Many baking recipes call for “softened” butter. What is meant by term "over softened", as in many places it is written that " over softening causes flat cookies or hard dough" etc. Isn't softening mean to put the cold butter in the microwave for 10 to 20 seconds. If so, then what do the recipe mean when it says that we have over softened butter? I am confused between these two terms as I was going through some baking recipes, and ways to trouble shoot baking issues. I now am confused. Am I mixing these two terms or "over softening" refers to melting butter.
"Softened" butter will flex if you try to bend the unwrapped stick. You can actually get the ends to 90 degrees to each other when you have it just right.
"Over softened" is when you can't even pick it up to try to flex it. This actually happens before it fully melts.
The problem is that you need the butter to be at the right consistency when you're creaming in the sugar. "Creaming" is really about cutting little holes into the butter to get air into it. If it's too stiff, the butter just stays as a lump or maybe crumbles into pieces, but the butter never really gets any air into it. If it's too soft, the bubbles won't stay in the butter after the sugar cuts it in.
Microwaving doesn't really help as you end up with an over-softened outside, while the middle is too firm. You really have to leave it out at room temperature for a few hours, but if you're in a rush, you can slice it up so there's more surface area so it warms up more quickly. (but there's the problem that "room temperature" is a cultural thing, and seasonal, so one area's "room temperature" might be too warm or too cold either all year or for some part of the year)
" over softening causes flat cookies or hard dough" - this is also what happens if you substitute oil for butter. So I agree with you that over-softening probably refers to letting the butter totally melt. You want the butter to soften just enough to be a soft solid so that it mixes properly with the flour and other ingredients to make a soft dough.