How to Easily Tell if Your Butter is at Room Temperature

We know you're in a hurry, but don't skip this step.

butter in a plate isolated on a white background
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There's nothing quite like spending the weekend in the kitchen, whipping up batches of cookies and loaf cakes to deliver to family and friends. We love to devote lots of time and energy to full baking marathons, but sometimes that's just not possible—like when you suddenly remember you volunteered to bake your famous pound cake for tomorrow's bake sale and you haven't even set the butter out to soften.

In an ideal world, we'll have plenty of time to prepare for a nice evening of baking. But for the occasions when you're baking in a pinch, we have a few expert tips to expedite the process. For example, how to bring your ingredients to room temperature quickly. Grating, cutting, or pounding your butter are all ways to bring it to room temperature in a flash. But how exactly can you tell when your butter is ready to go? Here's everything you need to know about how to soften butter and how to tell when it has reached room temperature.

Why Is It Important To Soften Butter?

Using properly softened butter is crucial when baking, as the temperature and consistency of your butter (and your other ingredients, for that matter) can completely change the outcome of your baked goods.

Let's say you're making a batch of chocolate chip cookies and the recipe calls for one stick of softened butter, which you'll cream with the sugar before adding the eggs and the dry ingredients. Cold butter that's straight out of the fridge won't cream properly, leaving you with lumps of cold, hard butter in your cookie dough (not to mention the toll this takes on your stand mixer). Melted butter will compromise the structure of the cookies, resulting in a loose, soupy dough and causing the cookies to spread too much on the sheet tray (note: some recipes will call for melted butter and were developed with these properties in mind).

Softened, room temperature butter, on the other hand, incorporates smoothly into the dough, forming a solid, stable foundation for the cookies.

How Long Should Butter Sit Out To Be Room Temperature?

To soften butter, we recommend leaving it on the kitchen counter for 30 minutes to an hour. Keep in mind that the speed at which your butter will soften depends on the temperature of your kitchen. If it's the wintertime, you might need to leave your butter on the counter overnight to allow it to fully soften. If it's particularly hot outside, your butter will soften faster—watch your butter to ensure that it doesn't start to melt.

How To Tell When Butter Butter Is Room Temperature

Now, the most important part: How can you tell when your butter is nice and soft? Butter is room temperature when you can gently press it and make a small indention with your finger. Your touch should be light and should not sink in too far into the butter. It should feel slightly cool still, not warm, and look smooth, not greasy.

If you prefer a more scientific approach, you can tell if your butter is softened by taking its temperature. Insert a thermometer into the center of the block of butter—when your butter has reached room temperature, it should read 65 to 67 degrees. Now, onto the bigger question: Should you use salted or unsalted butter?

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