Tip: How to Soften Butter Quickly

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

Method

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).

soften-butter-tip-1.jpg soften-butter-tip-2.jpg
soften-butter-tip-3.jpg soften-butter-tip-4.jpg

Voilà! Softened butter, ready for beating.

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".

Links:
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."

51 Comments

  1. KissTheChef

    Great trick. I would probably split the stick of butter longways in two before I rolled it out to save some arm strength. Something I’ve done in the past : since all your ingredients when you are baking should be at room temp for maximum rise,eggs and butter can both be an issue. I run a bowl of hot tap water, place my eggs in it, then put a small plate on top of it. I dice my butter and spread it out on the plate on top of the eggs. By the time I need them, they are both closer to room temp.

  2. Trish in MO

    What?! Nobody plans ahead to bake? *smirk*

    This method.. is too easy to be true! I would test it out this morning, but my butter is FROZEN. OH! A good question then… though it may be silly, bear with me.. baking is fairly new to me. How long can you leave a stick of butter in the fridge anyway?

    Thanks!

    Great question. Butter will eventually get rancid in the refrigerator if it’s there long enough. You’ll be able to notice the off taste. I forget how long though. ~Elise

  3. Sami

    Ooh, I can’t wait to try this one. Thank you!

    When creaming butter straight from the fridge, I put the butter and sugar in my metal mixing bowl, and float the bowl in warm water in the sink. If the butter seems to be getting too soft, I just take the bowl out and put it on the counter.

  4. Mary

    Here’s another trick for softening butter: Get out your cheese grater and grate the butter right into your mixing bowl. If you’re icky about getting stuff on your hands (as am I) hold the butter by its wrapper. I use the large holes on my box grater and it goes fast and works well. BTW thanks for the update on the kitchen remodel project. Looks great!

  5. eden

    bonus – this is basically what you have to do to make puff pastry, danishes and croissants. So if you master this – think of all the yummyness you can bake!

  6. Jessica

    I have a silly question is a that a rubber rolling pin? If so what kind is it? A few years back, someone bought me a wooden rolling pin but it was cheap and had slivers…. I am leery of all wooden rolling pins since.

    It’s a silicone rolling pin. I love it! ~Elise

  7. Sam

    An easy, old-fashioned, way to soften a stick of butter is to put the whole stick–waxed paper and all–in a sandwich bag and put it in your pants pocket. Depending n how warm your body and house are, you should have soft butter pretty quickly. Just don’t forget about it!!!

  8. Sally

    I wonder if you can do the same thing with cream cheese (which causes me more problems than butter).

    Don’t see why not. ~Elise

  9. kellypea

    You are so much more delicate than I. I put mine in a heavy duty zip-lock and whack it into submission. ; )

  10. Nurit - 1 family. friendly. food.

    I use the microwave but I do it the Cooks’ Illustrated way – 1 minute per stick on 10% power level. Works great.

  11. Mitchel

    Ummmm…I’ve always just melted the butter.
    Figured it would be easier for mixing that way.
    Feeling slightly foolish right about now…

    Some baking recipes can handle melted butter, but many, if not most, cannot. ~Elise

  12. Alex

    You are my hero! I’ll try this next time I bake.

    One trick I had up my sleeve was to cut up the butter and pop it in an oven that’s cooling down after being used.

  13. Wendy

    I just wanted to comment for Trish about how long to keep butter…now I usually don’t have this issue since I grew up with a southern mother and put butter in everything! BUT butter should only be kept for about a month in the fridge, this will depend on if it is salted or not the salted butter will last longer since it is a natural preservative. Otherwise if you don’t plan to use all of it, you can freeze your butter which should be OK in the freezer for 6 months if it is stored in an airtight container. Hope that helps a little.

  14. Alanna

    Great tip! My own tack is to cut the butter into cubes and then put into the microwave for 10-second increments, as many as needed to soften. Works like a charm for anyone without a rolling pin.

