Tip: How to Soften Butter Quickly

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

Many baking recipes call for “softened” butter, or room temperature butter. The reason for using softened butter is that you want to beat the butter (also called “creaming the butter”), either with sugar or without, and it’s very hard to beat a cold stick of butter.

The best thing to do to soften your butter is to put it out on the kitchen counter for an hour before you have to use it. But sometimes we don’t think that far ahead. One popular solution is to put the cold butter in the microwave for 10 to 20 seconds. The problem with microwaving butter is that the microwave can heat the butter unevenly, and tends to over-soften or even melt the butter in places. You want pliable butter for beating, not almost melting butter.

Here’s a simple trick to soften butter quickly using some wax paper and a rolling pin.

Tip: How to Soften Butter Quickly



Just put the stick of butter between two large pieces of wax paper. Using a rolling pin, press down on the butter. Roll it out they way you would roll out a pie crust. When the butter is about 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick, lift off the wax paper and peel away the butter (before it gets too soft to peel).

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Voilà! Softened butter, ready for beating.

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This trick was taught to me several years ago by (I think) my neighbor, pastry chef Evie Lieb, who, if I am recalling correctly, told me that she learned about it from a collective of Bay Area bakers called the "Baker's Dozen".

Butter Holds the Secret to Cookies That Sing - New York Times article on butter in baking, including "Never use a microwave: it will melt it, even though it will look solid. When the butter is still cold, but takes the imprint of a finger when gently pressed, it is ready to be creamed."

Showing 4 of 40 Comments

  • Mary Ann

    If you use the microwave to soften butter, and it gets too soft, take several ice cubes and push them through the butter with a fork. The cold from the ice will harden the butter; you can add more cubes if needed. The water separates naturally from the butterfat. After the butter is the consistency you need, pour off the water and use the softened butter.

  • Alex

    I couldn’t find my rolling pin or wax paper so I settled on a new strategy. Take a large plate and a stick of butter, still wrapped, on the plate. Peel the wrapping off and flatten the wrapping out onto the plate. Then take a butter knife and slice the butter into several pieces, until your entire stick is all sliced up. Place all the pieces onto the wrapping so that they won’t stick to your plate. Now wait a little bit (30mins, an hour?) and you should have relatively quick softened butter!

  • Birchwood Pie

    Great tip. I’ve ruined so many recipes by microwaving butter…it’s impossible to avoid overheating. It only took a minute to get two sticks softened using your method. Thanks!

  • Marie

    Saved my life. I was starting to make lemon snowbars and needed to cut in softened butter. Only had about an hour to be completely done (just invited a guest for dinner). So – ran to the computer, googled softening butter, and came here first (thought I should use the microwave). I didn’t believe this would work but it sounded fast so tried it. Took the butter out of the fridge, ripped off 2 pieces of wax paper, and with my wooden rolling pin (not with the stockinette sleeve), I smashed the butter into submission – pushed and rolled like pie crust but *way* harder. Then measured out the flour and conf. sugar and put the flat butter on top, turning it over a couple of times to coat it. Then left it while I broke the eggs and juiced the lemon. We’re talking just a couple minutes altogether. Then got my two knives (like using them best) and cut in that butter. Worked wonderfully well. Went on to complete the snowbars, baked and on the rack, in under an hour. Now I’m stealing 2 more minutes to tell you THANKS!!!

  • joyce

    Once again Elise came through again — a perfect tip and it worked like a charm. We were able to have cookies in a hurry without remembering to soften the butter. I did cut the sticks in 1/2 lengthwise (as suggested from others) and I do think this made it easier.

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