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I often don't realize a baking recipe requires softened butter until after I start adding in the other wet ingredients and it's too late to wait for butter to soften the normal way (with time). So, I will usually microwave the butter until it accidentally all melts or add in the butter when it's still too hard, which impacts the overall success of the recipe. What are some tricks for softening butter quickly?

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    The question pre-supposes hard butter, presumably from the fridge? You might consider just keeping your butter in a butter dish at room temperature. Of course ymmv greatly depending on how hot it is in your room, and how fast you get through your butter, but works fine all year round in London as someone who gets through about a block a fortnight. Much more convenient to spread on bread, since, it is spreadable not too hard out of the fridge. Nov 2, 2022 at 21:20
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    First thing I do when I bake and forgot to sit out butter... I put the sticks in my front pockets. This has only gone poorly 1 time.
    – blankip
    Nov 2, 2022 at 22:34
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    @blankip - You seem to have left off the most interesting part of you comment. :)
    – James
    Nov 3, 2022 at 14:29
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    @lessthanideal, the problem is that if you're baking, you probably need at least two sticks of butter, possibly more. That one stick in the butter dish that you'd already used some of on your toast this morning just isn't gonna cut it.
    – Marti
    Nov 3, 2022 at 15:07
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    So, I will usually microwave the butter until it accidentally all melts So microwave it carefully. Nov 3, 2022 at 21:20

14 Answers 14

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Use a grater

If your butter is too stiff, try using a cheese grater on it. The mechanical action will warm the butter slightly and soften it, and the huge increase in surface area will allow the room's ambient warmth to soften the butter much faster. Spread the butter shavings in a single layer to maximize surface area, and they should soften in a few minutes. You'll be unlikely to over-soften the butter with this method, so you won't run a risk of winding up with melted butter instead of softened butter.

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    This is highly dependent on your room temperature. In winter here we have to keep butter on top of the fridge to get just enough added heat in it that it will spread on demand.
    – Tetsujin
    Nov 1, 2022 at 18:40
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    If you don't have a grater, or your hands run too hot to hold a stick of butter that long, if can be effective to just cut the butter into tablespoon-sized pieces, arrange them on a large plate (i.e. with lots of space between the pieces), and wait 10-15 minutes (depending on room temperature).
    – Marti
    Nov 1, 2022 at 19:44
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    @Marti, a metal plate (or pie tin, pot lid, etc.) will conduct heat faster than a typical ceramic plate.
    – spuck
    Nov 2, 2022 at 22:02
  • @unlisted What are your average indoor temperatures at this time?
    – trlkly
    Nov 3, 2022 at 18:37
  • @trlkly - only have one thermometer in the whole place, my work room is currently 17°, I'd expect it to be closer to 19 by the end of the day.
    – Tetsujin
    Nov 4, 2022 at 7:46
28

Original question has been edited since this answer was posted. Microwave wasn't mentioned originally.

Microwave.

Don't mic it until it's soft! The effect keeps going.
Give it 5s at a time & try to smoosh the result every time for 30s. If you run it too long, it will go liquid in the centre first, which you don't want, so gently, gently.
5s, wait, smoosh, wait.

Better it takes 3 or 4 minutes of gradual effort to perfectly soft than 30 seconds to liquid with lumps in ;)

Suggestions to reduce power depend on how your microwave reduces its power. Very few 'inverter' models can actually reduce the strength of the microwaves transmitted. Most simply switch the full power on & off in different time intervals. This means you never quite know when it's on or off, making the whole process much more difficult to time accurately.
Full power in known small times with pauses & manual intervention is a more controllable process, less likely to over-heat.