  15. Rachael

    I always take the butter out and put in on top of the stove as it pre-heats. Its warmer up there then on the countertop – but not too warm. Then I get all my other ingredients together, and by the time I’m ready to start the butter is usually soft enough to work with. I’m going to have to try the rolling thing now though!

  16. Jackie

    Really? This is great — I’m sure I’ll be trying this in the near future. How did you figure this one out?
    I suppose you could do the same with cream cheese.

    A pastry chef friend of mine showed me the trick. She told me that using a microwave to soften the butter is not the best approach, so she prefers the rolling pin. ~Elise

  17. Soma

    Great tip! I usually warm a bowl (with water) in the microwave, or just warm a bowl on stove top. Dump the water, dry it quick & put the butter in the warm bowl. It softens fast. Rolling pin (I absolutely love yours) is better I would think, need to try it out!

  18. Evie Lieb

    This afternoon when I went to make cookies with our grandson we had cold, hard butter. We couldn’t find his mother’s rolling pin, so we used a big round bottle of crème de Cacao. Worked like a charm to flatten and soften the butter! Max thought it was awesome that his grandma was mentioned in your blog. (His peanut butter chocolate chip cookies were awesome, too!)

    Hi Evie! Oh, that’s so cute. Tell Max that his grandma is the star of Simply Recipes. We all have you to thank for this one. :-) ~Elise

  19. Heather

    Great idea!! I rarely remember to leave it out lol. Years ago, when I was in HS, our home ec. teacher put the butter on the dryer lol, it worked like a charm!

  20. Mandee

    I get so frustrated softening butter. I live in an old uninsulated house, where all the kitchen cabinets are on an outside wall. In the colder months the temperature in the cabinets is around 50 degrees F or lower. I can’t beat butter in a bowl on the counter or it hardens back up and I can’t knead bread well on the counter either. To soften my butter I sometimes put it on the top shelf of my flourescent grow lights (I grow lettuce year round) They put off just enough heat to keep it beatable, unlike my countertops.

  21. Marcia

    When I need to beat softened butter into a recipe, I grate the cold butter into the mixing bowl and leave it for a couple of minutes. It will then be softened enough to beat into the recipe.

  22. Alexandria

    Butter doesn’t need to be refrigerated. I keep mine in a covered butter dish on the counter– it is always soft! I also keep sticks in the freezer so I am ready to make pie crusts when the desire hits!

    Butter doesn’t need to be refrigerated as long as you eat it up before it gets rancid. We always keep a stick of butter out in a covered butter dish for spreading on bread. But we also go through it pretty quickly. ~Elise

  23. Ian

    Elise, your friend Evie has a couple of recipes with Flo Braker in “The Baker’s Dozen Cookbook” – another good baking resource. She’s in good company!

    Yes, Evie is the real deal. An amazing baker. ~Elise

  24. ILoveFood

    Did not work for me. The butter needs to be softer than right-from-the-fridge temperature.

    I tried this last night, and the butter was too hard – I could make a couple dents in the butter with a couple good whacks from the rolling pin. But could not get it to roll at all. I used typical American stick butter (8 TBs per stick) – Organic Sweet Cream (unsalted) style.

    Even after 20 minutes, it was still too solid to roll.

    So I changed gears, and used a recipe that called for melted butter (Alice Medrich’s) instead of the traditional softened butter.

    How long do you recommend that it sit out before rolling it out?

    Sounds like you keep your fridge very cold. Or your house. Or perhaps you are storing your butter in the coldest part of your refrigerator. We store our butter in the fridge door, which is considered one of the warmer areas of a refrigerator. I do not need to let the butter sit out at all before rolling it out. But I do first press down hard on the rolling pin in the center of the stick of butter, to flatten it a bit before attempting to roll it out. ~Elise

  25. CookingSchoolConfidential

    Good to know. I learned at school (I’m a culinary school student) pretty early on that when a recipe was “softened butter” that is precisely what the recipe means. And woe to anyone who substitutes.

