While not every baking recipe starts with softened butter, the majority of cookie, cake and bar recipes do. Softened butter should be about room temperature, which will make it easy to cream together with butter and other ingredients to form a batter or dough. Room temperature can vary, but it is generally considered to be in the range of 67-73 degrees F. The easiest way to soften butter and bring it to room temperature is to simply let it sit out on the counter for a while. On a hot day in summer, a stick of butter will soften in as little as 30 minutes, while it could take up to 2 or 3 hours on a colder day in the winter! Fortunately, there are some ways to soften butter more quickly if you don’t have the patience to wait around:
Option 1: Cut It Down
A block of butter will take longer to reach room temperature than smaller pieces of butter. By taking a stick of butter and cutting it into smaller pieces – 8 to 10 pieces is enough – you will dramatically reduce the time it takes to reach room temperature. Separate the pieces on a plate, or on a piece of parchment on your counter. Your butter should be softened and ready to cream in as little as 5 minutes. Placing the butter in a warmer area of your kitchen (not hot, but warm) will also help.
Option 2: Work It
You can quicken the softening process by beating the butter with a hand mixer or with the paddle attachment of a stand mixer. You can even simply beat the stick of butter into a softer, flatter piece with a rolling pin. The butter will soften as it starts to move, so after a few minutes, you should have butter than you can easily cream with sugar.
Option 3: Microwave It
Microwaving is the most common way that people use to soften hard sticks of butter, but it is not the best method. In the microwave, it is far to easy to melt the butter (all, or a portion of it) and that can compromise the texture of your recipe. For instance, melted butter can yield flatter cookies or a denser cake when it is used in a recipe that specifically calls for creaming softened butter. If you must microwave your butter, do it in very short increments (5 seconds at a time) and rotate the butter so that it doesn’t soften more on one side than another.