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How to soften butter

Softened Butter
With just a few exceptions, most baking recipes call for butter to be softened or at room temperature. Softened butter spreads easily onto bread and toast, and it whips up into a fluffy mixture with sugar that helps produce a fine, tender crumb in baked goods. Chilled butter is too hard to cream into sugar easily and melted butter simply begins to dissolve the sugar, and does not create the light mixture produced by creaming.

The best way to soften butter is by leaving it out on the counter for an hour or so before you will need to use it. The exact time will vary depending on the temperature in your kitchen and in hot weather your butter will soften much more quickly than in cold! Softened butter should yield easily to a gentle squeeze of the wrapper and it should have an easy-to-spread consistency, so that a butter knife can easily cut through it and scoop some up. The butter should not be so soft that it cannot hold its shape or that it has begun to melt. If it is very hot, keep a close eye on softening butter so that it does not over-soften and pop it back into the fridge before it gets to that point if you’re not ready to use it.

If you need to soften your butter quickly, it is not a good idea to pop it in the microwave for a few seconds. This can melt the butter and, while it will probably not have a big impact in a batch of chocolate chip cookies, it actually can impact the fluffiness of the crumb in a cake recipe. The best thing to do is to chop the butter up into small pieces, as they will soften faster than a whole block of butter. You can put the pieces into a mixing bowl and beat it (starting on low speed) with a mixer or the paddle attachment of a stand mixer to encourage it to soften. A few minutes of mixing along with 10-15 minutes of sitting out in small pieces should soften the butter enough to use in a recipe.

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  • Michelle
    August 9, 2011

    Our microwave actually has a Soften Butter setting. But I always try to leave the butter out on the counter if I can. Of course that involves planning ahead, which is not my strong suit when it comes to baking!

  • Linda
    August 9, 2011

    I confess I do use the microwave to soften it but I use the defrost setting and only to the first “turn food over” which is maybe 30 seconds. I have erred on the side of over-softening it but that setting usually does it just right. Slight give to the sides without being too soft.

  • Nicole
    August 9, 2011

    Even better than cutting it into small chunks is to grate it! Messy hands but it works like a hot damn (so to speak).

  • Niki
    August 9, 2011

    I also used to put the packaged butter on the top of the stove while the oven was preheating. As long as you keep an eye on it and turn it every couple of minutes, it softens well. You have to keep an eye on it though, or it’ll melt!!

  • Jerry
    August 9, 2011

    I’ve employed the 10 second microwave method: put a stick in the microwave, whirl it for 10 seconds, stop & rest; repeat 2 or 3 times until soft. I then transfer to the mixer to complete the softening.

  • Brenda
    August 10, 2011

    I just wanted to say how very much I enjoy this site.. I can’t hardly wait til morning to check. thanks for all the information and insight you provide.


  • Yatee
    August 10, 2011

    I use the defrost method & putting-on-the-side-the-oven method, too, as others above me have said. It’s funny that you mention how using the microwave is not a good idea, but may not impact a batch of chocolate chip cookies. Yesterday I literally did just that! But I didn’t let it melt, just soften slightly & then beat till it was uniformly whipped.

  • sharon
    July 14, 2013

    Does the graininess I taste when mixing the sugar and butter detemine the texture of the cake?

  • Nicole
    July 16, 2013

    Sharon – No, it does not. Both the butter and sugar will melt as the cake bakes and you will not get a grainy texture from the sugar.

  • Terrence, Michael
    March 1, 2014

    Just what I needed. Excellent advice re. “cooled butter”. Was perplexed now looking forward to next batch of pancakes & scones.

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