    Cheers!

  26. Elisa

    Tip: If you can’t find your rolling pin, or you don’t have one (shame on you!) try using any canned vegetable in the pantry as a substitute rolling pin; after all, the butter is covered by the wax paper, so who will know? I use a can to hit/break up walnuts and pecans instead of using a chopper or food processor by putting the nuts in a zip-top bag, and hitting the bag while it is on the cutting board. Works great and NO CLEAN-UP!

  27. Kittymom

    I have also just held the stick of butter in my hands for about 15-20 seconds, slightly working it.

    The microwave trick has always worked as well, it gets warm enough to beat with sugar.

  28. geek

    This is why people have children around. For every stick of butter needed, one child can hold it while the rest of the ingredients are prepared. By the time creaming is ready to begin, the butter is warmed.

  29. rdh

    My grandma loved to bake and always had butter ready to go in a “butter crock”. You can find them at Amazon or Ebay for around ten dollars and they usually hold two sticks at room temperature and keep the butter for weeks because they are air tight with a water seal.

    Hi rdh, a friend of mine uses a butter crock and loves it. I think it’s a great idea. Here they are at Amazon.com, including some made by Le Creuset. ~Elise

  30. LIz

    Elise, I love your blog. I have great results with everything I have tried – except this! (It’s most likely my fault though). I smashed and bruised my finger under the rolling pin doing this!

    Maybe my butter was just too cold still, but I really couldn’t get a good fix on it and the rolling pin ended up slipping off the butter and onto the counter with my finger underneath.

    So, moral of this story: be careful doing this! :)

  31. Liliana

    Lovely idea, but for those who don’t like to waste the paper nor swing the rolling pin – do what our great grannies did: wrap the butter in a tea towel (including the wrapping you bought it in) and stuff it either in your pocket or between your apron & your tummy. Soft in 10 minutes & if you employ warm thoughts even quicker.

  32. Brigid

    I just slice the stick, as thin as my patience allows, and it’s perfectly soft by the time I have all the other ingredients measured (mise en place). I should add that I slice it longwise, so there’s only about an inch of slicing to do as opposed to 5 inches crosswise.
    It’s the greenest way to go: doesn’t use any electricity and there’s no tree-felling involved either!

  33. Lee

    I am a professional pastry chef so when I saw the tip about rolling butter to soften it I was very anxious to try it. I tried with standard unsalted butter. It did not work. All I was left with was hard flat butter! I tried on another occasion with salted butter and it did not work.

    Not sure how others get this tip to work. I myself am convinced that the only ways to get soften butter is by either time or heat.

    For home bakers why not put the hard butter in a metal pan and place it on the back of your stove where the oven vent is, that way as the oven starts preheating (which should the very first thing thing you do when baking) the butter is softening from the heat.

    Hi Lee, once you roll it out, it will soften very quickly, much more quickly than if you just left the whole stick out at room temperature, because of the greatly increased surface area. Sort of like rolling out pie dough. Even if you are working with cold butter, that dough will soften very quickly once rolled out because the butter softens. ~Elise

  34. jrhather

    Thinning it out and working it allows the cold butter to absorb more heat from the surrounding air, expanding its molecular structure.

    Yay refrigeration theory applied to cooking!

  35. Lu

    Elise, I had to use method this morning (April 11) for my Easter lamb cakes! I remembered your post and did a search for it. Merci!

  36. Stacy Marie

    Interesting tip! I will try this next time I bake. I’ve tried melting butter for recipes that call for softened butter before, and the texture was markedly different when I actually took the time to use softened butter instead. While I usually do what one commenter said – namely, leaving the butter (in a glass bowl) on the stove to soften as the oven preheats – it’s always good to have more than one way to get soft butter besides that. Two questions: first, would you recommend a wooden or synthetic rolling pin, and second, is there proof that leaving butter out all the time (before it becomes “rancid,” a time window that I don’t know about because I’ve never really thought about it before) is sanitary?

