Tips & Techniques

This is How the Internet Tells You to Soften Butter

May 18, 2016

Here's a tip over 60,000 people have saved to their Pinterest boards:

That's so easy! Especially when you consider how Alice Medrich recommends you soften butter: Repeatedly whack an unwrapped stick, sandwiched between two pieces of plastic wrap, with a rolling pin to flatten it out, then flip, knead, halve, roll, rest, and continue whacking. (So maybe it's a technique more in line with anger management than kitchen "hacks.")

As someone constantly in need of room temperature butter (and constantly without the foresight to take a stick out of the fridge ahead of time), I tested the "tried and true..." method for "softy soft" butter.

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I filled a glass with nearly-boiling water, poured the hot liquid out, and immediately turned it over onto a vertical stick of wrapped butter that had come straight from the fridge. The glass retains the heat of the water, creating a cloche (look! a DIY cloche!) in which the butter can warm up.

My little butter cloche.

After a couple of minutes, the butter was still cold-ish. After "a few minutes" (as the tip suggests), it was a little softer on the outside, though still firm towards the center—pliable, yes, but definitely not ready to be creamed in a stand mixer (let alone by hand).

I do think the method would work if you were willing to rewarm the glass every five or so minutes (by refilling—then re-emptying—the boiling-hot water), but I fear that the outside of the butter would soften too quickly in relation to the inside, leaving some near-melty, some still-chilled sections. But as written? The tip just doesn't work very well.

(Update! Editor Amanda Sims has had success using thicker glass, like Pyrex, and microwaving water inside the glass—so that the material gets hot, through and through.)

Seems like Alice's technique—where the butter is smashed into an even layer so that it comes to room temperature at a uniform rate—isn't so crazy after all...

(And if you want soft butter for spreading on toast rather than for baking, it just may be time for a butter keeper.)

Have you come across a popular internet cooking tip that just doesn't work? We want to hear about it in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Christine
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    donald keys
I used to work at Food52. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream.


Christine May 15, 2017
My method is to place the wrapped stick of butter onto my metal bench scraper & let it sit at room temperature for a half hour or less. Then I can pack the softened salted butter into a butter bell. Best $14 I've ever spent! :D
Caitlin May 12, 2017
I use a version of this technique. I put a glass bowl filled with water in the microwave until hot. Then cut up the butter into a few chunks to avoid the issue with the center getting no heat. Then dump the water out of the bowl, flip it over and cover the butter. In a few minutes you have butter perfect for creaming. Works every time!
Adam J. August 4, 2017
Came here to comment that I put 1 inch cubes on a plate with a heavy glass bowl warmed by hot tap water over top; butter softened in about 15 minutes.
Margie M. May 11, 2017
Or you can just put it on a butter dish and mic it for 11 seconds -
SusanR May 11, 2017
I use the beat it with a rolling pin method if I need it quickly. Oddly satisfying. 😃
donald K. May 11, 2017
To cream butter and sugars you do not have to bring the butter to room temperature. It creams just as well if it comes right out of the fridge. See Thomas Keller's recipe for CC cookies.
EL May 11, 2017
This assumes that you are using a mixer and want to soften butter for baking. If you are creaming the butter the old-fashioned way (by hand), you would have a difficult time getting the butter creamed. If you want to spread the butter on some bread (not toast), you will probably end up with holes in the bread. And yes, I do most of my mixing by hand.
jonathan E. May 8, 2017
maybe just don't keep your butter in the fridge? Don't think they do anywhere except the US.
FS May 9, 2017
Can't keep it out for several reasons: firstly, even an airconditioned house is too hot here in the South. I once had a rancid butter experience, and it taught me to keep the stuff as cold as possible - i.e. freezer. Secondly, some of my cats like to snack on butter ... ;)
Amanda May 11, 2017
Even though I live in the tropics, my house has no a/c. So, keeping butter out at room temperature isn't an option.
FS May 8, 2017
My method is the butter dance: first the stick comes out of the freezer, then it goes back in, then out again and so forth ... until I finally get around to using it!
ABone May 8, 2017
I put mine on a small plate near the back of my stovetop as my oven is preheating- soft butter and a heated oven! Dual purpose!
EL May 24, 2016
I love this post. In the winter, I keep my house cold. Of course that is the time when I want to bake, but never have soft butter. I will definitely try some of these ideas. Thank you everyone!
Nicholas May 22, 2016
I have found that using a blowdryer works pretty well. It gives me more control than a microwave and more even heating
Lisa L. May 22, 2016
Is there something wrong w/microwaving a stick of butter for 15 seconds on power level 1? I use this "technique" often for spur of the moment baking.
Maureen May 22, 2016
I just keep a stick of butter (salted) on kitchen counter at all times. It rarely lasts over a week and hasn't killed me or anyone else yet (in 30 years). I've never found a butter bell that works---the butter always falls into the water no matter what I do.
Windischgirl May 8, 2017
Most of the butter bells out there are glazed inside and are wider at the use surface, which are the problems; there is no friction or geometry to hold in the butter. I got mine at a craft show, and it's hand thrown so the ridges inside the bell create friction, and the opening of the butter part is curved inward to hold the butter in place.
Charles B. May 22, 2016
I have one of those thawing pans that melts ice cubes in a minute or so. It works quite well without microwaves or boiling water. No moving parts, no power needed.
Chaz B. May 19, 2016
Just grate it. Easiest thing in the world.
EL May 24, 2016
I like this. As I keep butter in the freezer when not using it, this is really great (ha ha!).
Millie J. May 15, 2017
I tried grating frozen butter on a box grater and couldn't do it - my hands just weren't strong enough. How do you do it, Chaz or anyone else who uses this technique?
Aina L. May 19, 2016
We use a butter keeper have been for years.
Alexis A. May 19, 2016
i put it in the microwave, 5 seconds a side. never had a problem
Ginger May 6, 2017
James C. May 11, 2017
I use the soften butter feature on the microwave. no problem
Crayon May 18, 2016
Wait did someone just say they microwaved an empty glass????
Smaug May 19, 2016
Why not?
AntoniaJames May 19, 2016
Not all glass is microwavable, as I learned the hard way . . . . . . ;o)
Smaug May 19, 2016
Well, not all glass can take a lot of heat, but I've never had any problem warming up coffee cups (mine are glass) and such- I suppose you could get in trouble with a drinking glass if you went too far.
Greg O. May 22, 2016
Very dangerous to microwave an empty glass (or any other) container.

