We’ve all been there. It’s time to bake cookies, or frost a cake, or make a meticulously-crafted butter sculpture, but you forgot to take the butter out of the freezer hours beforehand. Now you have all of your ingredients ready, and a pound of rock-hard butter. What’s a baker to do?
Luckily for you, I find myself in this predicament more often than I would like to admit. I stockpile butter in my freezer when it goes on sale (sort of like a dragon does with gold, but with butter), and I can never seem to make myself remember in the morning that I plan to bake cookies in the afternoon. Through trial and error, I’ve come up with a couple ways to make this work out in my favor. Here are my two preferred methods (aside from actually remembering to leave my butter out on the counter early enough for it to soften naturally).
Method One: Microwave
This method works best if your recipe will still be ok with a little bit of fully-melted butter. Butter kept in the fridge will also turn out better this way because it isn’t frozen to the core. You can make your butter soft enough to work with this way, but there’s a good chance that some of the stick will fully melt. I’ve had no problem with this while making cookies and cakes, though. Frosting would be a bit of a different story.
Begin by measuring your butter. Cut it into tablespoon-sized slices and place it in a glass or ceramic container. My preferred butter melting container is a 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup because the glass makes it easier to see how far your butter has melted and the handle doesn’t get too hot during repeated microwaving sessions. Cutting the butter into smaller pieces helps it to melt evenly by increasing the surface area (remember your high school chemistry).
If your butter is fully frozen, start by microwaving for it 30 seconds, watching it the whole time. If your butter was only refrigerated, start with 20 seconds. When you see it starting to melt, stop the microwave and take the the butter out. Your goal here is to soften the butter, not melt it. Poke it with your finger or with a spoon. If it has achieved the consistency you’re looking for, you can stop right now. Most likely, however, you will need to keep trying. Stir your butter pieces around and microwave for 10 seconds more. Keep doing this until your butter is just soft enough to work with.
Method Two: Stove Top During Preheating
This method can be extremely useful when you are baking something which requires a preheated oven (so, most things you’ll be baking). I prefer this method over microwave softening because I find it easier to control. To do this, simply place your frozen stick of butter still in the wrapper or in a bowl on the stove top while your oven preheats. Be sure to turn it occasionally so that it doesn’t melt on one side while remaining frozen on the others. Keep an eye on it, because butter can melt surprisingly fast while it is sitting on the stove (rocket science, I know). If you are feeling particularly proactive, you can scrape off softened parts of the stick into your mixing bowl. This will serve the dual purpose of preventing excessive melting and speeding the softening process along by moving the frozen core of the butter closer to the heat source. This isn’t really necessary in most cases, though.
Now that you’ve successfully softened some frozen butter, what are you planning to bake with it?