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Many cake recipes ask to add melted butter and mix it in. In my experience butter needs to be melted to a temperature of about 50-70 degrees Celsius to be soft enough for mixing in. Melting a piece of butter is not that easy. I have tried the following ways so far:

  1. Microwave. Put butter into a big cup and add some water (just paranoid - there's already water in butter) and turn the microwave for a minute. Works great, but butter becomes foamy and can escape the cup and dirty the oven.

  2. Boiling water. Put butter into a big cup, add some boiling water and mix thoroughly. Works, but requires lots of effort.

  3. Leaving on the sink and then boiling water. Put butter (still wrapped) onto the kitchen sink and leave it there for several hours so that it reaches room temperature, then use "boiling water" way. Works and is almost effortless, but requires preparation in advance.

I asked other people - the only way they suggest is water bath which is IMO too much of a hassle. I'd prefer some easy and reliable way that doesn't require lots of utensils and equipment and would be fast - so that a piece of butter out of fridge or freezer could be melted in minutes.

What convenient ways of melting butter are there?

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I don't understand: how is melting butter at all difficult? Softening butter, I could understand, but melting? You just heat it up until melted, what's hard about that? And why on earth would you add water??? –  Marti Nov 26 '10 at 16:05
    
@Marti: Melting butter by heating it up in say a frying pan is quite risky - it can go in flames - I saw that happening once - nothing fatal, but quite scary and that's not what I'd call "convenient". –  sharptooth Nov 29 '10 at 8:18
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Igniting butter in a frying pan? Seriously? How dirty was the frying pan, and how messy was the cook? Or maybe he added water, causing explosive boiling... –  Marti Nov 29 '10 at 14:55
    
@Marti: I don't remember the details - it was years ago, but I learned one lesson - oil-based compounds should not be heated this way. –  sharptooth Nov 29 '10 at 14:58
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@Reno: It's not that hard to extiguish actually - just close the pan with a lid to prevent fresh air flowing in. The problem is one has to stay calm to be able to do this but people usually panic and try to do stupid things like bring the pan to the sink and try to extinguish it with water which doesn't help and only spreads fire and can also lead to serious burns. –  sharptooth Dec 13 '10 at 9:02

8 Answers 8

There's softened vs. melted ... From what you're describing, I'm not sure exactly which one you're refering to.

For softened, unfortunately, the best way really is just to leave it out at room temperature for a few hours; if you're in a rush, cutting it into chunks, and placing it somewhere warm (near the stove, but not on it, and rotate the bowl it's in so it's not heating from just one side.

For melted, I'd never had a problem with the microwave -- the thing is, you don't do it in one pass, as you don't do it all full power. Unfortunately, all microwave powers are different, so I can't give precise numbers .... I'd microwave it between 30-50% power for 15-20 seconds, check it, stir it if it's partially melted, then go another 10 seconds, check & stir, and repeat 'til it's fully melted. (and I use a pyrex measuring cup, so I have a pour spout to reduce the mess)

You can also melt it really easily on the stove -- small pan, over low heat. (or maybe this is one of those advantages of an electric stove and doesn't work for gas? I doubt it, as there are cast-iron 'butter warmers', which I'm guessing aren't a new invention)

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Ditto on the microwave. And you don't need to add extra water to the butter. Low power, check it regularly. Shouldn't take more than a minute, total. I use a Pyrex measuring cup which makes it easy to pour out. –  Doug Johnson-Cookloose Nov 25 '10 at 14:55

When I need softened or melted butter I often just put it in a bowl and set the bowl on my stovetop. If you have a gas range with pilot lights, you can place it directly over these, it will melt gently and rather quickly. If you don't have pilot lights, you can just set it on top while the oven is preheating.

If you need it quickly though, it's hard to beat the microwave.

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Either: Cut the butter in small cubes (between 1 and 2 cm that's 0,4 inch - 0,8 inch).

  • Softening: Put the butter in the microwave on low or defrost for 30'', check, another 15'', check... Until you are satisfied. In the microwave you should use a dish and distribute the chunks evenly on the outside of the dish. You could wrap some plastic wrap over the dish.

  • Melting: Put the butter in a pan on a low flame. When the butter starts to melt, swirl the butter in the melted butter to help the rest melting. Just keep on swirling until nearly all your butter is molten.

The trick is to go softly.

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A simple way might be to melt the butter in the same way you would do with chocolate.

Fill a saucepan with water, bring it to the boil put a glass (pyrex) bowl on top with the butter in it. Reduce the heat to a simmer and wait. The net effect is that you're applying a gently heat to the contents of the bowl.

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There's nothing about melting butter that's difficult if you simply pay attention to what you're doing. It only takes a minute or two to melt even a pound of butter no matter whether you use a stove or a microwave.

  • Use a sauce pan, not a frying pan on, on the stove.
  • Use a glass measuring cup or microwave-safe bowl in the microwave.
  • Don't walk away -- stay and keep an eye on it.
  • Stop heating before the butter is completely melted -- residual heat in the melted butter will finish the last bit.
  • There's absolutely no need to add water.
  • If the butter is "exploding," you're cooking it too long. Butter melts at about 90°F. As long as you keep the water in the butter below 212°F, you won't have any Use a lower power setting, cook for short intervals, and keep a close eye on it -- it's not hard to prevent an eruption.
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I've done both:

  1. Ziplock back dunk in hot running water. (tedious and still takes a while)
  2. Put it out the day before and let it get soft on the counter.

number #2 always works, but you are right its not convenient.

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I've tried different shaped bowls. With a straight-sided measuring cup or bowl, it almost always explodes. But it has never exploded in a low bowl with sides that slant out. Must be something about the dynamics of the shape.

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you might want to expand on your answer as it is very unlikely to help the OP with their problem as stated. If you added a full method of melting the butter, it would go a long way toward improving the answer. Welcome to Seasoned Advice. –  sarge_smith Mar 31 '13 at 5:02

the best of both worlds method:

  • Put the butter in the ziplock bag (hot water set up).
  • Put the pack in a glass of water.
  • Heat in the microwave on high, till the water is hot/boiling.

The water stops the butter from getting over heated and foamy.

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While no doubt effective, assuming that the water is deep enough surrounding the butter to prevent the microwaves from directly exciting the fat which can exceed 100 C, I just have to wonder: under what circumstances is this worth the effort and cost of the zip log bag? –  SAJ14SAJ Mar 31 '13 at 14:47

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