Recipes often call for softened or creamed butter. There are many ways to soften butter easily without any fuss.
You can always soften butter the old school way – by letting it stand at room temperature until it has softened, but what usually happens is when you need softened butter, your butter is all in the fridge.
Especially when you live in sub-tropical climate like I do, butter quickly melts into a puddle in summer outside the refrigerator and even in winter it can get runny.
Need Softened Butter for Baking
Doesn’t it happen to you all the time? You are in the mood to bake; you’ve got a great recipe; all your ingredients are on the counter and then as you read the recipe you see that the butter needs to be softened. You know all your butter is in the fridge and your heart sinks because you don’t want to wait 30 or 45 minutes.
What do you do?
Getting butter soft and pliable isn’t so easy without actually melting it, and you don’t want that.
There are many ways to softening hard butter in a pinch, like cutting it into small cubes, pounding it with a rolling pin, or setting it over a warm water bath.
What is Softened Butter?
Butter is officially softened and ready to use when it can be easily squished between your thumb and forefinger. It should still hold its shape but dent when pressed. No part of it should be melted.
Every baker will have their own tips and tricks, but I’ve found a few softening methods that I think work well.
Softening Butter the Traditional Way
OK, we have already talked about softening butter the traditional way by leaving it at room temperature.
Not sure how long to soften butter? You’ll want to keep an eye on it, but the easiest way to soften butter is to remove a cold stick from the refrigerator and let it stand at room temperature for 30 to 60 minutes until it becomes room temperature or until just spreadable.
This softening method depends on the size of the stick of butter and the temperature of the room.
Softening Butter in the Microwave
This method works best for softening butter meant to be used as a spread. It can be a bit tricky. If you use this method for baking, make sure the butter does not start to melt, since this would be too soft for baking recipes that call for softened butter. Once melted the butter reacts differently with the dough and will give your baked goods a different consistency.
To microwave, place the butter in a microwave-safe dish and microwave on 30 percent power (defrost) for 15 seconds. Check the consistency of the butter and repeat, if necessary.
Another way to thaw frozen butter quickly is to defrost the butter in the microwave in short (10-second) bursts at a low temperature until softened. Then let it stand on the counter till soft enough.
The Warm Water Method
This method isn’t quite as accurate but it is an effective way to soften butter. Cut the butter, straight from the fridge, into large cubes. Place the butter cubes into a bowl of lukewarm water (about the temperature of a baby’s bath) and leave it for ten minutes. Drain the water off the butter and it should ready to cream. You can also place the blocks of butter in a glass bowl and place this bowl over a larger bowl that contains hot water.
Using a Rolling Pin to Soften Butter
Butter is a key ingredient in many recipes and is crucial for creating delicious baked goods. If you are in a hurry for soft butter, use a Ziploc Bag and a Rolling pin. It’s important to note that this gets you softened butter, not room-temperature butter. This is also a great way to relieve stress – whacking it with the rolling pin. A few minutes left on the counter and the butter will be up to room temperature.
Using a Potato Peeler or Grater
Both these methods rely on the fact that you have smaller, thinner pieces of butter that warm to room temperature more easily. They are both quick and easy
An Alternate Method of Creaming the Butter
This is an ingenious method that works every time – as long as you’re using the creaming method. (And you also have sugar in the recipe). Weigh out the sugar you’re going to use then zap it in the microwave on high for 20-30 seconds until it’s warm to the touch (not hot). Then add it to your cold butter in the electric mixer and cream as usual.
I have now run out of methods to soften butter fast, so I think I’ll go and bake some scones. Luckily I put the butter on the counter before I started writing.