Best Ways to Soften Butter for Baking

There are few things in this life better than a warm, home-baked cookie fresh from the oven. Even the aroma evokes pleasure (just witness the amount of candles with cookie scents). But when you get the hankering to bake cookies, there’s one ingredient that might slow you down: softened butter.

Unless you leave your butter out of the fridge, chances are you are going to have to get your butter from cold and hard to slightly warm and softened. Ideally, the butter should be around 65 degrees, not on the verge of melting but rather just enough to leave an imprint if you were to press your finger in the butter. Too warm and your cookies will melt on the pan like a snowman in summer.

Here are five ways to get your cold butter to the perfect baking temperature.

1. Shred the butter with a cheese grater. This is my preferred method; it’s messy but it works. Place a box grater over a plate and grate the butter using the coarse grating side (so, not too finely shredded). Once shredded, the butter will come to the right temperature in 10 minutes or less.

2. Cut the butter into pats. As with shredding it, this method basically breaks the butter down into smaller sizes so that it will soften faster. The smaller and thinner the slices, the more quickly it will get to the proper temperature.

3. Beat it. If you have a high-speed, stand mixer, you can basically whip your butter to the correct temperature. Just place the stick or sticks of butter in the mixer with either the flat paddle or whisk and turn the speed to medium high. The butter will disperse along the sides of the mixer, so use a spatula or spoon to press it back down periodically. Don’t add other ingredients until the butter is at the correct temperature, though.

4. Microwave it. If your microwave has varying temperature settings, you can try this method. Cut the stick of butter into halves or thirds and microwave it for one minute at 20 percent power. If it’s still too hard, microwave it in 20-second intervals, still at 20 percent. This is my least favorite way to get the butter to the right temperature because it’s easy to go from almost-there to melted. And if you melt the butter, there’s no going back. Which brings me to my final point…

5. Give in and melt it. Softened butter allows for cookies that are just the right texture–soft and not too crumbly. But there are some recipes out there that utilize melted butter and the addition of more flour or another dry ingredient to keep the cookies from melting out of shape. Christina Tosi, the chef/owner of Momufuku Milk Bar, adds powdered milk to her melted-butter cookie dough batter to produce a chewy, perfect cookie; other recipes call for cornstarch.

And one final tip: To keep the butter the right temperature for every batch of cookies you make, be sure to let your cookie sheet cool down. A hot cookie sheet will melt your butter before you begin the baking process.