No matter how many times I make cheesecake, I always forget about setting out the cream cheese to soften before hand -- an important detail if you like smooth, lump-free cheesecake. Which I think we can all agree, we very much do.
I've tried microwaving on half-power to warm it up and also tried dunking the sealed package in a bowl of warm water. But I often end up with a melted cheese puddle with the former method and worry about package leaks with the latter.
Here's what I do instead.
Using a stiff spatula, I spread the cream cheese into a thin layer on a plate or other flat surface. Cover it loosely with plastic wrap and set it somewhere warm, like next to a warm oven or radiator.
After a few minutes, I scrape up all the cream cheese and spread it flat again. Repeat this a few times until the cream cheese feels soft and pliable, and you're good to go!
It's ok if the cream cheese still feels a little cool to the touch. As long as it is no longer stiff from the fridge, you should be fine.
Granted, this method still takes around 15 minutes or so before you can use the cream cheese, but it's faster than waiting for the cream cheese to soften on the counter and there's no risk of over-softening or melting. I use the time to gather my ingredients, make the graham cracker crust, and get myself organized.
Do you have a favorite shortcut for softening cream cheese?