Three easy ways to do it.

In some recipes, certain ingredients like cream cheese have to be at room temperature before you can use them. Even if you know this already (which you probably do, if you like to bake), that doesn't mean you will remember to take the cream cheese out of the refrigerator so it has time to soften up—ideally for an hour.

Which can be a real problem when you need cheesecake now. Or a pound cake, or some carrot cake cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.

If you find yourself in this situation, don't panic. Delicious desserts are still in your future. Here are three quick and easy ways to bring cream cheese up to room temperature.

Superfast: In the Microwave

Unwrap the cream cheese and place it on a microwave-safe plate. Microwave it 10 seconds at a time, checking the texture and temperature after each interval, for 30 seconds.

Pro: This is the fastest way to soften cream cheese.

Con: It can go from soft to a puddle in a matter of seconds, so you have to watch the microwave closely. And you have to dirty a dish.

Pretty Fast: In Warm Water

Place the unopened aluminum-foil wrapped cream cheese in a ziplock bag and push all of the air out of the bag before sealing it. Fill a large bowl (or the sink) with warm water. Place the bag of cream cheese in the warm water and submerge it for about 10 minutes, or until the cream cheese is soft.

Pro: No dishes to wash! And you can do this step while you prep other ingredients for your recipe.

Con: This method isn't as easy if the cream cheese is in a tub rather than a package.

Chocolate-Peppermint Cheesecake
Credit: Linda Pugliese, Hector Sanchez; Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas, Buffy Hargett Miller

Fast: On a Plate

Cut the cream cheese into small pieces (or scoop it out of a container into small blobs) and place them on a plate. Let the cream cheese sit in a warm place for about 30 minutes, or until it has softened.

Pro: This is the easiest way to soften cream cheese and doesn't require you to watch it like a hawk.

Con: This method takes more time (but it still cuts down the usual process by half)