Many recipes for baked goods and desserts like cookies, muffins, or frosting call for butter creamed with sugar.

Butter is a solid fat that can hold air. Yet, if you have ever tried to cream cold butter straight from the refrigerator, you know that it doesn’t work very well — it makes a lumpy and uneven batter that has an inconsistent texture when baked.

On the other hand, when you cream softened butter with sugar the fat traps air, which then expands when heated in the oven, leaving you with a delicious and fluffy baked good (1).

Softening butter is an important step to make sure your dish turns out with the desired texture. Softened butter isn’t too hard or cold but also isn’t melted into a liquid. It’s in between these two consistencies (1).

The most reliable way to soften butter so that it’s evenly softened throughout is to remove it from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for 20 minutes before using.

If you don’t have the time to let your butter sit out and soften on its own, you can try a few quicker methods to reach the consistency you want.

This article covers the quickest ways to soften butter.

If you have 10 minutes

Here is one way to soften butter quickly and evenly at home in 10–13 minutes:

  1. Add 2 cups (480 ml) of water to a microwave-safe glass measuring cup.
  2. Microwave the water for 2–3 minutes until it starts to boil. While it heats up, slice your butter and place it in a separate heat-safe bowl.
  3. Place the bowl of sliced butter into the microwave and carefully remove the cup of boiling water.
  4. Close the microwave with the bowl of butter inside. Let it sit — but don’t turn the microwave on — for about 10 minutes. It will soften from the heated, moist air you have trapped inside.

If you have 5–10 minutes

If you want to speed up the softening process further, you can try a few methods to increase the surface area of the butter. Then, let the butter sit at room temperature for 5–10 minutes.

Some of these methods include:

  • grating a cold stick of butter using the large holes of a cheese grater
  • chopping cold butter into small cubes
  • placing the stick of butter between two pieces of wax paper and using a rolling pin to flatten it like a pie crust

Quick heating methods

Lastly, if you want to use other heating methods, you can try using your microwave or a double boiler.

Microwave the cold stick on high for 3–4 seconds at a time, flipping it to a new side every time until you have reached 12–16 seconds. Keep in mind that every microwave is different and this method may not always result in an even texture.

Alternatively, warm a pot of water over medium heat and place a bowl on top of the pot to cover the opening. Place your cold butter in the bowl and let it soften from the steam and heat. Remove it before it melts.

This method may take longer than using a microwave, but it gives you more control.

The bottom line

Butter is a very common ingredient, and many recipes for baked goods call for it to be softened before use to make sure you end up with the desired texture. Softened butter has a consistency in between firm and liquid.

The most reliable method of softening butter is to let it sit out at room temperature until softened throughout.

However, you can try some quicker methods, such as grating it or heating it using a double boiler or the steam from water warmed in the microwave.