Even after carefully reading a recipe a few times over, it’s way too easy to overlook something important – like needing to take butter out of the fridge and let it soften before you start cooking. And when you’re in a hurry, there’s little more annoying than discovering you can’t actually tackle the next step of a recipe because you totally forgot about that softened butter.
Don’t panic, and don’t throw your stick of butter into the microwave for a quick nuke. You don’t have to wait half an hour or more to get perfectly softened butter. You just need a couple of quick kitchen tricks. Here’s how you can achieve just the right temperature and consistency from your butter in a few seconds.
Do you really have to soften butter when you’re baking?
If you’re thinking, “Why even bother softening butter? Just throw it in while it’s still cold or cool!” you definitely aren’t alone. I know I’ve second-guessed whether the softened butter a recipe calls for really needs to be truly soft and slightly malleable.
But here’s the catch. Failing to use softened butter can completely throw off the delicate texture of many different baking recipes. It’s especially important when you’re baking pastries, like pie doughs and croissants. But it also makes a difference when you’re baking a batch of simple chocolate chip cookies.
Softened butter helps stabilize your batter, regardless of what you’re making. The fat in butter can be creamed more evenly with sugar and flour when it’s warm and soft, which creates a more evenly blended or mixed final product. If you skip the softening stage, you can easily wind up with some seriously lumpy, oily or chunky final products with unmixed spots of butter.
And as a word of warning, “softened” doesn’t mean “melted”. If you’re throwing your butter into the microwave to zap it into a kind-of-soft, kind-of-melted final product, it’s not quite right. Melted butter will mess with your baking recipes just like cold butter.
So, how can you take your butter from fridge-cold to perfectly soft without turning it into a puddle? Try these tips and tricks.
Put your butter in a hot glass bowl or cup
You can get super hot water from your kitchen tap in just seconds, and you can use that to indirectly warm up cold butter quickly.
Run your sink until the water is steaming hot. Then, grab a glass bowl or cup and fill it up with that super hot water. Once you see the glass itself warm up (or feel it with your fingers – just be careful!), dump the water out and place your butter inside the container. The heat from the now-hot glass will warm up your butter in a few seconds flat. When it’s just soft enough, your butter will be recipe-ready.
Alternatively, if you have a little more time, you can also boil water instead of getting it from your kitchen’s faucet.
“Microwave” your butter in a bowl
While microwaving cold butter tends to turn it into a molten-hot melted mess (or, even worse, a half-melted, half-softened stick), you can use your microwave to achieve softened butter. You just have to use its heat indirectly.
Instead of putting your stick of butter inside the microwave, fill a microwave-safe bowl or other container with water and pop it into your microwave. Heat it for about one to two minutes, or until it generates some steam inside the appliance. Once you’ve warmed up the interior of your microwave, pull out the container and put your butter inside. Let it sit for a few minutes, and it should soften perfectly.
If you need your butter softened in seconds, not minutes, cut it up into slices or small chunks before you put it inside the microwave. Smaller pieces means less time is required to warm the butter.
Grate your butter
Here’s a trick that requires a little more effort but works fast. Don’t bother warming up your butter – instead, grab a grater and grate it like you would a hard or semi-hard cheese.
Why does this work? Well, it doesn’t technically heat the butter, but it does break its surface area down into very small pieces. Plus, you’re creating friction as you grate, which helps warm up the cheese as it shrinks in size. And you’ll get a little bit of extra heat by holding the stick of butter in one hand while you grate.
Once you add the small grated pieces of butter into your mix of other ingredients, you’ll notice it’s easy to emulsify and incorporate. It’s like a little cheat that allows you to skip the softening waiting time altogether.
Beat your butter with a rolling pin
If grating is too slow for you and you just want to get your butter ready ASAP, grab your rolling pin and get ready to unleash a little pent-up stress! You can literally beat your butter until it’s soft enough to work with.
All you need is a resealable plastic or silicone bag and your rolling pin. Place your butter inside the bag, then start pounding away at it with your rolling pin. You can also use a meat pounder if you have one. No matter what you’re whacking away at your butter with, the end goal is to take the stick from thick to flat.
This method works to soften a solid refrigerated stick by increasing the surface area. Instead of trying to warm up a small but thick object, you’ll spread it out into a thinner, larger item that’s exposed to more air and more warmth.
It’s unconventional (and kind of fun), but it takes a stick of butter from hard and unusable to pounded into pliable softness. Just don’t get carried away. All you really need are a few good whacks to achieve the right softness.
Now that you’ve mastered softening butter in just seconds or minutes, keep reading for more tips and tricks: