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From my experience, the best way to use butter when baking is to let it soften to room temperature. However, sometimes one is short on time and must use the microwave to soften the butter. I always felt that cookies are better when the butter is a little firmer. Why is that? Is there a better way? Should I simply defrost the butter in the microwave carefully? Perhaps put it in a closed bag and run it under warm water?

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I've found melted or overly soft butter will result in very flat cookies. But I wonder if you soften your butter in the microwave, make your batter, then chill the batter to re-firm the now incorporated butter, if it would work the same as having started with the proper consistency of butter? –  Allison Jan 27 '11 at 18:04
    
@Alison - David's answer links to an article indicating otherwise, unfortunately. –  Neil Fein Jan 27 '11 at 20:46
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6 Answers

up vote 17 down vote accepted

To get your butter up to room temperature faster, you can slice it into very small pieces or grate it with a cheese grater and then leave it out in a single layer. It will get where you want it in around 10 minutes that way.

You cookies taste better with room temperature butter because they have more air in them. When you mix the butter, sugar and eggs in your cookie recipe you're creating an emulsion of oil, proteins and air. Those little air pockets in the cookie dough then help the cookie puff up when it bakes. When the butter is melted all the way before you mix it in, this emulsion has much less air in it than it should, so your cookies' texture isn't as good.

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This article has a lot of interesting information about butter in cookies, including common mistakes people make.

It suggests:

The best way to get frozen or refrigerated butter ready for creaming is to cut it into chunks. (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.

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Interesting article! –  Neil Fein Jan 19 '11 at 3:26
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I know the microwave may be a bad idea, but I think "it will melt it" is overreaching a bit. It starts out unmelted, and will eventually melt, yes, but clearly that doesn't happen instantly. Surely you can get away with a bit of a zap, even if it's not as much as you think you can. Moot point though, really; yacomink's suggestion is much better. –  Jefromi Jan 19 '11 at 7:36
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cheat! use a faux butter. margarine is gross, unhealthy, and certainly not what i'm suggesting, but they have some nice faux butter out these days that have at least 30% real butter, and cream well direct out of the fridge. they have one here in NZ called olio i'm quite fond of, and i presume our food science tech isn't at an astronomically superior level compared with the rest of the world.

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I thought olio is just another name for margarine? –  Marti Jan 19 '11 at 14:57
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how is margarine unhealthy? –  zanlok Jan 27 '11 at 4:35
    
@zanlok: Many margarines have high levels of trans-fats, which nutrition science has realised are much more unhealthy than the saturated fats in butter. –  vincebowdren May 2 '13 at 10:09
    
do you have a reference for science about trans fats? it's a political reality to me, not sure if everyone is on board with where it stands with science because Aaronut called me out on that one time. –  zanlok May 2 '13 at 17:57
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cut cold butter about 1/2" in cubes,put them in bowl just finger warm water(37c) for about 10 mins.drain,pat dry on paper towel .now ready to use

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Run to the store and buy another box of butter. I have tried everything but this seems to be the best way to go. Microwaving it will not soften the butter evenly and it will give it a really gross texture.

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Hi Jill, buying more butter at the store will result in more cold butter; do you have a better way to get it to warm up faster? –  mfg Dec 7 '11 at 21:56
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I think she meant that there is butter at room temperature available in the stores where she lives. –  Mien Dec 9 '11 at 13:43
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I would put it in the microwave for a few seconds. 5- 10 softens it pretty nice!

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