This weekend, I was halfway through assembling ingredients for a yellow cake when I realized that I'd forgotten to set out butter to soften. Again. I keep the sticks of butter I use for baking in the freezer, so setting them out to soften them ahead of time takes a little more foresight than I usually seem to have, unfortunately.
Never mind! I have a few tricks up my sleeve to quickly soften butter whenever I forget to plan ahead.
I used to thaw butter in the microwave, but I don't like how that often leaves butter cool on the outside and molten in the middle. Melted butter (as opposed to just "softened" butter) can also give many cakes and cookies a different texture than I might want.
Instead, I've started relying on these three alternatives:
- Cut the butter into small chunks: Small chunks soften much more quickly than the whole stick, especially if placed near the warming stove.
- Pound the butter: This is a fun way to take out your frustrations! Put the butter in a ziplock bag and use a rolling pin or meat pounder to flatten the butter (like we do when making Kouign Amann). This softens the butter while still keeping it cool. A few minutes on the counter and the butter will be up to room temperature.
- Set the butter over a warm water bath if you're in a real hurry. Pour a few cups of very hot (just below boiling) water into a double boiler or a sauce pan with a metal bowl nested inside. Put the butter over the water bath and allow to soften. Keep an eye on it so the butter doesn't start to melt.
Butter is officially softened and ready to use when it can be easily squished between your thumb and forefinger.
Anyone else have a good trick for quickly softening butter?
This post has been updated. Originally published June 29, 2008.
(Image: Emma Christensen)