Butter

The Best Way to Soften Butter, Fast

When spontaneous baking calls.

July 24, 2019
Photo by Ty Mecham

As someone constantly in need of softened butter, whether it’s to bake chocolate chip cookies or make a herb butter—or just for easier spreading on toast (more on that later)—there are usually two options. You can either leave the stick on the counter and wait, which I never have the foresight to do ahead of time, or you can stick it in the microwave and end up with melted butter instead, which could give cakes, for instance, a completely different texture than you want.

As it turns out though, there is a better, faster way.

All you need is a rolling pin and a smooth, cool counter or slab—think marble, granite, or Corian (wood works as well, but it will take longer), to end up with pliable cold 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 a second piece of plastic and start whacking it with a rolling pin to flatten it somewhat. Flip the butter over and repeat the whacking until the butter is about 1/2 inch thick all over. (Bonus: All that whacking is cathartic.)
  2. Uncover the butter 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 (enough to be squished between your forefinger and thumb). It should also still be quite cool. (If all you need is pliable but chilled butter, you can stop after Step 2. For softened butter at room temperature, continue with Step 3, but don't forget to read the fine print below.)
  3. Roll the butter—already down to a 1/2-inch thickness—gently with the rolling pin to make it flat on both sides and slightly thinner, down to 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. Finally, you should transfer the butter into a mixing bowl. If it's not quite at room temperature yet, it will be in a matter of minutes. (Remember, if you were to leave it on the counter, it would get too warm.)
If only we remembered to keep the butter out in time... Photo by Julia Gartland

The Fine Print:

Cold, room temperature, and melted butter all have their merits—it’s just about knowing the how, when and why of butter temperature.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“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?”
— Moe R.
Comment

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.

(Oh, and if you want soft butter for spreading on toast rather than for baking, it just may be time for a Japanese butter knife)


Alice Medrich's Best Cocoa Brownies


What methods have you used to soften butter in a hurry? Tell us in the comments below!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • BerryBaby
    BerryBaby
  • Pam Whitlock
    Pam Whitlock
  • Nancy H.
    Nancy H.
  • Shane Kelleher
    Shane Kelleher
  • Nancy Handler
    Nancy Handler
Comment
My career was sparked by a single bite of a chocolate truffle, made by my Paris landlady in 1972. I returned home to open this country’s first chocolate bakery and dessert shop, Cocolat, and I am often “blamed” for introducing chocolate truffles to America. Today I am the James Beard Foundation and IACP award-winning author of ten cookbooks, teach a chocolate dessert class on Craftsy.com, and work with some of the world’s best chocolate companies. In 2018, I won the IACP Award for Best Food-Focused Column (this one!).

26 Comments

BerryBaby July 25, 2019
I use Carla Halls method. Place stick of butter (in its wrapper)in a zip lock bag. Using a deep bowl, add warm water to to bowl, submerge bag with butter. Takes a minute or so..check for consistency by giving butter a little squeeze. Works wonderfully!
 
Pam W. July 24, 2019
Sooo many ways. I slice the butter into pats and stick them around the inside of the mixing bowl. Then I prep everything else and by that time the butter is soft enough to mix.
 
Nancy H. July 11, 2015
I just sliced a half cup of cold butter into two squares and folded them inside of a piece of parchment paper. I then began to squeeze it gently on both sides and as the heat of my hands began to soften it, just continued to work it and flatten it out until it was very thin and perfectly soft (but still slightly cool). Took about five minutes and very easy to scrape off the parchment into the bowl!
 
Shane K. April 20, 2015
butter dish
 
Nancy H. June 12, 2014
I often defrost meat by placing it on my cast iron griddle. Bet it would work with butter as well.
 
I_Fortuna June 12, 2014
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? : )
 
I_Fortuna June 8, 2014
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.
 
Vickie June 8, 2014
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.
 
StarThrower50 August 17, 2014
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.
 
Leatitia June 8, 2014
So many ways to soften butter. Do what is right for you.
 
PMarie June 7, 2014
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.
 
nancy E. June 8, 2014
You must have a terrible microwave. 8 secs on defrost is all you normally need.
 
triff June 3, 2014
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.
 
Robin S. April 20, 2015
This is how I do it now. Southern Living recommended the procedure for biscuits and now I use the technique all the time .
 
Demi M. May 20, 2015
Having no microwave, I use the grater method. Use a box grater for whole sticks, or a small, handheld hard cheese grater for smaller amounts. No rolling pin, whacking, or plastic wrap required.
 
sfmiller June 3, 2014
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.
 
Anita R. June 3, 2014
defrosting in the microwave does the job in 10 to 30 seconds without melting the butter
 
Sarah D. June 3, 2014
I put the sticks of butter in my apron pockets and prep everything else.
 
Moe R. June 2, 2014
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?
 
AntoniaJames June 2, 2014
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)
 
walkie74 June 7, 2014
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
 
SlowLorus June 2, 2014
Yes, I will do anything that Alice Medrich tells me to. Love her!
 
Peter S. June 2, 2014
Dice it into small dice. It softens within 5 minutes.
 
lisina June 2, 2014
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!
 
Kate June 2, 2014
YES! The rolling pin method is my favorite way to soften butter. Thanks for the more detailed instructions.
 
FinVoilaQuoi June 2, 2014
Sounds violent