How to Soften Butter

Softened Butter is a mainstay in baking instructions. It’s so common, but recipes never tell you how to soften butter or why you need to soften butter.

In fact, so many baking recipes call for softened butter that when I ran my home bakery I kept a tally on the whiteboard of how many sticks of butter I needed for the day!

Before I dropped the kids off at school in the morning, I would take out all of my sticks of butter so they could be ready when I got home!

That’s me… always thinking ahead…at least where butter is involved.

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Why is it important to soften the butter?

If you’ve never had cold butter hit your mixer’s beater blades, then you’ve probably never been hit in the face with a cold chunk of butter. That’s one reason why. Cold butter doesn’t incorporate into a mixture very well and it doesn’t cream at all.

Which brings us to the real reason for softening butter: it makes creaming the butter easier.

When you cream the softened butter by beating it with your mixer’s blades, it adds air and volume. It allows the butter and other ingredients to come together in a new way and produces an amazing result, such as light and tender cakes.

If the butter is the right temperature, this happens easily and all’s right with the world. Baking magic happens.

Ready to soften butter, 10 sticks of butter on a sheet pan

What’s the temperature of softened butter?

“Room temperature” can really vary, but unless you are my husband and keep the house temperature set to FREEZING all year around, room temperature butter would be 65-67°F. (Funny, that’s the same temperature my husband would set the thermostat to if I ever turned my back!)

I don’t have an instant-read thermometer. I just poke it (gently) with my (clean) finger and see it leaves a dent. An instant-read thermometer would be infinitely helpful though.

It’s on my next year’s Christmas wish list!
Instant Read Thermometer!!!

You don’t want the butter to be melted! Melted butter won’t perform right in the recipe. Instead, it will turn everything into a soupy mess that will not result in optimal baked goods.

If you go too far and melt the butter, you pretty much have to get out new butter and save the melted butter for something else.

How do you soften butter?

Really you don’t DO anything other than wait for the butter to get to room temperature. The easiest way is to remember to take the butter out of the refrigerator 30-45 minutes before you need it.

Then you wait for the butter to become room temperature. That’s how you soften butter, you wait. The reward is deliciousness.

While you are waiting, you can get everything else ready and in place for your recipe. You know, a little mise en place action.

How to soften butter fast

I guess there may be some baking emergency where you have to soften that butter QUICKLY.

If you forget to soften the butter sticks ahead of time, the next easiest thing to do is cube the butter.

To cube the butter, you unwrap the sticks of butter and cut them into smaller chunks. I just leave the chucks on the butter wrapper.

Then you wait. It should only take 10 -15 minutes to have softened butter.

baking ingredients and ready to soften butter on a cutting board

How to soften butter in the microwave

Let’s say you are in a baking race and you have to have softened butter NOW! If you are in this emergency butter situation the best thing to do is turn to the microwave.

Microwaving butter is also the riskiest thing to do.

It’s doable… but I warn you… if you only have enough butter for one recipe and you SERIOUSLY don’t have time to go to the store. Just be safe and wait.

IF you are determined to microwave the poor butter, then either use 50% power for 15 seconds or go all in for 8 seconds. Next, I flip the stick over and do 5 more seconds if I have to.

Those are my magic numbers. They work in MY microwave. I don’t even know your microwave yet… Maybe your microwave is hotter than mine. Maybe your microwave is mad at you and is just waiting to melt that butter RIGHT when you are having a butter emergency.

Go slow. You can always microwave the butter a little longer. There are no take backs with butter.

Be careful, it melts before you know what happened… Which is why my neighborhood grocery store clerks know what I look like for real. For real.

How to soften butter in the oven

Another thing I do when I have A LOT of butter to soften is turning my oven to the “proof” setting (100° F) and set a whole sheet pan full of butter sticks in there for 15 minutes.

If you don’t have “proof” on your oven, turn it on a low setting for 2-3 minutes then turn it off. That “should” get it up to 100° F, but not too hot.

If it’s too hot you will MELT your butter, don’t do that.

I’ve also forgotten whole trays of butter in the oven and preheated the oven for baking… yeah.. not good. Put a post-it over the “on” button so no one can turn it on with your butter in there! (Yet another “learn from my past mistakes” moment)

How Long Can Butter Stay Out?

I know someone is reading this wondering, “Hey, won’t the butter spoil if I leave it out too long?” or “How long can I leave out the butter?”

The answer to that is up to a couple of days if it’s sitting out in the open air and if you cover it in an airtight container, you could leave it out for weeks.

Butter doesn’t spoil as quickly as we might have been led to believe!

Now that you know everything there is to know about the art of softening butter, you are ready to bake! (recipes to test your new butter softening skills COMING SOON!)

Questions or comments?

What are you going to do with all that softened butter? Have you ever had a butter fiasco? Tell me all about it in the comments or drop me a line, I need to know I’m not alone!

Things I read while researching for this article:

Cooks Illustrated: Butter Temperature 101

Organic Authority: Your Best Butter, Refrigerated or Not

How to soften butter, 10 stick of butter on a sheet pan
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About Mikel Ibarra

Mikel Ibarra holds a BFA in painting, is a certified cake decorator, teaches baking and cake decorating classes, and frequently combines her passions for the sake of art. Sweet Bytes is where she shares everything she knows about the art of baking and running a baking business.