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Best way to soften butter?

I'm a relative newbie to cooking/baking. Many recipes call for softened butter (salted and unsalted). I'm impatient, so I always toss fridged or even frozen sticks on low power in the microwave & it's almost guaranteed to partially melt. Any tips to do this better/faster? What effect does using partially melted butter when baking (e.g. cookies)? Thanks.

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  1. Nevermind. I searched outside of "Home cooking" and found other threads. Feel free to reply though.

    1. There is a CH video that is great. Basically you beat your butter! Just whack it around and it softens! I have done it and works great.

      5 Replies
      1. re: sarah galvin

        I cut it up into small pieces, put it in a ziplock bag, and mash it up with my fingers. If I have more time, I put it on a window sill where the sun will help me out. A friend of mine "heats" the empty microwave for a minute, then puts the butter in.

        1. re: MMRuth

          Your friends method scares me! I always heard never to run an empty microwave - it is supposed to be very bad for the appliance. I have no idea why this is so or if it's just an urban legend (microwaves are too "new" to have old wives tales).

          1. re: meatn3

            I have been told that it is bad for the magnetron tube. I would never run an empty microwave. I would at least put a glass of water inside.

          2. re: MMRuth

            ignoring the fact that it is bad for the appliance, does the microwave cavity even get hot with nothing to excite?

            1. re: scubadoo97

              I've only felt residual steam from what was just heated, and it has been fleeting. Perhaps in a very cold kitchen the insulation of the microwave would hold a warmer atmosphere?

        2. This doesn't work with frozen, but cold butter from the fridge, grated on the large hole side of a 4-sided grated, magically softens.

          1. I usually cut it according to the tablespoon measurements or a tad smaller and lay it out on a plate at room temperature. The butter seems to warm a lot quicker, usually good to go in 20-30 minutes. I've had success doing this method for cakes, cookies, and buttercream frosting

              1. Thanks for all the tips. By leaving the sticks intact, the outer surface would always melt in the microwave before the inside would soften. So, shredding, mashing, cutting, could increase the surface area, which will hasten the process. Can then maybe quicken things up w/ a quick low-power zap in the microwave.

                1 Reply
                1. re: pharmnerd

                  You cannot cream melted butter with sugar properly, so it may affect the structure of your cake. You might not notice, especially if it's a small proportion.

                  I'll cut the butter like gmk1322, but I put the pieces on the cookie sheet. They soften more quickly on a metal surface,

                  Also, cutting into small pieces and microwaving briefly can work (I do that sometimes) but you'll need to watch closely to learn where the soft but not melted stage is.

                2. I put a stick in the microwave in the wrapper: 15 seconds on high, 1/2 turn (bottom on top), 15 seconds, 1/4 turn, 15 seconds, 1/2 turn, 15 seconds. This lets each side be down, and thaws it evenly with little or no melting.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: KRS

                    I agree with KRS that you must turn the sticks over, so a different side of the stick is on the bottom. I've even done them with a half stick on end for part of the time, so it looks like a tall, skinny building, just to tickle my fancy. The microwave works well at this task if you use low power and turn it. It does not melt that way. I can't soften butter on my kitchen counter most of the time. It is too cold in the kitchen. The butter stays hard.

                  2. I beat the h*** out of it in my KitchenAid and proceed as usual.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Vetter

                      You know, it doesn't take very long just beating the h*** out of it with a heavy wooden spoon and easier to clean up after. But I agree, just beat it up, don't microwave.

                    2. There is always a sponge in the kitchen that could benefit from a quick sterilization via wetting, then wringing to bare dampness, then zapping for a minute or so.

                      The wrapped stick of butter can then be put into the warmed MW oven environment.

                      1. leave it on the counter for a few hours. It will not spoil. People used to keep their butter at room temperature in crocks before refrigeration.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: bw2082

                          That's certainly the best way - I think the question has been more along the lines of what to do when you've forgotten to do that.

                        2. I usually plan ahead and leave my butter out hours before my baking session. On days when I've forgotten to do so, I make use of the oven pre-heating time by placing my butter in a prep bowl and letting it sit above my oven on the stove-top surface. The heat from the oven is the perfect temperature to soften the butter without melting it.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: yumyumyogi

                            This is a different tip, but one thing I finally figured out is that, when I need melted butter, and already have the oven on, I can just put it in a ramekin and stick it in the oven for a couple of minutes, rather than heating it up on a burner.