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    Microwaves are only ever on or off. Power reduction is just a timed on/off switch, not an actual power output variance. Reducing the power removes your control over when it's on or off, making this even harder to guess.
    – Tetsujin
    Nov 1, 2022 at 18:37
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    @unlisted: unless you have a microwave with an inverter, that is. But you're correct that in most microwaves, if you're doing 5-second bursts then it's completely pointless, sometimes even counterproductive, to also lower the power level.
    – Marti
    Nov 1, 2022 at 19:40
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    I highly recommend always putting a lid over absolutely everything when putting it in the microwave. ;)
    – Tetsujin
    Nov 2, 2022 at 11:05
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    I recommend chopping the butter up into smallish lumps before microwaving - things in the microwave tend to heat up at the surface, but stay cold in the middle; chopping the butter into lumps lets you heat it more evenly (rather than the outside melting while the inside is still hard).
    – psmears
    Nov 2, 2022 at 12:20
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    Adding a cup of water to the microwave effectively reduces the power by absorbing a portion of the microwave energy. You can tell because the water heats up. Nov 2, 2022 at 15:14
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pour boiling water into a glass, and let it sit until the glass is hot, or microwave water in the glass, either way, pour out the hot water. Then, place the warm, empty glass upside down over the butter and let sit until the butter is soft

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    Considering the amount of butter that goes for example in a pound cake, I’d rather use a heavy bowl, but apart from that, yes, that’s one method that works.
    – Stephie
    Nov 1, 2022 at 19:43
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    Do I keep the butter wrapper on while doing this? Admittedly, I tried this with the butter wrapper off and it resulted in the outside layer melting but the core was still hard.
    – JMann
    Nov 2, 2022 at 2:01
  • @JMann - the butter we get has a wrapper which sparks if put into the microwave, not a good idea.
    – Tim
    Nov 4, 2022 at 18:01
9

I often don't realize a baking recipe requires softened butter until after I start adding in the other wet ingredients

There's the first tip: plan ahead. Read through the whole recipe before you start, and get all your ingredients ready before you start mixing. Many recipes work better if everything is at room temperature when you mix, so get the eggs you need out of the fridge ahead of time, measure out milk, etc.

I will usually microwave the butter until it accidentally all melts or add in the butter when it's still too hard...

You have to really pay attention when using a microwave to soften butter. Don't walk away. Don't look at your phone. And use the microwave's timer to guard against accidental overheating -- set it for just 10 or 15 seconds or so at a time, depending on how strong your oven is.

Also, learn from experience. Use short times in the microwave to work up to the degree of softness you want (keeping in mind that the center will soften first). When you succeed in getting the result you want, write down what you did so that it's easy to repeat next time.

What are some tricks for softening butter quickly?

You can soften butter just by working it a bit. Sometimes I skip the microwave and just bash a wrapped stick of butter with a rolling pin, turning it, bashing a bit more, and so on. Maybe bash is too strong a word -- I mean that I'm hitting it hard enough to leave an impression, but not so hard that I worry about breaking the wrapper. That's usually enough to get things going if, for example, I'm going to cream the butter with sugar, in which case the mixer will continue to move the butter around and mix in room-temperature sugar.

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  • Totally agree with all your microwave tips. It will only take 20 seconds at most anyway, OP shouldn't get distracted. And the trial-and-error slightly-melted-in-the-middle results on their road to discovering the perfect timing for them won't ruin any recipes.
    – minseong
    Nov 4, 2022 at 1:56
7

Try the power setting on your microwave!

Based on my experience, most people do not utilize the power setting on microwaves, or even know that it exists! I typically soften butter at the 30% setting and I have yet to liquify my butter since using this setting myself. Give it a try!

Check your microwave's manual if you're not sure how to use the power setting on your microwave.

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    This will not have the desired effect, based on the comments on this answer: cooking.stackexchange.com/a/122184/30952
    – Evorlor
    Nov 4, 2022 at 16:14
  • Perhaps. Perhaps not. Im sure it depends on your microwave. It works for me and I've worked in a professional bakery for many years, so it's certainly worth a try and uses less dishes than other suggestions. Nov 12, 2022 at 17:48
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Slice butter, put it between waxed paper, and pound it with a meat pounder (flat side presumably obviously) or similar. The pounding it will soften it some and being flattened out it will soften the rest of the way pretty quickly.

