James Beard Award-winning Cookbook Author

Baking Tip: How To Soften Butter for Baking

Sliced cold butter

It’s often a problem. You decide to bake a recipe calling for softened butter and all you have are rock hard sticks in the fridge. What’s the best way to get the butter ready for creaming–getting it soft enough to beat with sugar so that the two combine easily? The whole point of creaming is aeration, getting bubbles into your batter so that they can expand in the heat of the oven to make your cakes rise. Chemical leavening agents (baking powder, baking soda, for example) don’t create bubbles, they just aid in their expansion.

I used to use the microwave to soften butter, but the new ones have gotten so powerful that even at the lowest power levels, cold butter will melt in spots.

I’ve found that the best way to soften butter is to slice it and let it stand at room temperature until the butter temperature reaches 64 or 65 degrees Fahrenheit. You will need a reliable instant-read thermometer to let you know. The one I’ve been using for years is a Thermapen®. No, I am not getting paid to say this.

Here’s what my kitchen temp was before I took the butter out of the fridge:

Room temperature

And here’s the temperature of the butter cut into tablespoon sized pieces. 49 Degrees F.

Cold Butter temp

I just let the butter stand about a half hour or so, and take its temperature a few times. When it reaches 64 or 65 degrees F, it will be ready to use in a cake batter requiring creaming.

Butter Ready

The sugar will be at room temperature. After beating the butter with the sugar for a few minutes, the temperature will be the right temperature to beat in the remaining ingredients.

If you live in a warm climate, like Hawaii, it’s best to cut the cold butter up and start the creaming almost immediately, because room temperature is around 75 degrees F.

I hope this info helps. I’d love to hear back from you!


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