The fastest way to soften butter

Illustration for article titled The fastest way to soften butter
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Thanks to a recent interest in baking sourdough bread, I’m flying through butter at an alarming rate. But try as I might to remember to leave some butter unrefrigerated, I’m usually staring at rock-hard, refrigerated butter every time I want to spread some on a bread slice snack. Because I also don’t have a microwave—I know, you think I’m Laura Ingalls Wilder now, don’t you?—quickly softening up some butter that way isn’t an option.


In search of an alternative for softening—not melting—butter fast, I came across myriad methods using rolling pins and water and double boilers and Ziploc and warm glasses. They all seemed to have their merits, but which would soft butter best, fastest? I put five recommended methods to the test:

For each test, I used two tablespoons from a refrigerated stick of unsalted butter. I timed how long each took to look reasonably soft, and then rated their spreadability on a scale from one (rock hard) to 10 (liquid). I was in search of a method that would most quickly and effectively soften my butter without totally melting it.

1. Pounding butter with a rolling pin

I love a good excuse to beat shit, so I tried this method first: I placed the butter in a Ziploc bag, pounded it with a rolling pin, and then left it out on the counter until it was no longer cold to the touch.

Time: 20 seconds of smashing, 20 minutes of resting
Spreadability: 7

2. Double boiler

This is the same method I’d use to actually melt butter, but I took the butter off the heat before it could liquify. I used a larger pot of water and a small pot containing the butter to make my stovetop double boiler.


Time: 5 minutes
Spreadability: 6

3. Submerged in hot water (with Ziploc)

I filled a bowl with hot water, then placed a Ziploc bag with the butter inside into the bowl.

Time: 1.5 minutes, at which point the butter began to melt
Spreadability: 4. The inside was still hard while the outside was melted.


4. Submerged in warm water (no Ziploc)

I filled a bowl with warm water and dropped the butter directly in. The method I’d found courtesy of Mary Berry recommended leaving it there for 10 minutes, so that’s what I followed. After 10 minutes, I drained the water.


Time: 10 minutes
Spreadability: 8

5. Warm glass steam method

I’d seen this “hack” making the rounds online: Fill a glass with hot water and let it sit for one minute. Then, pour out the water and invert the glass over a pad of butter, waiting 1-2 minutes until it looks softened.


Time: 3.5 minutes
Spreadability: 5. Only the outmost part was softened; should I have left it longer?

Winner: Submerging butter—no bag—in warm water.

This method won for the uniform spreadability of the butter and for the relative quickness with which it was accomplished. I was surprised by this, as I initially though this method would be weird—who wants wet butter? But the butter actually “dries” fairly quickly once you drain the water off, and I didn’t notice any “soggy” effects of the once-submerged butter on my slice of sourdough bread. I think the Ziploc-submerging method could also work if the water wasn’t quite as hot (as recommended) when the bag is dropped in. But going forward, I’ll be dunking my butter in water bowls as I’m slicing a fresh loaf.


Do you have a genius butter-softening hack I didn’t try? Leave it in the comments—but please, no blow torches.

Kate Bernot is a freelance writer and a certified beer judge. She was previously managing editor at The Takeout.


Lord of the Ducks

The oven works fairly well and fairly quickly. Place the stick of butter, with the paper on, on a baking sheet in the center rack of a cold oven. If you are not softening the whole stick, then place unwrapped butter in an oven safe dish on the middle rack. Turn the oven to low and check frequently. Before the baking sheet becomes too hot to touch turn the oven off.

The trick is to keep the tray/dish from getting so hot it melts the butter before the warm air can soften it up.

Also increasing the surface area of the butter (via chopping or smashing) reduces the time needed as more of the butter is exposed to the warm air.

Other techniques you can try:

  • Use a blowdryer
  • Massage the butter in your hands until it softens
  • Have a duck (or chicken) sit on it. Using a bag is recommended unless you want that fresh duck butt flavor (you don’t)
  • Sit on the plastic bag of butter yourself
  • Place the bag of butter in your pocket/bra
  • Pulse the crap out of it in the food processor until soft 
  • Place the butter under a heat lamp or in your brooder (I’ve done this and it works fairly quickly, just make sure the temp is below 90F or it can melt if you forget about it)
  • Anything with low even heat that allows the heat to evenly disperse through the butter without melting it is a viable option

The fasted way is the microwave (which I know you don’t have), but for those that do:

With the paper on, microwave 10 seconds then check to see if it has reached the desired softness. If not, rotate 90 degrees along the longest axis and microwave another 10 seconds. Repeat as necessary until desired softness is reached.

It takes 20 seconds in my microwave to soften butter to a smooth spreadable state.

The rotating of the butter helps get an even heating.