Cooking Basics

Butter Basics: How to Quickly Soften Butter

Your recipe calls for softened butter, but all you have is a stick fresh from the fridge. We’ve got a hack for that.

Published Feb. 28, 2017.

Your friends are coming over for Sunday brunch, and you’ve decided to be ambitious and bake both scones and coffee cake. You’ve gathered your ingredients—flour, baking powder, vanilla extract—but as you reach for the unsalted butter you realize you’ve forgotten to do one crucial thing: remove the butter from the fridge to let it soften.

At first you ponder whether you’ve got enough time to let the butter sit on the counter and soften, but it’s already 9:30 a.m. and you’ve still got to run out to the market for champagne and orange juice, and your guests are set to arrive at noon. What are you to do?

Don’t panic! Grab your butter, a food storage bag, and a rolling pin, and get to work.

Conventional wisdom calls for cooks to cut a cold, hard stick of butter into smaller pieces to promote swifter softening—as more surface area is exposed, the butter softens more quickly. It works, but our method is faster. Simply take a stick of butter, place it inside a food storage bag, and beat it with a rolling pin. Not only is this the most efficient way to quickly soften butter, it’s also oddly therapeutic.

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What happens if you don’t use all of the butter you’ve softened? If it’s completely melted, your best bet is to discard of it and use a fresh stick. But there are ways to salvage leftover, over-softened butter. Watch this:

Butterfat contains crystals that are highly sensitive to changes in temperature. Though they melt between 90 and 95 degrees, it doesn’t mean they’re destroyed. We found that if over-softened (or slightly melted) butter is quickly chilled with ice cubes, it can be restored to its softened state (around 70 degrees).

We tested sugar cookies and buttercream frosting made with our reconstituted softened butter and found that both recipes were acceptable, and nearly identical to those made with properly softened butter.

So don’t throw that over-softened butter in the trash can! In fact, if you don’t make cookies with it, you should probably slather it—along with some raspberry preserves—all over those freshly-baked scones.

Do you have any tips for quickly softening cold butter (or for salvaging over-softened butter)? Let us know in the comments!

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