Can't wait to dig in to your ice cream? Try this method if you're feeling impatient.
The best way to soften ice cream, hands down, is to put it in the fridge for 30 minutes. The temperature difference between the ice cream and the cold air around it is more moderate than on the counter, so it will soften evenly from edge to edge. The microwave is usually the worst option, leading to ice cream with liquid edges and a rock-hard center. But you can avoid that outcome by microwaving the carton at 50 percent power. Microwaves penetrate only the outer ¼ to 1 inch of food. Any time you decrease the power level, it decreases the amount of time the appliance is on, which gives heat time to disperse away from the surface and toward the center. We found that heating ice cream at 50 percent power for 10 to 60 seconds (how long will depend on the microwave oven) and checking every 10 seconds to see if the center was sufficiently soft (about 8 degrees is ideal) did the trick, leaving only a narrow ring of melted ice cream around the edges.
When we want a perfect scoop for company, we'll soften ice cream in the fridge. But when time is of the essence, this method will do just fine.