6 Ways to Quickly Soften Butter to Room Temperature

Softened Butter Cut Into Slices on a Green Plate

Have you ever seen a recipe that requires softened butter or room temperature butter, but you weren’t sure what that meant?  OR, have you ever asked yourself, “how do I soften butter to room temperature quickly?  Read below to learn the 6 ways to quickly soften butter to room temperature. 

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Importance of Butter Consistency

The consistency of butter is very important for baking recipes and helps them turn out perfectly.  Some recipes require cold butter straight from the fridge, some call for melted butter, and others specify room temperature butter. 

Does it really matter if the butter you use is different than the type specified in the recipe?  The short answer is yes.  While there is definitely an art to baking, it is also a science that requires precise measurements and temperatures to achieve the perfect bake.  Butter is one of the most important ingredients because it can change the final product significantly based on its state when it’s added to the recipe.  In this case, the “state” is referring to cold/solid, melted, or softened/semi-solid.

Typically, room temperature butter is used in recipes where the creaming process is necessary.  The creaming process involves mixing softened butter with sugar until the mixture is light in color and has increased in volume.  To achieve this, the rough surface of the sugar crystals cut through the butter and create small air bubbles that are encased in fat.  These air bubbles lighten the mixture and help with leavening the baked good (i.e., helping it rise while baking).  Creaming usually leads to a light and fluffy texture in baked goods (like in cakes or cookies).

Butter that is too cold or too warm won’t properly hold onto the bubbles (i.e., it won’t create aeration in the mixture), which in turn will lead to dense and poorly risen baked goods.    

What Does Room Temperature Butter Look Like?

Softened Butter with a Finger Impression

Butter is an interesting ingredient because it can be incorporated into baking in different states (e.g., frozen, solid, semi-solid, and melted).  Room temperature butter is the semi-solid stage where butter is spreadable, but it is still able to hold its shape.  When you push your finger into the top of the stick, it should sink in without any resistance.  Additionally, it should not be shiny or greasy looking.  This is a sign it has started to melt. 

What Temperature is Room Temperature Butter

“Room temperature” can be a confusing term because everybody keeps their rooms and houses at different temperatures.  The temperature in your kitchen could also change based on how much cooking/baking you’ve already done for the day, whether the sun is shining through the window, or even due to the seasons. 

For this reason, I like to talk about “room temperature” butter based on the temperature the butter should be at, rather than the temperature of the actual room.  According to Cook’s Illustrated, room temperature butter is typically between 65-67°F/18-19°C.  Although this range can increase to 70°F/21°C.  Generally, it’s safer to err on the lower side because the temperature of the butter will rise as it’s beaten with a mixer. 

Butter generally melts between 82-97°F/26-28°C.  If your kitchen is near that temperature, you will need to be careful not to leave your butter out very long because it will get too soft.   

6 Ways to Quickly Soften Butter to Room Temperature:

I almost always need to soften butter quickly because when I want to bake, I don’t want to wait a long time for ingredients to be at the appropriate temperature.  I want to bake right now!  It’s also possible I’m a procrastinator who waits until the last minute to bake something.  In these cases, there isn’t time to wait hour(s) for butter to soften.  Below are 6 ways to quickly soften butter to room temperature.   

1) Heat in Microwave

Softened butter in microwave

Softening butter in the microwave is one of the fastest and easiest ways to quickly soften butter.  However, this is also an option that can very easily result in melted butter.  If you microwave has a “soften butter” button, use that option.  I had a microwave that allowed me to choose the amount of butter I wanted to soften, and it was wonderful.  It almost always softened it without melting it. 

If you don’t have a preset button, place the butter in the microwave.  I typically put the whole stick in on a plate (just in case it melts so I don’t have to clean the microwave).  Heat the butter for 5 seconds and then turn the stick so another side is facing up.  Then heat it again for 5 seconds.  It will typically take about 20-25 seconds to soften the butter.  Turning the butter allows the butter to soften more evenly on all sides.  If you start seeing melted butter, immediately stop microwaving the butter. 

While this method is very fast and a lot of people own microwaves, it’s also VERY easy to melt your butter.  This method is also not a good option if you’re trying to quickly soften frozen butter.  The outside WILL melt before the inside has softened.  I usually avoid this microwave method unless I want melted butter. 

2) Leave Butter Out at Room Temperature

Softened Butter at Room Temperature in 3 Ways - stick, sliced, and grated

If you plan ahead while baking, this is the best option (look below for faster variations).  Simply leave your butter out on your counter for about an hour before starting and your butter should be softened.  This of course depends on the temperature of your room (it should be at least 68°F/20°C or higher since butter can’t get warmer than the ambient temperature).  If you are thawing frozen butter, it can take hours for the butter to reach room temperature.  For faster results, place sticks of butter on the counter so they aren’t touching and rotate the sticks (i.e., turn them so another side is facing upward) about every 30 minutes so all sides can soften evenly. 

While this method is arguably the easiest and least likely to result in melting some of the butter, it is also the most time consuming.  If you want to bake something immediately, this is not the option you want. 

