How to Soften Butter (9 Ways!)

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Does the recipe you’re following call for softened butter, but you forgot to plan ahead -or just realized you need it? Don’t worry! Here are several ways to get you back on track and moving forward.

how to soften butter
Table of Contents
  1. Why do recipes call for softened butter?
  2. 1) Room temperature
  3. 2) Cut into cubes
  4. 3) Cup Steaming 
  5. 4) Microwave Steaming
  6. 5) Lukewarm water bath
  7. 6) Pound the butter
  8. 7) Grating
  9. 8) Stand Mixer
  10. 9) Microwave
  11. How long does it take for butter to soften?
  12. What is room temperature? 
  13. The best temperature for cakes, cookies, and frostings
  14. How to test when butter is properly softened
  15. How to save over softened butter
  16. How to Soften Butter Recipe

When a recipe calls for softened butter, but it’s sitting cold in the refrigerator, here are a few simple techniques. They range from cutting into cubes to more physical methods like pounding it down or using microwave technology.

Whether you’re making a batch of chocolate chip cookies, tender cakes, or pie crust, choose the method that syncs up best. The list below contains easy hacks. Some are even fun to do!

Why do recipes call for softened butter?

Softened butter is easier to mix and evenly distribute with other ingredients. Plus, the temperature also impacts a recipe’s desired texture or function.

Methods for Quickly Softening Butter (from slowest to fastest)

1) Room temperature

stick of butter on a plate

Softening butter at room temperature gives the most consistent results with no effort. However, it takes the longest time, so planning is required. Time depends on the environment of the room. I often pull a stick or two out of the refrigerator first thing in the morning. There’s no significant difference if the butter is left wrapped or unwrapped.

Prep Time: 1 minute

Softening Time: 1 to 2 hours

2) Cut into cubes

butter cut into several small cubes

Cutting the butter down into small cubes allows for faster softening. Cut them into ½-inch pieces or smaller if desired for quicker results. This method increases the temperature by about 5 to 10 degrees. Let it sit on the counter until the desired temperature is reached. 

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Softening Time: 5 to 15 minutes

3) Cup Steaming 

Heat water in a glass or ceramic cup, then pour it out. Place the cup over the unwrapped stick. The humid environment reacts with the trapped butter, but after 5 minutes, the temperature rapidly cools down and loses its softening power. The outside of the butter will be softer than the core. Unwrap and allow it to sit on the counter, or cut into cubes to speed things up.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Softening Time: 5 to 8 minutes

4) Microwave Steaming

This is a quick and gentle method. Microwave some water to create a warm and steamy environment. Then swap it out with a plate of sliced butter. The residual heat and humidity warm the slices. I find the enclosed area will be around 79-degrees after heating the water. In just 10 minutes, the butter will be ready to use.

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Softening Time: 10 minutes

5) Lukewarm water bath

A tepid water bath will feel slightly cool, but the difference between the chilled slices of butter and 80-degree liquid temperature will quickly soften the butter without melting it. This doesn’t work well for sticks because the edges quickly soften, but the center stays firm, requiring more time and risks over-softening.

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Softening Time: 4 minutes

6) Pound the butter

Time to get some aggression out! Pound a stick of butter between plastic or wax paper until very thin. The heat created by the friction and increased surface area will help it soften quicker. After flattening, it will be about 59ºF (15ºC). Let it sit at room temperature for about 5 minutes to get to 65ºF (18ºC). This method is quick, easy, and gives a consistent texture and temperature throughout.

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Softening Time: 5 minutes

7) Grating

person grating butter onto a plate

Grate the butter on the widest pore size of a handheld kitchen grater or box grater. Use the paper that’s wrapped around the butter to help with gripping, so you don’t nick your fingers on the sharp holes. It will come to room temperature very quickly. This works great if you’re making quick breads that require a flaky texture like buttermilk biscuits or scones.

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Softening Time: 2 to 3 minutes 

8) Stand Mixer

This method works great if you already need some softened butter for creaming with sugar. Just cut the butter into even-sized pieces. For one stick, I cut it into eight slices. Mix on medium-low speed until it reaches the desired softness. The friction created between the paddle and the bowl heats the fat. What’s great is that it’s already in the bowl for the next step for your baked goods.

Prep Time: 2 minutes

Softening Time: 4 minutes

9) Microwave

warming butter in the microwave

This method is the trickiest but also the quickest. The key is to use medium power and flip the stick every 5 seconds to ensure even softening. I find that it takes about 30 to 35 seconds to reach 65 to 67 degrees.

This ensures the microwave energy is getting evenly distributed throughout the solid fat and not just one side. This method is ideal when you need to use a large amount of butter for a recipe. Some microwaves have a butter softening program. 

Prep Time: 2 minutes

Softening Time: 20 to 35 seconds

How long does it take for butter to soften?

A cold stick of butter straight from the refrigerator is about 40ºF (4.4ºC) and firm in texture. The softening time depends on the room temperature and ranges from 1 to 2 hours for a 4-ounce stick. The time will vary if it’s sitting in the windowsill with sunshine or near a warm oven. Just make sure that the butter does not entirely melt into liquid, or you’ll lose its air-trapping ability.

What is room temperature? 