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    I've had a lot of luck putting it, whole, in a ziplock and mashing it with a rolling pin. very quick to flatten and warm up
    – lupe
    Nov 3, 2022 at 21:45
4

Since most of the time softened butter is getting whipped, you can whip the cold butter. It works similarly to some other answers: you will be using your mixer's energy to warm up the butter while working it.

Make sure that you cut up the butter in thin slices, because a mixer won't be able to break up a stick. It is best to also reduce the other dimensions of the slices - I find that 20x20x3mm (roughly) slices work reasonably well. Also, use a wire whisking attachment, this won't work with a soft creaming paddle. Turn the mixer on high and leave it working for longer than when creaming soft butter - maybe 5 to 10 minutes pre-creaming, then the usual creaming time.

A food processor will also work, if that's better suited to your recipe. But make sure to process the butter first until soft - so, if you are making e.g. a cracker pie crust, start with the butter only and only add the crackers after it has been softened.

The caveats:

  1. You will end up with creamed butter, which will work for most purposes, even if creaming wasn't specified in the recipe, although there might be some edge cases where it is not desirable.
  2. The result is usable, but not as good as properly softened butter. For example, some frostings made this way may be prone to weeping.
  3. I have tried this with butter from a European fridge (so 6-8 C), people in the USA frequently keep their fridge colder (close to 0 C, which is the lower limit for food safety in American guidelines) and I don't know how the butter will act then.
  4. You need a decent mixer, preferably a stand mixer. You can still try it if you have something else, but 10 minutes of continuous work (before the main mixing of the recipe starts!) may be too straining for some underpowered motors of offbrand mixers, and also trying for the baker's patience if it is a handheld mixer.
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  • Mixer, +1. If it crawls up the blades, turn it off and scrape them out. Repeat two or three times; by then it's softened, and only as much as necessary, as butter is to be kept from actually melting until it's in the oven.
    – Mazura
    Nov 4, 2022 at 0:25
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I microwave my butter all the time to soften it. I set the power level to 2 and put it in for 1 minute. I check it and if it needs more time, I add another 30 seconds to a minute until it's soft. If you do not have a microwave where you can adjust the power level, this method won't work.

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  • is this done with the butter wrapper still on?
    – JMann
    Nov 2, 2022 at 2:02
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    @JMann You can unwrap the butter or not -- it doesn't matter. The wrapper won't prevent the butter from softening, and you can always scrape any soft butter stuck to the wrapper with a silicone spatula. If you do end up with a bit of butter left on the wrapper, you can use the wrapper to spread that little bit around in whatever baking dish you need to grease.
    – Caleb
    Nov 2, 2022 at 2:29
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    @caleb some butter wrappers have a layer of foil on the outside of the paper. That wouldn't work so well
    – Chris H
    Nov 2, 2022 at 6:36
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    @ChrisH That's a great point -- you definitely don't want to put a foil wrapper in the microwave. I had wax paper wrappers in mind.
    – Caleb
    Nov 2, 2022 at 13:31
1

Grater sounds like a cleaning nightmare but what I do is to scrape it multiple times with a butter knife. You'll get a better surface area, and thus it heats up faster. You can than either wait normally, and it will soften quite fast or accelerate further bu mild heating - such as microwave on the lowest setting - or 1 min in the oven you are preheating if it's not hot yet, only warm.

You still need to allow for time to penetrate inside the individual leaves of the butter, but it is just much faster. I'm gonna say 5 mins room temp without any additional heating.

0

Microwave -- with care and tricks

Reduce the power as far down as it will go? Except, most microwaves do this by turning on for whatever % of the time, then off ... 20% at full power for 15 seconds may be too much, even when followed by 60 seconds off. (You can tell how often the microwave switches if it's like mine, because there's a thump-type noise every time it starts heating again).

So, remove most of the power from the butter by microwaving a glass or jug of water at the same time. If there's 200g of butter containing 20g water and 180ml of water (1ml water = 1g water) , then only 10% of the microwave power goes into the butter and 90% into the water. (I'm guessing about the water content of butter because I just go by experience).

Finally, test often! A short while in the microwave, check if it's softened yet, another short while if not ....

