We’ve all been here. You decide on a whim that now is the moment to bake a batch of thick chocolate chip cookies or a toasty almond snack cake, but woof—you really should have taken a stick of butter from the fridge to soften a few hours ago. For many baking recipes, room temperature ingredients—butter and eggs especially—are necessary to get your foot in the door. Luckily, there are a few easy tricks for warming these ingredients up quickly. So the next time sweet inspiration strikes at a moment’s notice, you’ll be ready.
What Does “Room Temperature” Mean?
Before we get into how to bring these baking staples to room temp, let’s quickly address what “room temp” actually looks (or feels) like.
Butter, glorious fat that it is, is unique in its ability to exist in a soft but solid state at room temperature. This is what makes it so ideal for baking things like cakes and certain cookies. In it’s softened, room temperature state, butter can be manually whipped—or “creamed” with sugar—to create an aerated fat matrix that allows for the various degrees of light and fluffy textures you’ve come to appreciate in your favorite baked treats.
So given that “room temperature” is a fairly ambiguous phrase and you’re not likely to break out a thermometer and take you butter’s temperature... how do you know you’ve thoroughly softened it?
You know you’re at the right place when you gently press a finger onto your stick of butter and it makes a dent with no resistance. It will likely take a few hours sitting on the counter to get here. You can, however, over-soften butter. If your butter looks notably oily or greasy on the surface, or you see it’s beginning to melt, you know it’s gotten a little too warm. At this point, you’ll want to let it chill and re-solidify slightly in the fridge, as overly-soft butter won't whip up and hold air properly. So, supposing you’re a better planner than most and happen to keep your home on the toasty side—maybe resist the urge to take your butter out the night before a baking project.
Eggs are a little more straightforward. You’ll know they’ve reached room temperature when the shells are no longer cool to the touch. Take them out of the fridge and place them on a towel or in a container on the counter, and they’ll reach room temperature in 30 minutes or so.
But since we’ve already established that we’re a bunch of procrastinators, on to the shortcuts!
How to Soften Butter Quickly
Manually Soften It
A lot of folks around the internet suggest placing your stick(s) of butter in a large, zip-top plastic bag and going at it with a rolling pin. For me, this creates too much chance to leave too much butter glazed on the inside of that bag. I’m not about it.
Instead, I take my butter out and let it sit on the counter while I gather up all other necessary ingredients. Then, I take the stick of butter (still wrapped) and twack it a few times on each side against the counter. Post-twacking, I carefully give the (still wrapped!) stick a few intentional squeezes in my hand, working the butter without letting it protrude out of the sides of the wrapper. This is a trick I learned from one of my dearest friends/former roommates who happens to be a brilliant baker and it works like a charm. The combination of friction and body heat warms and tenderizes the butter in no time. Simply add your now misshapen stick of butter into a mixing bowl, scraping any remnant from the wrapper using a rubber spatula.
Use a Double Boiler
For this method, you’ll want to cut each butter stick into 8 pieces. Place the pieces in a heat-proof mixing bowl and place the mixing boil over a pot of barely simmering water, making sure the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl. Do not walk away from the bowl as this method will soften your butter rapidly, and the transition from “soft” to “melted” is equally rapid.
Hit the Microwave
Similar to the method above, this is an extremely quick way of warming up your butter. Again, cut each stick into 8 pieces and place the pieces in a microwave-safe bowl. Then, microwave in 10-second intervals until just-softened.
Some Additional Conditional Options
Put It Outside
If you have a little time flexibility (as in, you don’t need to get to creaming butter and sugar right this minute) and it’s warm outside… place your (wrapped) butter in a safe spot outdoors. If you’re someplace warm, like Alabama in the summertime, you won’t be waiting long.
Preheat It With the Oven
If you’re well acquainted with your oven, you’ve probably noticed where the stovetop tends to warm up along with the oven as it preheats. If so, this can serve as a nice, gentle heating pad for your butter. This works well if you’ve already let the butter sit out at room temp for a bit and it just needs an extra nudge over the finish line. Place your stick of butter on a plate and place that plate towards the back of your stovetop. Rotate the stick every couple of minutes until you see it’s getting soft.
Leave a Stick or Two on the Counter
If you use butter frequently, I’d recommend investing in a butter dish that’s aesthetically pleasing to you so that you can keep softened butter at the ready on your countertop. A traditional butter keeper is great and I especially love French-style butter crocks, which use a small amount of water in the base to create a seal.
A Quick Note About Grating
Yes—you can grate your butter on a box grater, as a lot of blogs and such recommend. The friction will heat it up as you work, and soft butter shreds will be produced. You will also lose a portion of your butter on the merciless holes of that box grater so I don’t recommend doing this.
How to Bring Eggs to Room Temperature Quickly
Draw a Warm Bath
There’s one widely agreed upon method for bringing eggs to room temperature quickly—it’s straightforward and it works. Fill a bowl with warm water from the tap (you don’t want this water to be hot, or else you risk partially cooking the eggs in their shells; warm-to-the-touch water is perfect). Now gently place your eggs in the bowl and let them sit for 5-10 minutes. When the eggs are no longer cool to the touch, you’re good to go. To further expedite this process, you can leave the bowl under gently running warm water.