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Can you over-soften butter?

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Butter melting

Butter needs to be melted or chilled for many recipes, but most baking recipes usually encourage cooks to bring their ingredients to room temperature before starting to mix things up. Everything incorporates much more easily when it is all at the same temperature and you generally get a better, not to mention a more consistent, result when you prep your ingredients this way every time. One of the good things about summer is that it doesn’t take very long for butter to come up to room temperature (about 70F or so). One of the bad things is that it is easy to over-soften the butter.

Is it possible to over-soften butter? Yes, it is. Over-softened butter is where the butter begins to melt. Butter doesn’t have one specific melting point because its composition varies with different percentages of butterfats and liquids, so instead it has a range of temperatures in which it can turn from a solid to a liquid. This is roughly 85-95F. Softened butter blends easily with sugar,  creating a light and fluffy mixture where the sugar is suspended in butterfat. When the butter melts in the oven, you are left with little pockets of air that give a baked good a fine and tender crumb, as well as a little bit of a rise. Sugar cannot be suspended in melted butter, so no pockets of butterfat can form and a baked good will be a bit more dense than one made with creamed butter.

So, softened butter and melted butter will give you different results when you bake, even if your butter is only partially melted. It is best to stick with softened butter – and to check the butter frequently on hot days to make sure it doesn’t over-soften – when a recipe calls for it.

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  • Liz Brooks
    July 16, 2009

    This is great advice Nicole! I’m going to link to this next week in one of my food articles.

  • Kat
    July 16, 2009

    Thank you for this explanation. I experienced what happens with over softened butter with the last batch of cookies I made. I forgot to take the butter out early and in an attempt to still get the cookies made, popped it in the micro for 10 seconds. It made it to that just about to start to melt point which was not good in the end for my cookies. Taste was still fine, but working with the dough and the end look of the cookie is not what I wanted.

  • Cricket
    July 16, 2009

    This is very informative. I’m sometimes too impatient to put an over-softened stick back into the refrigerator. I didn’t realize how much this affects the outcome of baked goods.
    Thanks for the post. 🙂

  • Amy
    July 16, 2009

    I learned this the hard way! Hopefully your post will save some bakers for making the mistake os substituting melted for softened butter.

  • Michele
    July 16, 2009

    Great and helpful post!

  • Laurel
    July 17, 2009

    I agree, totally informative! I knew there were different results with texture etc… in melted vs. softened, but never knew the background. Thank you!

  • Eliza
    July 28, 2009

    I’m just learning how to bake, and I had NO IDEA “soften” didn’t mean “melt”. I love this blog — thank you so much for it!

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