-1

Oven

When you start baking turn on the oven. Slice your butter into slices and put the slices of butter on a baking tray. Put it in the oven as it preheats. The butter will soften or melt if you leave it long enough. Pour the melted butter off the tray into the bowl. Some will remain on the tray. Use that to grease the other trays.

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    I don't understand how this will ever get you softened, not melted, butter.
    – Marti
    Nov 4, 2022 at 14:54
  • @Marti you get gently melted butter but for cakes and biscuits this is just as good as softened in my experience.
    – Daron
    Nov 4, 2022 at 16:29
  • Your experience is vastly different than pretty much everyone else's then. If your cake is getting all of its lift from beating sugar into butter, then melted butter will pretty much ruin it. Possibly more to the point, this question is explicitly asking for ways to quickly soften butter without melting it, so your answer is incorrect.
    – Marti
    Nov 4, 2022 at 17:26
  • @Marti I guess my cake does not get its lift from beating sugar into butter then.
    – Daron
    Nov 4, 2022 at 17:28
-1

Step 1. Warm up the blade of a knife on a stove or with a hair drier. Then use it to cut the butter in small slices.

Step 2. Warm up the slices with a hair drier or put a plate with the slices on something hot, use a plate with a good thermal inertia, it will warm up slowly and you will be able to control how soft the butter will get.

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    -1, the knife will melt the layer it touches, and the rest of the advice is also more likely to melt the butter than to soften it, or at least to end up with pieces of butter which are melted on the outside and still hard on the inside.
    – rumtscho
    Nov 5, 2022 at 14:03
  • Isn't a bit obtuse to assume that "warm up" means heat at high temperature?
    – FluidCode
    Nov 7, 2022 at 9:41
-3

Simple. Just warm it with your hands. It achieves both points, as you cannot accidentally overheat it (at least not more than to around 37 'C) and moreover, you have the constant tactile feedback as you are able to keep moulding the butter with your hands to tell how soft it already is. Remember to remain constantly squeezing and moulding the butter as a piece of plasticine while it is warming up, or else you will just melt the outer layer away without touching the cold inside.

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    Downvoted because microwaving does work, I have done it and ended up with nicely softened (not melted) butter. Nov 2, 2022 at 14:08
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    this answer would be way better without the rant about microwaves and insults to users of this site. Warming it with your hands does work (I've done it when I couldn't use a microwave ;)) but no need for rants.
    – Esther
    Nov 2, 2022 at 18:01
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    Rant removed as it’s not contributing anything to the answer.
    – Stephie
    Nov 2, 2022 at 19:13
-4

Just microwave the butter (put something on top, it tends to go pop) until it melts.

Or put it in a hot water bath, just like you’d do with chocolate.

It’s unlikely you’ll make it too warm and liquid. Once you put it in with the other ingredients it will cool down quickly (especially if you have cool ingredients in there, like curd cheese or eggs from the fridge).

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    -1, the hot water bath will melt the butter for sure. And the microwave was mentioned multiple times already, including by the OP.
    – rumtscho
    Nov 2, 2022 at 10:43
  • @rumtscho: Isn’t the whole idea to melt it so you can make a dough or something? Where do you need soft (but not liquid) butter? None of the other answers mentioned covering the butter when you microwave it.
    – Michael
    Nov 2, 2022 at 10:57
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    The whole idea is to not let the butter melt, else it becomes unusable for many applications. That's why the question says "softened butter", which is definitely not "melted butter". And we can be sure that the OP didn't mistakenly use the term"softened" when they meant "melted", because 1) It would be unusual for people to run into trouble melting butter, and 2) the OP said that their problem is that they microwave " until it accidentally all melts " - which is the problem here.
    – rumtscho
    Nov 2, 2022 at 11:03
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    @Michael Cake and cookie recipes often call for beating butter with sugar -- called creaming -- to incorporate air. Rich doughs typically add softened butter to the dough near the end of mixing. These kinds of recipes just don't work with melted butter, but the butter needs to be soft enough that it'll blend with other things rather than just remain in lumps.
    – Caleb
    Nov 2, 2022 at 13:40

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