Follow these tips for softened butter in seconds.

‘Tis the season for holiday baking! Whether you're making a fancy holiday bundt, three dozen Christmas tree sugar cookies, or our annual big white cake, you're going to need softened butter, and lots of it.

But what is softened butter, anyway? Butter is soft (or "room temperature") when you can press it lightly with your finger and make a small indentation. You shouldn't have to press hard, and your finger shouldn't sink too far down into the butter—that's a sign that it is too soft. Temperature is important too. The butter should feel slightly cool, not warm, to the touch. And it should look smooth and creamy, not greasy.

The easiest way to soften butter is to leave it on the kitchen counter for 30 minutes to an hour. The temperature of your kitchen will determine how long it will take to soften.

But if you don't have that kind of time, there are two quick methods that work. (Just don't use the microwave or the stovetop—high heat will cause the butter to melt in seconds)

Cut it

Butter that has been cut into small cubes or thin slices will soften faster than a whole stick.

Grate It

Very cold (or frozen) butter can be grated with the large holes of a box grater into shreds. In fact, we recommend this technique when making our favorite buttermilk biscuits.

Pound It

Place the butter inside a ziplock bag or between two sheets of parchment paper and gently pound it a few times with a rolling pin until it is flat. Don't overdo it—this method can turn butter from too cold to too soft very easily.