    The second question is because my mom always says that it’s bad to leave butter out all the time, but she remembers “back in the old days” when her grandmother always left butter out (probably in one of those cute little crocks you linked to!).

    Great questions. First on the rolling pin, since you are putting the butter between layers of wax paper, it makes absolutely no difference. You can even use a wine bottle. Second, fat is a preservative. Butter will eventually get rancid, left out or even in the fridge. When I was living alone and rarely eating butter, I would just keep a stick in the freezer. When we leave butter out, it is in a closed ceramic container, otherwise it may attract bugs and absorb odors. ~Elise

  37. Carrie Jaynes

    I never thought this would really work, but I tried it anyway. And to my surprise it worked! In fact, it worked perfectly. I’m not a good baker and an even worse planner so this tip will save me many, many times in the future. My children will thank you because now we’ll actually be able to make cookies and treats at our house!! Thank you!

  38. Cathy

    Thank you so much for this tip. I have used it numerous times and think it is the best baking tip I have ever received.

  39. Shirley Myers

    After learning this method of softening butter I was so excited I couldn’t wait to share it with my daughter, only to find out she was softening butter on the counter for a new dessert recipe that evening. She was excited to try it out! Works great!!!

  40. Jes

    This tip is great! I’ve done it with foil as well, we ran out of wax paper. It worked fine with the foil, although I had to be careful not to rip it. Thanks for the tip!

  41. Mona

    I slice the butter and lay the slices on a plate and cover it with plastic wrap while measuring out the other ingredients. It doesn’t take too terribly long for it to soften.

  42. 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.

  43. 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!!!

  44. Mark Underwood

    Thanks, works a treat! Much better then using the microwave (which I don’t have a.t.m.) and what’s even better is you can use the greaseproof paper to butter the tin, double win :)

  45. Crystal

    Omg!! this is the best trick EVER . I myself is well,you could say talented at baking/cooking.
    Yet I never think about this trick *sulking* .
    I usually just hold it for a while, about 3 min.
    since my hand is naturally 3 times warmer than normal hand. Anyway thanks for this handy trick ^^

  46. heather

    yay. thank god.

  47. 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!

  48. Barbara

    I totally just smashed my fingers… and I blame you. lol… I suck at baking and cooking, but have decided to make my weakness into a strength while I have some free time. I have been baking millions of cookies in an attempt to find the perfect recipe. My husband is getting fat from it, so we decided to advertise on facebook that I would send my cookies to activated Navy memebers (my husband is a reservist and has a lot of people he keeps in touch with). Well a guy he knew from school just asked if he could get some sweet happiness in a box. My husband asked me to make them and send them while he was at work to avoid any more weight gain on his part. I forgot to get the butter out and let it soften so I jumped on the computer to find an easier method. Your page was the first to come up. I set up the plan as suggested… went to roll out my butter, knew I would need a little muscle so I pushed super hard… and BAM! the rolling pin jumped off the cube and my fingers are now throbing. I know it isnt your fault I am a dumbass that doesn’t know how to bake well… and it isn’t your fault I am seriously buff… and I know it isn’t your fault I held the rolling pin incorrectly…. but yet… I blame you! After I stopped swearing and approached your method again, it worked just fine… but still my fingers hurt. :)

  49. Tammy

    I just put the stick of butter between my boobs (wearing a sports bra)! lol It worked!!!!! I’ll just neglect to tell anyone thats how I softened my butter shhhhhh!

  50. 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!

  51. 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.

Post a comment

Your comment may need to be approved before it will appear on the site. Thanks for waiting. First time commenting? Please review the Comment Policy.

Some HTML is OK. URLs are automatically converted to links. Line breaks are automatically converted to paragraphs. The following HTML tags are allowed: a, abbr, acronym, b, blockquote, cite, code, del, em, i, q, strike, strong