If the instructions say to soften to “room temperature,” that can be from 68 to 72ºF (20 to 22ºC). This range can fluctuate drastically in your home, so check your thermostat. You can also turn on an instant-read thermometer, wait about 30 seconds for the reading in your kitchen. If it’s more cool or warm, it will slow down or speed up the rate of softening. 

The best temperature for cakes, cookies, and frostings

Soften the butter to just below room temperature, about 65 to 67ºF (18 to 19ºC). This range allows the needle-like beta prime fat crystals to be solid but still pliable. When mixed, the softened fat traps air pockets, so cookies, cakes, and frosting will turn out light instead of dense.

How to test when butter is properly softened

The most reliable method is inserting the probe of an instant-read thermometer in the center of the butter. It’s always going to be cooler in the core. Another approach is to poke your finger onto the butter’s surface. It should leave an indent but not stick to your finger, and there should be some slight resistance.

How to save over softened butter

The melting point of butter is between 82 to 97°F (28 to 26ºC), from where it turns solid to liquid. It’s best not to re-chill completely melted butter, as it loses its fat crystal properties and will impact the texture of baked goods. However, if it’s a little too warm, you have a few choices. 

For sticks or pieces, place in the refrigerator, checking every minute until it gets closer to room temperature. The freezer also works, but check more frequently as the temperature is 0ºF (-18ºC) compared to 40ºF(4.4ºC). Slices can be placed in a bowl with a few ice cubes and gently mixed until more firm. If needed, dab the pieces with a paper towel to dry the surface.

Can butter be too soft or hard?

Yes! If the butter is too soft, it won’t hold air and will deflate. This creates flat baked goods, or droopy frostings. If it’s at all melted, that won’t trap air and instead be greasy. Cold butter is difficult to whip or cream, creating small chunks instead of being smooth.

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How to Soften Butter

When a recipe calls for softened butter, but it’s sitting cold in the refrigerator. Don't worry! You have a few options to get you back on track.
Pin Print Review
4.53 from 21 votes
Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time5 mins
Total Time10 mins
Servings 8 servings
Course Condiment
Cuisine American

Ingredients

  • ½ cup butter, one stick, unsalted or salted
  • boiling water, as needed for steaming method

Instructions 

Room temperature

  • Place the butter on the counter in a warmer area in the kitchen, unwrap and place it on a plate. You don’t want to put it too close to a hot stove or a warm window, or it can melt. Depending on the temperature of the room, it will take 1 to 2 hours to soften.

Cut into cubes

  • Slice the stick lengthwise into ½-inch thick rectangles. Cut into ½-inch cubes or smaller sizes for even quicker softening. Let it sit on the counter until the desired temperature is reached, about 5 to 15 minutes.

Glass Steaming

  • Use a glass or ceramic cup that’s large enough to cover the butter. Fill with boiling water. Alternatively, fill a microwave-safe cup with water, heat on high power until near boiling, about 3 minutes. Let the cup sit for 3 minutes to warm up, then pour out the water.
  • Place the wrapped butter on a plate, standing up. Immediately place the warmed cup over the butter. Check after 5 minutes, then every 1 minute after, about 8 minutes maximum. Unwrap and sit on the counter until the desired temperature is reached, or cut into cubes to speed up softening.

Microwave Steaming

  • Slice the butter into even-sized pieces, about 1-cm thick. Evenly place them on a plate. Using a microwave-safe material, heat 2 cups of water on high power for 3 minutes.
  • Remove the cup from the microwave and replace it with the plate of butter. Close the door and let it sit for about 10 minutes to soften.

Warm water bath

  • Cut the stick into 1-cm thick slices and place them in an even layer into a small resealable plastic bag. Remove the air, and seal.
  • In a medium bowl, add 4 cups of 80-degree water for 2 minutes, then flip it over and let it sit for another 2 minutes. Repeat the flipping process in 1-minute intervals as needed.

Pound the butter

  • Place the stick of butter in the center of a large resealable plastic bag. Pound it down with a rolling pin until flattened, then roll to an even 1/16-inch thickness. Let it sit at room temperature until the desired temperature is reached, about 5 minutes to reach 65ºF (18ºC).

Grating

  • Use the largest holes on a kitchen grater. Unwrap the butter, leaving some around the stick's top to use as a place to grip. Grate over a plate and use it immediately or within a few minutes.

Stand Mixer

  • Cut the butter into even-sized slices, about 1 tablespoon in size (1-cm thick). Place in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium-low speed (setting 4) for 2 minutes.
  • Scrape down the paddle and bowl, then mix on medium-low until it reaches the desired temperature, 1 to 2 minutes.

Microwave

  • Place the unwrapped stick of butter on a microwave-safe plate. Use the medium power setting (50%) and heat for 5 seconds. Flip the stick over clockwise, so it’s on another side, heat for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat with the remaining two sides, about 20 seconds total. Keep flipping and heating in 5-second intervals until it reaches the desired temperature. It takes about 30 to 35 seconds to reach 65 to 67ºF (18 to 19ºC).

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Nutrition Facts
How to Soften Butter
Amount Per Serving
Calories 102 Calories from Fat 108
% Daily Value*
Fat 12g18%
Saturated Fat 7g35%
Trans Fat 1g
Cholesterol 31mg10%
Sodium 101mg4%
Potassium 3mg0%
Carbohydrates 1g0%
Sugar 1g1%
Protein 1g2%
Vitamin A 355IU7%
Calcium 3mg0%
Iron 1mg6%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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