If you’re new to baking, making a cake can be a bit intimidating. After all, just making one small mistake with the ingredients or prep can completely ruin all of the hard work you put in.
If you’ve never baked a cake before, you’re probably under the assumption that you need one of those fancy (and expensive) stand mixers to get the job done. Not only is this not true, you can even get by without using one of those less expensive hand mixers as well!
To mix cake batter without a mixer, you just need the right tools, the right technique, and a little patience. It’s also important to know when it makes sense to resort to using a mixer.
By the end of this post, you’ll know how to mix cake batter without a mixer. Don’t worry; it’s actually not that difficult. With a little extra time and effort, you’ll be making beautiful and delicious cakes in no time!
What tools and equipment do you need to mix cake without a mixer?
Although you don’t need a mixer to mix cake batter (or an oven to bake a cake, as I show you in this post), you do need the right tools. When it comes to doing things manually (without electric kitchen appliances), having the right tools is essential.
So, what tools do you need to mix cake batter by hand? Let’s take a look.
If you plan to mix batter by hand, the go-to tool for most is a simple spoon. Spoons come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and materials. For mixing, look for a spoon that has a large enough surface area to work through a good amount of your mixture without a lot of effort. I like this one from OXO (on Amazon). It’s inexpensive, rigid, has one corner that can be used as a scraper, and is fairly flat overall.
You can get spoons in different materials, and each has their advantages and disadvantages. A wooden spoon is the preferred option for most chefs and bakers. A wooden spoon offers a rigidity that you typically won’t find with silicone spoons or spatulas and is ideal for creaming butter.
Other options are silicone spoons and steel spoons. Silicone spoons are flexible, which make them ideal for scraping the sides of a mixing bowl. If you have a steel spoon on hand, it will do the job, but their smooth and rounded surface make it difficult to cream butter.
Because mixing with a spoon takes quite a bit of time and effort, we recommend that you look for one with a comfortable grip. You also want a spoon that is stiff and sturdy. If you use a spoon that is too flexible, it will struggle to get through thicker mixtures.
Another tool that you want to have in your kitchen arsenal is a whisk. A whisk is used to whip or beat a mixture. To whip a mixture basically means to incorporate air into it. Adding air to a mixture produces a light and fluffy mixture that’s much less dense than the equivalent non-whipped mixture.
Like spoons, whisks come is all sorts of shapes and sizes, but are mostly made of metal or silicone. Again, be sure to look for something with a comfortable handle that is large enough for the job.
You typically won’t use a whisk for thicker mixtures, so you don’t have to be quite as selective, in regards to a comfortable grip, when choosing one.
A spoon or whisk is only half of the equation when it comes to mixing by hand. The other half comes in the form of a mixing bowl. Mixing bowls are a staple in every baker’s kitchen and with good reason. They’re used for the prep work in just about every recipe that requires ingredients to be mixed.
Look for a bowl with a handle or non-slip grip. The handle will allow you to hold the bowl with your non-mixing hand. We also recommend looking for a mixing bowl with a non-skid bottom. This will keep your bowl from sliding on the counter top while you’re mixing.
Obviously, elbow grease isn’t an actual tool, but you’ll definitely need quite a bit of it to mix cake batter without a mixer. If you’re not familiar with the term, elbow grease refers to the hard, manual work it takes to get a job done. If you’re looking to mix batter by hand, we’re sure that you already know that it’s going to take some physical effort on your part.
What techniques are required to mix cake batter without a mixer?
As we mentioned above, the right tools are a must when it comes to mixing cake batter by hand. With that being said, having the right tools isn’t enough. You also need good technique.
Let’s take a look at the techniques you should be using with the tools mentioned above.
If your cake recipe calls for butter, you’re going to have to cream it. Creaming your butter and sugar by hand can be a good workout and does take some time. However, this is how it used to be done in the past before electric mixers were available, and with a little effort, you can expect to achieve good results.
The first step to creaming your butter and sugar is to get your butter to room temperature. This simply requires you to pull your butter out of the fridge and to let it sit on the counter until it’s soft. You can expect this process to take about an hour or so. To speed up the process, dice the butter into smaller chunks.
Once your butter is soft, break it up and mash it against the side of a mixing bowl using a spoon. We recommend using the back side of a large, wooden spoon. The rough texture makes it a little easier to push the butter against the sides of the bowl.
Next, work your sugar into the butter with your wooden spoon. As you do so, the mixture with start to expand in size. This is due to the air pockets that are being incorporating into the mixture. Once the mixture is light and fluffy with a mild yellow color, it’s ready to use.
Here’s a nice video demonstrating the process:
Another technique you need to be familiar with if you’re mixing batter by hand is whipping a mixture. To whip or beat a mixture means to incorporate air into it. This requires a lot of elbow grease and results in a light and fluffy mixture.
Depending on what ingredients you are beating, you’ll either want to use a wooden spoon or whisk. For a thicker mixture, like the butter and sugar mixture we just discussed, a wooden spoon makes sense. For beating something lighter, like eggs, a whisk is preferred.
When beating a mixture, you’ll want to make quick, circular movements with your hand. As the mixture becomes whipped, it will become light and airy.
Check out this short video that shows the process:
Do some recipes or ingredients require an electric mixer?
With enough elbow grease, almost any ingredients can be mixed by hand. However, there are certain ingredients and recipes that we try to stay away from, if we’re going to be hand mixing.
