Most people can generally agree that there are a few key ingredients in cooking that you should always keep ready in your kitchen. No matter if you prefer to bake desserts, cook savory meals in the oven, or even stir-fry dishes on the stovetop, some of these ingredients should stay in the kitchen at all times and be easily located.
Out of these ingredients, one of the most important ones is going to be butter. Butter has countless different properties that make it one of the most versatile ingredients in cooking.
It can add flavor to a recipe, it can add texture to a mixture, and it can help add volume to other foods. Without butter, the landscape of cooking would be quite a bit more different than it is today.
With that being said, because of how many different properties butter can add to your meals, one thing that you will want to consider is making sure that your butter is the right consistency.
If you have just taken your butter out of the fridge for a recipe, you might find that it is too hard to be used in the recipe without causing other issues. This then begs the question of how you soften butter quickly.
Typically, most people will consider putting their butter in the microwave but if you are using the microwave for something else, this may not be a feasible option.
If you only need the butter to be softened from the hard brick it becomes in the fridge, putting the butter in the microwave may be too much heat at once, causing the butter to melt. Melted butter may not be the right consistency for the recipe that you are working with either.
From here, you might be wondering how you go about softening butter without resorting to the microwave. There are a few different methods that you can try, with each one working better for some situations than others.
The method that will work best for you will depend on what you have on hand and how quickly you need the butter to reach a soft state.
Leaving the Butter Out
As most people know, when you take something cold out of the fridge and leave it on the countertop for a long period of time, that object will slowly begin to take on the temperature of the room around it. This is a basic science known as the second law of thermodynamics.
The transfer of heat will go from the warm object, such as the air around the butter or even the countertop’s surface, to the cold object, which would be the stick of butter fresh out of the fridge.
As this happens, the warmer temperature of the room will then begin to alter the butter, bringing its temperature closer to room temperature. As the butter naturally begins to match the temperature of the room, it will begin to soften up.
With that being said, leaving your butter in a container on the counter is the lowest effort method of getting the butter to soften. After all, all you have to do is leave it on the counter.
Unfortunately, this is also the most time-consuming method and there are a considerable number of variables to work around.
If your house is particularly cold, then the butter might not reach a sufficient temperature to become soft. If your house is too hot or you leave the butter in the wrong place, the butter could end up melting and this presents even more problems to work with.
And finally, depending on the difference in temperature between the fridge and the air around the countertop, it could take hours, or even possibly the rest of the day, for the butter to reach the right temperature.
This method is best used if you have a plan of cooking something in the coming days and you know that you will need melted butter. It should not be used if you need the butter immediately or within a few minutes.
It should also be avoided if your home is particularly cold or hot.
Working Around the Variables
There are a few ways that you can work around some of the problems that leaving butter out presents. For instance, there are special butter containers, such as stoneware crocks, that are designed to keep butter at a temperature that is optimal for working with.
Because of the nature of stoneware in cooking, these crocks are commonly used when a house’s temperature might fluctuate too much to reliably have your butter soften when you leave it out.
If you need the butter relatively quickly, such as within an hour or two, and you know that the sun is shining down harshly and the heat is high, you can consider putting the butter in a clear, sealed container and taking it outside into the sun.
Depending on the temperature outside, it may only take a matter of minutes for the butter to soften.
Keep in mind that with this method, you will want to pay close attention to the butter so as not to let it soften too much. It is also important to use a sealed container as nobody wants the contaminants outside, such as dirt, pollen, and bugs, to get into the butter that you are using for cooking or even just spreading onto a slice of toast.
Relying on Other Methods
If you need your butter softened quickly and you cannot rely on the sun outside or your microwave, there are still quite a few methods that you can try to get your butter to the right consistency.
For instance, it takes less time for smaller pieces of butter to warm up than it does for one whole stick of butter to warm up.
Because of this, if you are planning to soften a fair amount of butter, you should cut it down into smaller cubes to work with. This will allow each cube to warm up more quickly, letting you get ready to cook with your butter in a more suitable amount of time.
If you are going to be using the stovetop or oven for your cooking, or even if you’re not, you should try to start cutting the butter near the warming stove or oven.
The heat radiating from either of these places will increase the temperature around the butter, prompting it to heat up more quickly. This can even help you take advantage of letting the oven pre-heat while preparing your food.
If you need a lot of butter and you don’t have the time or environment to heat the butter up but you do have a rolling pin (or something similar) on hand, then you are in luck. Just as people tenderize meat to get it to soften, you can “tenderize” the butter to get it to reach a softer, flatter state.
This can be helpful for recipes that require cool butter or recipes that require flattened butter. Typically, only three or four good whacks with a rolling pin will get the butter into a softened, flattened layer.
Another method that you should consider working with is creating a miniature stovetop for you to quickly heat up the butter so it becomes soft. This is useful when other areas of the stovetop are occupied and you need the softened butter immediately.
To do this, you will want a container that can hold a metal bowl and you will want a metal bowl. The metal bowl goes into this container.
Next, you will want to pour a few cups of very hot water, just below the boiling point or even just beginning to bubble, into the metal bowl.
Next, you will want to put the stick of butter into a separate container, one that will not be affected by the heat and potential steam from the cups of water. You will want to carefully hold the container of butter over the hot water for a few minutes.
The rising heat and steam from the water should slowly begin to heat the butter up, although you will need to keep an eye on it to make sure that the butter doesn’t begin to melt.
With this method, the main two things you will want to pay attention to are the containers of water and the container of butter. You will want to be certain that you do not hurt yourself or affect the utensils that you are working with when you are heating the water up.
At the same time, you will need to be careful about making sure that you do not completely melt the butter as melted butter can present a different set of problems than butter that is too hard to work with.
No matter what your situation might be and no matter how soon you will need the softened butter, you can rest assured knowing that somewhere in your kitchen, you will have the materials needed to soften butter up.
There are various methods depending on what state you need the butter in and how quickly you will need the butter but in the end, you can rest assured knowing that one way or another, you will have butter suitable for the recipe you are working with.
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.