Microwaves heat water and fats, but not relatively solid substances like glass. If a glass container or plate is being microwaved without something in it it could explode. Water in any container heated in a microwave can become superheated and boil over when touched or moved.

Also, the microwave magnetron could be damaged if there are not enough absorbing materials in the operating oven.
Margie M. May 11, 2017
I accidentally heated an empty ceramic mug, and the bottom blew off. BLAM!!!
SuzNewman May 18, 2016
Grating the cold butter works very well.
Kyle May 18, 2016
I cut my refrigerated butter into cubes and put them in a bowl of lukewarm water. Softens perfectly, and the few drops of water that do end up in the recipe don't seem to make any significant difference
SophieL May 11, 2017
I do the same thing but just leave the cut-up pieces on a plate while I gather the rest of the ingredients. Got this tip from a Martha Bakes episode. It was such a "duh" moment!
AntoniaJames May 18, 2016
Well, common sense tells you that the larger the object to be warmed, the longer it will take to warm it all the way through. I put a salad plate in the microwave for 30 - 45 seconds. It should feel warm but not hot when you take it out. Meanwhile, I open the stick of butter, leave it on the paper (important!), use a sharp knife to halve it lengthwise and then cut crosswise about ten times. Pull the chunks apart. Put the wrapper + butter chunks on the warm plate, and put a bowl over it. Measure a few other ingredients (or do whatever) for a minute or two. Ta da! I started doing it this way when making brioche, which requires tiny blobs of just-soft butter to be worked in one at a time. It's actually better not to take the butter out way ahead of time, because you want to be able to cut neat little cubes, which isn't easy with room temperature butter. This requires almost no additional effort and warms all of the butter, consistently, quickly. ;o) P.S. Of course I do this when making cookies and cakes, as well, if for whatever reason I haven't taken the butter out of the fridge well in advance.
And on warm days I don't even bother putting the bowl over the butter.
creamtea May 8, 2017
I do the same (or similar). Cut it it lengthwise, flip 90º and cut it lengthwise again. Cut crosswise into cubes. I didn't know about the warm plate and bowl, I just put it on a plate. and it warms fast without the edges melting as it might if brought into contact with too-high heat.