3 Ways to Soften Butter Quickly and Easily

updated May 4, 2023
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A stick of butter on its open wrapping with eggs and measuring cups in the background
Credit: Joe Lingeman

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. Thankfully I have a few tricks up my sleeve to quickly soften butter whenever I forget to plan ahead.

If you ever find yourself in the same situation, it’s useful to learn how to soften butter. I’ve had success with three methods: You can cut the butter into cubes, pound it, or set it over a warm warm bath.

Skip the Microwave

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 you might want.

How to Soften Butter: 3 Ways

There are much better methods for softening hard butter in a pinch, like cutting it into small cubes, pounding it with a rolling pin, or setting it over a warm water bath. And remember, butter is officially softened and ready to use when it can be easily squished between your thumb and forefinger.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

1. Cut the butter into small chunks.

Small chunks soften much quicker than the whole stick — especially if placed near the warming stove. Or for nearly frozen butter that needs a quick thaw, try grating the butter on the large holes of a box grater for quick softening.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

2. Pound the butter.

This is a fun way to take out your frustrations! Put the butter in a zip-top 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. Don’t go crazy over whacking — instead 3 to 4 quick slaps to get the stick into a flat even layer is all you need.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

3. 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 saucepan 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.

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