5 Quick Ways to Soften Butter in a Pinch

Yes, the temperature of butter can make or break a recipe.

Whether you're baking a cake or simply need a good shmear for your morning toast, not much compares to a generous serving of soft, creamy butter. However, getting it to the perfect consistency and temperature can often require more patience than one would prefer.

Generally, a refrigerated stick of butter can take anywhere between 30 minutes and an hour to soften; meanwhile, frozen butter can take upwards of four hours to reach a usable consistency.

If you forgot to leave the butter out ahead of time, or it just won't thaw quickly enough, we've gathered a few helpful tips for achieving smooth, soft butter fast.

Benefits of Softened Butter

Aside from the much more malleable texture, softened butter plays an important role, especially when baking. Many pastries like chocolate chip cookies, pie doughs, and croissants depend on softened butter to create these iconic textures and flavors. Butter, a solid fat, can trap air pockets when creamed or whipped, making a cake fluffy and a croissant flaky. The hot steam within the buttery solids expands when baking, adding airiness and the melt-in-your-mouth sensation we crave.

Not only does butter help make your baked goods more flavorful, but it also helps stabilize your mixture and create a homogenous consistency when used at the right temperature. Butter that's too cold or too melted can result in an oily pie crust, lumpy frosting, or a flat cake.

Signs of Perfectly Softened Butter

Between 65 F and 72 F is the ideal range for "room temperature" butter, even though your home may be warmer than that. Softened butter should indent slightly when poked, but your finger should not easily pierce through the entire stick. Additionally, the butter should not show signs of melting, oiliness, or moisture loss.

With that in mind, here are the best ways to soften butter quickly.

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Use Indirect Heat From Microwave

Before you place the entire stick in the microwave and crank the heat, this method of "microwaving" your butter offers a more indirect heating method of achieving a spreadable consistency.

Instead of microwaving an entire stick of butter (which risks over-softening, or even worse, melting it completely), convert this appliance into a steam room by trapping warm moisture in it.

Fill a microwave-safe container with 1 to 2 cups of water. Microwave the liquid for 2 minutes, creating sufficient steam in the appliance's interior that'll help soften the butter. Meanwhile, cut the stick of butter into smaller pieces, maximizing the surface area exposed. Place the butter pieces in a large bowl or rimmed plate, spreading them out—you don't want to create one bunched-up pile.

Next, carefully remove the hot water, and place the bowl with butter inside the microwave as quickly as possible while letting minimal steam escape. This method will help quickly soften without completely melting your butter in just a few minutes.

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Cut Butter Into Smaller Pieces

Maximize the butter's surface area to help soften it by cutting a larger stick into smaller pieces. Not only will this make your butter more manageable when creaming it in a stand mixer or rolling it into a dough, but it'll also increase the temperature by exposing the colder molecules to warmer air. If the recipe allows it, cut the butter into small 1-by-1-inch cubes for maximum results.

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Use a Hot Glass Container

When pressed for time, you can also soften butter using a hot glass container to create a warm atmosphere.

Use a glass container like a bowl or mug (large enough to cover the quantity of butter needed), and fill it with boiling water. Let the container absorb the heat from the water and once it becomes very hot, empty it. Quickly dab the excess moisture from the container, place the butter on a solid, heat-proof surface, and put the hot container upside down covering the butter entirely. Though the container may lose heat, it'll help soften the butter in no time.

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Grate Very Cold or Frozen Butter

Though this is a more hands-on approach, it's also one of the quickest ways to soften very cold or frozen butter. Using a large box grater, carefully grate the butter as you would a block of cheese. This process creates small shredded bits of butter that'll soften quickly and emulsify smoothly in batters, bread, or doughs. As a bonus, the warmth of your hands will also speed up the softening process as you go.

RELATED: 5 Foolproof Ways to Bake Even Better Banana Bread

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Pound and Flatten the Butter

Another slightly unconventional method of softening chilled butter involves a plastic bag or wrap and a sturdy rolling pin. Place the butter in a resealable plastic bag or between two sheets of plastic wrap and begin to pound it flat using the rolling pin. Flattening the butter creates more surface area exposed to warmer, room-temperature air. Though this method requires a little muscle, you'll have the ideal butter consistency for your cooking or baking needs in about 10 minutes.

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