Lots of recipes call for softening or melting butter before cooking or baking with it. Follow the steps below to learn these two techniques.

How to Soften Butter

When taken straight from the refrigerator, butter is quite firm. For some baking recipes and many frostings, you need to soften butter before trying to combine it with other ingredients. This is just a fancy term for letting the temperature of butter rise from 35 degrees (its refrigerator temperature) to 65 degrees (cool room temperature). This takes about 1 hour. But here are two ways to speed things up.

Counter Method: Cut butter into 1-inch pieces (to create more surface area). Place butter on plate and wait about 30 minutes. Once butter gives to light pressure (try to push your fingertip into butter), it’s ready to use.

Microwave Method: Cut butter into 1-inch pieces and place on microwave-­­safe plate. Heat in microwave at 50 percent power (see page 11) for 10 seconds. Check butter with fingertip test. Heat for another 5 to 10 seconds if necessary.

How to Melt Butter

Butter can be melted in a small saucepan on the stove (use medium-low heat), but we think the microwave is easier.

How to Melt Butter 2-up

Cut butter into 1-tablespoon pieces. Place butter in microwave-safe bowl.

Place bowl in microwave and cover bowl with small plate. Heat butter at 50 percent power until melted, 30 to 60 seconds (longer if melting a lot of butter). Watch butter and stop microwave as soon as butter has melted. Use oven mitts to remove bowl from microwave.