Discover the way to soften butter that’s right for your baking needs with these various methods!
As you likely well know, softened butter is a common ingredient in baking recipes. Getting the right consistency of butter is important for proper mixing when baking cookies, cakes, and other baked goods that have a creaming step.
I confess that I had been baking for years before I really understood what softening butter means. It’s one of those terms that’s so common that it often isn’t defined. Even if you’ve been baking for many years, it’s worth a review of what softened butter is and how to achieve the right consistency.
Properly softened butter should still feel cold. It should be solid but hold a thumbprint when pressed. It should also bend without breaking. You can also test for softening by cutting the butter with a knife. The butter should offer little resistance when cut.
Keep in mind that butter begins to melt at 68°F. That is the reason that I use the term “softened” versus “at room temperature” in recipes when butter needs to be creamed. Unless your kitchen’s temperature is under 68°F, then letting the butter come to room temperature will make it too warm.
Softened butter should be between 65° and 67°F. If you want to be really precise, you can use an instant-read probe thermometer to check you butter’s temperature. I don’t usually go that far, but it’s worth mentioning, especially if you’re new to baking or just want to verify that your idea of softened butter is correct.
The most common mistake in softening butter is over-softening. When that happens, the butter has gotten too warm and too soft to be considered properly softened. When butter is too warm and too soft, cookies will spread and cakes will be dense. Under-softening can also be a problem, but the butter will usually continue to soften as it mixes and heats up from the mixer.
There are several methods you can use to soften butter. Some take longer than others, so you can pick the one you need for the time you have. Follow these methods for perfectly softened butter for making the best baked goods.
The best (and simplest) way to soften butter is to allow it to sit on your kitchen counter at room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes. The total time required will vary based on the temperature of your kitchen.
Leave the butter on your counter only as long as it takes to soften. In fact, beginning to beat the butter just before it’s completely softened is often ideal. The heat of the mixer will further warm the butter.
If you need to soften butter a bit more quickly, cut the butter into 1-inch pieces and allow it to sit at room temperature. Those smaller pieces expose more butter to the warmer air and will soften more quickly. This should cut the softening time by about half.
Grating cold butter will also speed the softening process. Much like the above method of cutting butter into smaller pieces, grating allows more of the butter to come into contact with room temperature air. Be aware that holding the butter while you grate it will warm the butter. Be careful not to melt the butter with the heat from your hands.
Place the butter between sheets of waxed paper or inside a large zip-top bag. Roll with a rolling pin to spread butter as you would a pie crust. When the butter is about 1/4-inch thick, remove the waxed paper or bag, and allow the butter to sit at room temperature for a few minutes. While this works, it is a little time consuming and labor intensive. By the time you put in this work, you very likely could have just let it soften on its own.
Place the butter in a stand mixer. Beat at low speed to allow the air and agitation to warm the butter. This can be a handy trick if you’re already going to be using your mixer anyway. You could also do this with a hand mixer, but obviously there would be more hands-on time.
Do not microwave butter to try to speed the softening process. It won’t be heated evenly, and you’ll end up with some too cold, some softened, and some too warm. You may be a microwave wizard and be able to get perfectly softened butter using the microwave, but I generally don’t recommend this method.
There is also a theory of placing a hot glass over a stick of butter on your counter. I’m not really a fan of this method. The end result is probably similar to microwaving, although not as severe.
Now that you’re well-versed in the many ways to soften butter, I hope you’ll be able to put these methods to good use to help your baking be the best it can be!
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