Whether you're a seasoned baker or part-time pastry enthusiast, you probably at least know that butter is the baking essential that adds a rich flavor and delicate texture to baked goods. Like most phases of successful cooking, baking requires a fair amount of preparation on your part to ensure a delicious result.
One step you often see in cookbooks and online recipes is to soften the butter before mixing with the rest of the ingredients. Basically, softening the butter simply means bringing it to room temperature. The reason you want to soften the butter is you'll likely be creaming it with other ingredients, usually sugar. That's nearly impossible to do with cold, hard butter. But if you have soft butter, creaming it — to add much-needed air bubbles to your batter — is much easier. Here are five tips to soften butter.
- Skip the microwave: While it may seem like a quick and easy solution to thawing out ice-cold butter from the freezer, we strongly recommend resisting the siren call of the microwave. Why? Not only does a microwave heat the butter unevenly, but it can actually melt it too much, rendering it unusable.
- Plan ahead: Successful baking not only requires talent but also excellent time management skills. The best way to soften butter for a recipe is to take it out of the fridge or freezer an hour or two before you start baking. Pro-tip: Turn your oven or cooktop on super low and place your wrapped butter on a plate on top to speed up the process.
- Cut it up: If you're dealing with stiff, stubborn butter that just won't seem to thaw, try cutting it into chunks. The added surface area will hit the warm air more quickly and soften faster. You can also grate it on a cheese grater ... as long as you can resist the urge to eat it like cheese.
- Try the rolling pin method: Here's one that's just as fun as it is effective. Place a stick of butter between two sheets of wax paper. Lay the butter down on a flat surface and smooth it out with a rolling pin. You can either roll it out like dough or just club it.
- Give your butter a "bath": Heat up some water in a pot. Stick your butter in a heat-resistant bowl and place inside the pot of water. This creates a DIY double boiler that'll soften the butter quickly and easily.