Quick Variations:
Cut Butter and Leave at Room Temperature

Use a knife to cut butter into smaller slices and lay them on their side to soften to room temperature.  This technique increases the surface area and allows the butter to soften more quickly than when the whole stick is on the counter.  With this method, you don’t have to worry about melted butter (unless your room is very warm) and it allows the butter to soften quickly (around 20 minutes depending on your room’s temperature and how thinly you slice the butter).  I cut my stick into 20 slices (because that’s how many will fit perfectly on the paper the butter is packaged in and by the time I’ve finished prepping the rest of my ingredients, it’s usually ready.  The only downside to this option is having to spend a small amount of time cutting the cold butter.

Grate Butter and Leave at Room Temperature

In this variation, you will use a grater to grate the butter like you would with cheese.  Spread out the butter (I like to do this on a flexible cutting board or a piece of parchment paper) and it will soften VERY quickly due to the very large amount of surface area that is exposed to warmer temperatures.  This option will result in room temperature butter is around 5 minutes, however, it’s a little more time consuming, you will have a greasy hand, and you will now need to wash a grater (which I personally dislike a lot).  The only time I use this option is if I’m making certain pastries because recipes will sometimes call for grated butter.  Otherwise, I just cut the butter into slices.  This method is best for quickly softening frozen butter. 

3) Soften Butter Using a Glass

Softened butter under a warm glass

This method is also sometimes called a hot water bath.  Fill a glass cup (that is tall enough to fit an entire stick of butter) with hot water and let it sit for approximately 5 minutes to warm the glass.  Pour out the water and turn the glass upside down over the stick of butter that is standing upright.  The radiant heat from the glass will soften the butter in 5-10 minutes.  To get faster results, make sure the butter is upright and not lying on its side.  Again, increasing the surface area that the warm air is touching will soften the butter more quickly. 

While this method is quick for softening butter, you again run the risk of melting the outside of the stick.  The best way to maximize the radiant heat is to use a glass cup rather than a plastic or metal one.  It will hold onto the heat better and slowly allow the warmth to dissipate as opposed to plastic and metal that will cool down more quickly. 

Variation

Heat a cup of water in the microwave in a microwave-safe container for 2 minutes.  While the water is heating, place your butter into a heat-proof bowl or a plate.  Cutting the butter into smaller pieces will allow it to soften more quickly than as a whole stick.  Remove the water cup from the microwave.  Be careful because the water will be extremely hot at this point (don’t burn yourself when removing it).  Then, place the bowl/plate of butter in the microwave WITHOUT turning it on.  Just close the door.  The radiant heat that remains from the water will soften the butter in approximately 10 minutes.  Try to avoid opening the microwave to check until it’s close to 10 minutes because each time the door is opened, more heat will be released, which will cause your butter to soften more slowly.

4) Use a Kitchen Torch or Hair Dryer

Kitchen torch point at stand mixer bowl

In a metal bowl (e.g., the bowl of your stand mixer), point the blow torch or hair dryer at the base of the bowl and slowly move it side to side while the mixer is running on medium speed.  This will heat the butter through the bowl and soften it within seconds.  While this method is incredibly fast (about 5-15 seconds of heating) and looks pretty cool if you’re using a kitchen torch, it also has some downsides.  Using a kitchen torch is potentially dangerous because you are introducing direct flame into your kitchen.  It’s also important to only use this method with metal bowls.  Glass can shatter if exposed to direct flame and plastic will melt when exposed to high temperatures.  There is also a high possibility you will melt the butter.  I don’t typically use this option unless I wasn’t paying attention when I threw my butter into my mixing bowl, and it wasn’t soft enough.

5) Use Indirect Heat

This is a combination of leaving the butter on the counter and using radiant heat to soften the butter.  Baking usually requires the use of an oven, which produces heat.  You can speed up the softening process by keeping the butter near the stove (or even above it on a shelf if you have it).  The hot air from the oven or stove will warm the air, which will in turn soften the butter.  Be careful not to forget about the butter and leave it for too long.  The heat from an oven/stove can easily melt the butter.   

6) Roll Out Butter into a Block

Block of Softened Butter on a Sheet of Parchment Paper

To do this, use two sheets of waxed or parchment paper.  Place the butter between the two sheets and use a rolling pin to roll it out like you would dough.  As you roll it out, you are increasing the surface area, which allows the butter to soften more quickly.  To use it, simply peel the paper off.  This method can also a great stress reliever since you generally must hit the butter a few times with the rolling pin to soften it enough to roll out.  

This method is fairly quick depending on how thin you roll it; however it can be difficult to measure butter in this form (so make sure you measure it before rolling so you already have the correct amount) and it does require more muscle than any of the options above.  I generally only use this option if I’m making pastries that require a butter block.

To summarize, here are the 6 Ways to Quickly Soften Butter to Room Temperature:

  1. Heat in the Microwave
  2. Leave Butter Out at Room Temperature (as a full stick, cut slices, or grated)
  3. Use a Heated Glass
  4. Kitchen Torch or Hair Dryer
  5. Indirect Heat
  6. Roll Out Butter into a Block

Let me know if the comments below, what is your favorite way to soften butter?  Do you use a different method that I don’t have listed here?  I’d love to know!

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