It's not difficult, but this process does require some upper body strength and patience. Consider it a workout with a sweet reward at the end.
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woman using spoon to mix butter and sugar
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Missing an electric mixer in your hour of need, when you're ready to cream butter and sugar? It happens: Maybe that long-awaited birthday celebration weekend at the beach is perfect in every way—until you get ready to make a cake and discover that there is no mixer to be found in your Airbnb.

But that's no reason to skip dessert when you can cream butter and sugar by hand to make cookies, cakes, and muffins for every occasion. To complete this integral step sans modern technology, you'll need to summon some patience and upper body strength. Think of it this way: You'll sneak in a workout that culminates in the sweetest reward.

Start with Extra-Soft Butter

Butter needs to be soft before you can properly cream it with sugar, and when you're working by hand, it should be extra soft—which is not the same thing as melted.

Don't Microwave Cold Butter

If you have ever tried to fast-forward the softening process by zapping sticks of cold butter in the microwave—only to end up with melted butter that results in thin, greasy cookies or a flat cake—you've seen for yourself why this step can't be rushed. When you beat soft butter and sugar together, the butter holds air and sugar in suspension, which is essential to getting the right texture and a proper rise in cakes and cookies.

Cut Up the Butter to Speed Up the Softening Process

While there's no surefire way to soften butter instantly, you can speed up the process by dicing it into small cubes and scattering them in a single layer on a plate or baking sheet in a warm (not hot!) spot. Really pressed for time? Grate the butter using the largest box grater and pile the butter flakes loosely into your mixing bowl. When you can easily press a finger into the fat, it's time to beat it by hand.

Use a Fork and Spoon to Cream Butter by Hand

In your mixing bowl, combine the sugar with the softened butter and start mashing them together with the back of a fork. Once the ingredients are incorporated, switch to a wooden spoon and stir vigorously. (If you can't find one, look for any sturdy silicone spatula or plastic mixing spoon.) Scrape down the sides of the bowl periodically, and keep on beating until the butter is fluffy and lighter in color. This may take five minutes or more. If your arm starts to tire, it's okay to take breaks or pass the bowl to a friend.

Once the essential process of creaming the butter and sugar is complete, the hard part is over: You can proceed with your recipe as normal. And if you wake up with a sore arm in the morning, that only means one thing—cookies for breakfast.

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