Stay away from thick mixtures
Some mixtures are easier to mix by hand than others. If your recipe calls for a thick mixture or includes ingredients such as butter, that are tough to mix, it might be worth it for you to use an electric mixer. While most mixtures can be mixed by hand, we recommend using a mixer in these types of situations, if it is a viable option for you.
Avoid large batches
We also recommend staying away from large batches. By large batches, we mean making more than what a standard recipe calls for. If you’re baking a single cake or a dozen cupcakes, you can definitely get by mixing your ingredients by hand. On the other hand, if you intend to bake dozens of cupcakes, you really should consider an electric mixer.
Not only will you get the job done more quickly, but you’ll save yourself from the cramps in your arm and hands that accompany mixing ingredients by hand for long periods of time.
Use oil over butter
If you’re going to mix by hand, we recommend using oil instead of butter, when the recipe allows it. Using butter requires softening, which is not only time consuming, but is quite a bit of manual work. Oil, however, does not require any softening and is much easier to work with.
Butter and oil both do affect the flavor and texture of a mixture though, so keep this in mind when substituting one for the other.
What other options do I have?
It might turn out that mixing cake batter by hand is just not worth the time and effort for you. Don’t worry if that’s how you feel. That’s one of the main reasons that electric mixers are so popular.
If you are considering purchasing a mixing tool to save you some of the hassle of prep work, there are a few options to consider.
Manual Hand Mixer
Believe it or not, you don’t have to jump straight from a whisk to a stand mixer. In fact, you don’t even have to jump straight to an electric hand mixer. With a manual hand mixer, you can achieve some of the benefits of electric mixers, although some elbow grease is still required.
There are some benefits to using a non-electric hand mixer. First, and most important to most, is cost. You can usually pick one of these up for about $20 – $30. Not bad for a tool that will save you a lot of work in the kitchen.
Another benefit of a non-electric mixer is that they’re typically small. These don’t eat up your counter space and can easily fit in a drawer or cabinet. You also don’t have a cord in your way to worry about.
These mixers do have some drawbacks to consider. One of the biggest drawbacks is power. A manual hand mixer simply isn’t made to handle thick mixes. Even if it can handle it, you’re going to hand to really put some muscle into it to achieve good results.
Another drawback is that they require manual work. While you won’t have to move a whisk or fork around a bowl, you will have to crank away to keep the attachments moving.
If you’d like to know more about non-electric hand mixers, check out our Best Manual Hand Mixer post.
Electric Hand Mixer
If you like the idea of not having to manually use a whisk or fork, but don’t like the idea of cranking a manual hand mixer to keep the attachments moving, an electric hand mixer might be a good option for you. An electric hand mixer is a good stepping stone from a manual hand mixer and provides some of the benefits of a stand mixer.
One of the benefits of an electric hand mixer, when compared with a manual hand mixer, is the increased power. Manual hand mixers are really only intended to be used with lighter mixes or to beat eggs. Electric mixers, on the other hand, can handle mixtures that aren’t quite so light. For really thick mixtures, you’re still going to want to go with a stand mixer, which we discuss a little further down the page.
Speaking of stand mixers, one of the benefits of an hand mixer, when compared with a stand mixer, is the smaller frame. In comparison, stand mixers are massive. Hand mixers, however, not only take up very little space on your counter, but they can easily fit in your cabinet as well. Because of the electronic components, they do tend to be larger than manual mixers.
The cost of an electric hand mixer can be a benefit or drawback, depending on what you’re comparing it with. You can get a nice, electric hand mixer for under $100.
Something to consider with electric hand mixers is that you have to move the mixer around the mixing bowl by hand. Depending on the thickness of the mixture, this can be both time consuming and tiring on your arm. We recommend looking for a mixer that has enough power to handle the mixtures you intend to create, while also having a fairly light frame.
If you really want to make things easy on yourself, a stand mixer is the way to go. While relatively costly when compared to the other options, a stand mixer provides an easy and efficient way to mix your cake batter.
Stand mixers offer the most power out of all of the options we’ve discussed. A typical stand mixture has different speed settings to optimally mix different types of mixtures. Just keep in mind that not all stand mixers offer the same power rating, so make sure you get a mixer with enough power to handle your typical mixtures.
One of the greatest benefits of a stand mixer is how easy it is to use. You can simply load up the mixing bowl with your ingredients, set the speed setting, turn it on, and walk away. Of course, this depends on the type of mixture you’re making, but still, this is not even an option with hand mixers.
Something to consider with stand mixers is that they are large and heavy. Not only are they difficult to move, but they eat up a lot of your counter space. When not in use, you’re going to have a difficult time finding a good place to store it. That’s one of the reasons that many people store stand mixers right on their counters.
Probably the most important factor to consider with stand mixers for most people is the cost. When compared with hand mixers, stand mixers are quite expensive. You can expect to pay between $150 and $500 for a good stand mixer (see our recommendations for low-cost stand mixers).
If you frequently spend time mixing ingredients in your kitchen, this cost might be easily justified. If that doesn’t sound like you, you might want to go with a hand mixer for now, then upgrade when you’re ready.
Mixing ingredients by hand isn’t as intimidating as it sounds. As long as you have the right tools and are willing to put the time and effort into it that is required, it can save you from having to spend the money on an expensive electric mixer.
While mixing by hand is very doable, if you spend enough time in the kitchen on a regular basis, an electric mixer might make a lot of sense for you. As with most things, we recommend starting small and working your way up. So, start with mixing by hand, then graduate to an electric mixer when it makes sense to do so.
Let us know what your experiences have been with mixing batter by hand!