Rogue Baking Tips with Alice Medrich

The Best Way to Soften Butter, Fast

By • June 2, 2014 • 20 Comments

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Every week, baking expert Alice Medrich will be going rogue on Food52 -- with shortcuts, hacks, and game-changing recipes.

Today: A fast, foolproof way to soften butter when spontaneous baking calls. 

The Best Way to Soften Butter from Food52

When you need softened butter for baking, or to make herb or garlic butter, or just for easier spreading, you can leave the stick on the counter and wait forever (it seems) or you can tempt fate in the microwave and end up with melted butter instead.

There is a better, faster way.  

If you have a rolling pin and a smooth, cool marble, granite, ceramic tile, or corian counter or slab (wood is okay but will take slightly longer), you can produce marvelously pliable, chilled butter in less than 1 minute or soft butter at room temperature (or anything in between) in less than 15. 

Here’s how: 

1. Set an unwrapped stick of cold butter on a piece of plastic wrap on the counter or slab. Cover the butter with another piece of plastic, and start whacking it with a rolling pin to flatten it somewhat. Flip the butter and plastic wrap over, and whack until the butter is about 1/2 inch thick all over. 

If all you need is pliable butter, stop after step 2. For softened butter at room temperature, continue on through to step 3. -- but don't forget to read the fine print below.

2. Continue whacking the butter. Uncover and fold it in halves or thirds, then cover again and either knead it with your fist or continue to whack, repeating until the butter is suitably pliable. It will still be quite cool.

3. Roll the butter -- already whacked to a 1/2-inch thickness -- gently with the rolling pin to make it flat on both sides and slightly thinner, about a generous 1/4 inch. Let it rest for 5 minutes. Flip it over to a new spot on the counter and let it rest another 5 minutes. Put the butter into a mixing bowl now. If it's not quite at room temperature yet, it will be in a matter of minutes; if you were to leave it on the counter, it would get too warm.

How to Soften Butter from Food52

The Fine Print
Old-fashioned pound cakes and butter cakes often call for room temperature butter (68 to 70° F) -- so that it can form a perfect emulsion with other ingredients, also at room temperature. The butter is beaten or “creamed” for several minutes with sugar before the other ingredients are added in two or three parts, alternating with each other. If the butter is too cold, it will not form an emulsion with the other ingredients and the batter will curdle. If the butter is too warm it will not be plastic enough to survive a lengthy beating without breaking down (so to speak!); the batter will not trap air and the cake will not have a beautiful crumb. In these very finicky types of recipes, both the temperature and texture of the butter are very important. 

Top photo by Mark Weinberg; bottom by James Ransom 

Jump to Comments (20)

Tags: baking, how-to & diy, butter, essential tips

Comments (20)

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4 months ago Nancy Handler

I often defrost meat by placing it on my cast iron griddle. Bet it would work with butter as well.

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4 months ago I_Fortuna

Yes, a few years ago I used to defrost meat on the black cast iron thingy so I am sure this would work. Now where did I put that thingy? : )

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4 months ago I_Fortuna

All of these are great ideas. I cut the butter into tablespoon slices and mash them in a bowl with a fork. Takes just a few seconds to acheive nice soft butter.

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4 months ago Vickie

Oh my, all that trouble? I just immerse the stick of butter in a glass of room temp. tap water. In minutes it's softened. Otherwise, just 6 secs on defrost in the micro.

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about 1 month ago StarThrower50

Just 6 seconds? When I soften butter from the fridge, I do it in 5 second bursts, turning it 45 degrees with each burst. The last one is the problem child. Usually I stop before it rather than have liquified butter and sometimes it happens anyway. All told, about 20-25 seconds. Perhaps my microwave is a lower wattage, but I still wouldn't think it would make this much difference. Even at a high wattage, a single burst would leave most of it cold with pockets of melt. Good luck with that.

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4 months ago Leatitia

So many ways to soften butter. Do what is right for you.

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4 months ago PMarie

I place a stick of butter on the microwave carousel & nuke 8 seconds; flip the stick bottom side up, nuke 8 seconds; flip the stick on another side, nuke 8 seconds. If it still requires further softening, turn the stick on its last side & nuke 5 seconds. Perfect every time.

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4 months ago nancy essig

You must have a terrible microwave. 8 secs on defrost is all you normally need.

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4 months ago triff

If all I have is a frozen stick of butter, to pretty much immediately add to a recipe I grate it with metal box food grater.

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4 months ago sfmiller

I've tried most of these methods (well, not the apron pocket one), and I find the microwave works best if I'm in a hurry. If you use low power (50 percent or less) in short increments (5 to 8 seconds), there's no risk of ending up with melted instead of soften butter. It's ready in under a minute, and there's no rolling pin to put away or piece of plastic to throw out.

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4 months ago Anita Raul

defrosting in the microwave does the job in 10 to 30 seconds without melting the butter

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4 months ago Sarah,Doyle-Brown

I put the sticks of butter in my apron pockets and prep everything else.

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4 months ago Moe Rubenzahl

Just toss it in a quart or two of room temperature water, wrapper and all. It will rise to room temperature safely.

The safe way to melt butter in the microwave is alongside a glass with 1/2 cup water. The water absorbs some microwave energy and prevents hot spots and spattering. I'm thinking that could work for softening it, too.

But all that said, I like Alice's way because really, why give up the opportunity to whack the hell out of something with a rolling pin?

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4 months ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Thanks for another useful post! This makes me realize that "room temperature" as a description is not particularly helpful. The temperature of my East Bay (chilly year round) kitchen is probably quite a bit different from that of many recipe testers. I appreciate knowing that 68-70 degrees is generally what is meant. ;o)

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4 months ago walkie74

Antonia, your kitchen is cold year round? I live toward the South Bay and mine can get up to 75-80 in the summer. I almost wish we could swap houses :-p

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4 months ago SlowLorus

Yes, I will do anything that Alice Medrich tells me to. Love her!

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4 months ago Peter Shelsky

Dice it into small dice. It softens within 5 minutes.

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4 months ago lisina

I put it in the kitchenaid with the paddle attachment and let it go for a minute or two. If you keep it on stir it just gets soft, not fluffy and aerated. Works like a charm!

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4 months ago Kate

YES! The rolling pin method is my favorite way to soften butter. Thanks for the more detailed instructions.

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4 months ago FinVoilaQuoi

Sounds violent