Tip: How to Soften Butter Quickly

The quick way to soften butter for baking, with a little wax paper and a rolling pin.

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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

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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).

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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".

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."

Showing 4 of 41 Comments

  • Mitchell

    Last December my friend came over to my house to bake holiday cookies with
    me. I had forgotten to take the butter out of the fridge to soften, and, as it had been in the freezer until a couple
    of hours earlier, it was very hard. My friend, who had been to a culinary college, said not to worry. She unpeeled the sticks of butter and, using my Oxo Y-peeler, shaved of thin
    curls of butter the length of the sticks into a bowl, and, after sitting at room temperature for 20 minutes more, they creamed quickly and easily.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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!

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Tip: How to Soften Butter Quickly