Free Girl’s site and her recipe for oatmeal cookies. Here’s what I saw:

“Creaming the butter and sugar. Put the softened butter into your favorite mixer and beat it, just a bit. Add in the two sugars. Mix until just combined.”

“What? Mix until just combined? That’s not creaming!”

Now, for any of you who aren’t already aware that Shauna at Gluten Free Girl is the top gluten free blogger, she is. And she’s married to the Chef. Chances are her recipe instructions are not wrong. What’s a girl to do when she’s almost finished a post about whipping butter and sugar to a creaming frenzy? Keep Looking.

In Shauna’s post about Rosemary’s Christmas cookies I discover more information,

Cream the butter and powdered sugar in a stand mixer, or by hand. Cream them until they are just combined, and then one beat more. Over-creaming butter and sugar in gluten-free cookies makes them spread, horribly.

This makes sense. I had already learned that the water in the butter is released as the cookie dough heats in the oven. The water then makes a solution with the sugar, causing it to melt. As the sugar melts, the cookie spreads. So maybe the gluten free dough was not as able to stand up to the spreading process as a dough made with wheat flour.

I am, however, a stubborn person. And I really like to cream butter and sugar (yes, I’m weird). And I had to try this for myself before I would feel right about posting an article on the creaming of butter and sugar on a gluten free cooking blog. It was time to bake!

The Gluten Free Sugar Cookie Trials
Heat 1: The Butter and Sugar
On the blue team, we have a bowl of “Just Combined” butter and sugar. This picture was taken immediately after the last bit of sugar was caught up into the mixture. It’s a bit on the chunky side. If you were to taste it, you would find that it is very much just butter and sugar. You can discern the individual grains of sugar on your tongue.
Butter & Sugar Just Combined

On the red team, we have a bowl of “CompletelyCreamed” butter and sugar. The consistency is very creamy. When you taste it, the sugar grains are much smaller then they were in the “just combined” stage. I would happily lick this bowl clean =) It is definitely the winner of the first heat.

Creamed Butter and Sugar

Heat 2:The Doughs
I have to say that I was surprised by the degree of difference in the two doughs. The “Just Combined” dough was very dense. My cheapo hand mixer was barely able to get through it. The dough tended to be a bit crumbly in a very chunky way, if that makes any sense. It didn’t really want to stay together in a ball and the edges wanted to split when I rolled it out. When I cut out the cookies I could really feel the sugar in the dough.

Conversely, the “Completely Creamed” dough was very soft. When I used the hand mixer on it, the beaters flew through the dough and within seconds had beat it into a sandy mixture. I had to switch to my hands to work the dough into a ball. Once I had a ball it was very pliable and rolled out extremely well. Again, the red team wins the heat.

Heat 3: The Cookies
In the interest of fairness, I cooked 10 “Just Combined” cookies and 10 “Completely Creamed” cookies on the same cookie sheet. I made myself stay away from the oven while they baked, and boy was I surprised when I opened the door. These cookies look completely different!
Gluten Free Sugar Cookies

The “Just Combined” cookies are on the left; the “Completely Creamed” cookies are on the right. Shauna was definitely correct that barely mixing the butter and sugar results in less spread. You can see where the “Creamed” cookies have stretch marks and are just a bit bigger than the “Combined” cookies.

The other differences were a complete surprise though. I have no idea why one set of cookies darkened so much more than the other. Or why the “Creamed” cookies crumbled less even though they spread more. Or why the “Combined” cookies taste like the little shortbread cookies that come in Christmas cookie tins, and the “Creamed” cookies tasted nothing like that. It’s a mystery to me, but both John and I decided (after several repeat testings!) that the “Completely Creamed” cookies were the hands down winner.

Lessons Learned
1. Changing just one cooking technique in a recipe can dramatically change the results.
2. Neither method is right or wrong; it just depends on how you want your cookie to turn out.
3. I’m definitely going to try both methods on future cookie recipes. With differences this dramatic, to cream or not to cream could really make or break a recipe.

Comments

  1. Thanks for posting this little experiment : ) Very useful information!

  2. what a fun experiment! made Rosemary’s Christmas cookies last night (which, hoorah! tasted just like ones my mom use to make. I told my husband, “it finally tastes like christmas!”) and was befuddled by the encouragement not to cream. It is is fun to really beat the butter and sugar together. You’ve got me curious to do some side by side experiments myself.

    This is a dangerous season to be a gluten-free beginner. I’m doing way more baking (and eating) than I usually do. Mmmmm.

  3. I am so, so very glad you are posting a Sugar Cookie recipe. I have been wanting to ask if you had one! I have never posted a comment before on your blog; but we are so thrilled to have found it. We had to switch our little four year old to gluten free dairy free in October; and it has been so hard. My husband found it after I complained to him that every bread recipe I tried from one of the Hageman books or from a mix was a complete flop! (Between my Mom and I we baked about 20 loaves of soggy, metallic, or otherwise nasty bread.) He found your biscuits at Thanksgiving and they were a big hit. We have been using your recipes ever since. Thanks so much! I have been worrying about Holiday cookie — one of our special traditions, and I am so excited. I am telling others about your blog too.

  4. Cris, It’s a relief to know that someone else thinks creaming butter and sugar is fun! Now that I’m looking for it, I’m seeing lots of different creaming instructions in in recipes. I saw one on Simply Recipes that called for creaming the butter and sugar for two minutes, while baking 911.com says that it should take 7 – 10 minutes. Like you said, I’m forseeing some fun experimentation =)

  5. Amy, I’m so glad that my recipes have been a help! Thanks for the encouragement =)

  6. I loved this post: even for folks who don’t bake regularly, this was intriguing. I enjoyed the scientific experimentation and was surprised that creaming sugar and butter differently could make such a difference!
    A great bit of reading, even for folks who aren’t that into cooking.

  7. Mary Frances-

    I normally cream my butter and sugar for about 3 minutes (because I like it!). I refrigerate my dough for at least four hours to prevent spreading (preferably overnight). If I refrigerate the dough, the cookies don’t spread. That is my experience anyway!!!

  8. I think that it’s pretty funny that at least three of us get a kick out of creaming butter and sugar. It’s lovely that joy can be so simple =)

  9. It makes me feel better that others are struggling to make something that use to be so easy. I am also having trouble with “instructions” and to get a consistently good result. I find this so maddening as I bake for a local farmers market and can turn out 30 loaves of bread, 4 dozen buns 3 dozen tarts plus cookies and frozen pies of the wheat verity with no problem. However I was diagnosed this winter and I am now learning to cook GF. I would like to develop more GF for the market as I have had a great response from the one item (Chocolate Chip Cookies) I started to sell. I do feel so much better eating this way but I might need a padded room before I learn how to bake GOOD gf foods.