As delicious as it is butter can be an absolute nightmare to work with, especially if it’s just come out of fridge. But fear not! Here are some awesome ways to soften butter quickly.
1. ButterBlade Serrated Bread Knife
If you’re looking to soften butter quickly, try the ButterBlade Serrated Bread Knife, a piece of Stainless Steel Cutlery with a high rate of Amazon customer satisfaction. This unique kitchen knife sells for $16.75 with free shipping and comes with a satisfaction guarantee (a 100% Product Replacement Lifetime Guarantee, even).
This ButterBlade has a serrated edge sharp enough to cut through crusty bread while still being safe for human hands, should you pick it up unaware. This cutlery is sold by Papalo Group through Amazon, and can be shipped gift-wrapped. It’s made of 100% stainless steel, so it’s non-corrosive, dishwasher safe, nontoxic, and it won’t rust. The ButterBlade Serrated Bread Knife feels good in your hand; it’s got an ambidextrous handle and an ergonomic design.
Besides cutting and softening butter fast with its slots, this knife will also shred cheese and cut fruits and vegetables. If you’re really skilled, you could make some fun designs in sherbet and ice cream with it too. Big knives are useful for some things in the kitchen, but the smaller knives do most of the work; this one measures 10.5 x 2.3 x 0.9 inches. At 3.2 ounces, it won’t feel heavy in your hand.
Keeping it in the refrigerator maintains its chemical structure (so it won’t rot), but usually you have to wait for the butter to defrost a bit before spreading it. Or you could soften butter quickly with the aid of this knife. Shaving a layer off a chilled stick of butter and spreading it on toast encourages the fat to melt faster without losing any taste. You can also soften cream cheese with this knife in the same way. The ButterBlade’s closed tip makes spreading butter easier too, it’s neater than a standard butter knife.
2. Stainless Steel Butter Mill
Another way to soften butter quickly is with the Stainless Steel Butter Mill from Max Space, retailing for $99 with free shipping. This is a custom built, handcrafted butter mill that holds a stick at a time. Measuring 4 x 2.2 x 7 inches, this device ranks high in customer reviews, much better than some of its lesser-made competitors. Turning the handle pushes ribbons of butter out the lower edge, onto your toast, bagel, or ear of corn.
The handle is built to allow you to fully grasp it—the handle turns by wrist action, not fingers, like many handles. The ease of turning depends on the temperature of the butter, but it works all right straight out of the refrigerator. If you run the cold butter mill under hot water for a few seconds, the butter will soften fast and turning the mill is easier (leaving it out on the counter for a few minutes helps too). Steel is a better choice for machines that are cooled and heated often; plastic will crack fast in this situation, which is the case with some other butter mills on the market. Also, it’s an attractive kitchen gadget; you can leave it out on your table without feeling in any way tacky. Cleaning is easy with hot water and soap—or put it in the dishwasher, stainless steel doesn’t rust.
Other ways to soften butter
Let it sit out
Some people choose to keep butter out on the counter instead of in the refrigerator: but how long can butter sit out before it turns? This varies by climate, obviously—in the Caribbean, you can’t keep butter out and uncovered. In a northern climate in winter, you can get away with keeping a stick out for a few days to a week before it goes rancid. But you might sacrifice taste; when butter goes beyond its natural melting point (about 65 degrees Fahrenheit or 18.33 degrees Celsius), it loses the unique emulsifying properties that make it so valued by chefs. If you know ahead of time you will be making cookie dough or batter, let the butter sit out on the counter at room temperature for an hour, allowing soften without melting. Some bakers and cooks like to encourage chilled butter to break down a bit by cutting it into cubes and letting it air on the cutting board—something about the porous wood of a cutting board helps dense fats, like butter, soften quickly.
If you’re wondering how to soften a stick of butter without leaving it out, there are a few options. You can melt it over low heat on the stovetop, but you’ll lose some in the process. If you do heat it on the stove, the recommended method is to fill a pan with water, put it on the burner, and set the temperature to low. Place the butter in a plastic bag in the watered pan—the water acts as a distributor, heating the bowl and its contents evenly. In India, butter is clarified into ghee in a similar way; it’s gently melted in a bowl placed in hot water and the top layer is repeatedly swept off. The remainder, ghee, is kept in jars for cooking and baking. This process takes some time, and often it’s repeated until the ghee is very clear, so you can’t call it softening butter quickly, but ghee will keep in a jar at room temperature for several weeks. It’s possible butter was “cleaned” in this way in ancient India so it had any staying power in that hot climate.
If you’re just looking to quickly soften butter to use in a recipe, you can melt it in a safe dish in the microwave, but beware; the point between cold and volcanically hot comes very fast for butter, which is made of dense animal fats. How long does it take butter to soften in a microwave? Depends on the wattage, but usually not more than half a minute. Many people find it helpful to microwave the butter for five seconds at a time, then checking its consistency and turning the dish as needed. Cooking for over a minute may result in a mess in your microwave. The real drawback of this method is that microwaves heat food unevenly; if you need the butter to be a certain consistency for to bake right in a recipe, the microwave should be a last resort. Butter should be malleable enough to beat into a cake, not poured in melted— melted butter produces a very different effect from softened butter when used in a recipe. Melted butter will make cookies to spread and cakes too dense. In certain cakes, like old-fashioned pound cakes and butter cakes, you have to use room temperature butter (68 to 70° F), so that the butter can form a perfect emulsion with other ingredients, also at room temperature. If the recipes says to beat or cream butter with sugar for a few minutes before the other ingredients are added, the butter has to be the right temperature. If it’s too cold it can’t emulsify with the other ingredients and the batter will curdle. If it’s too warm it can’t handle a good beating without falling apart chemically; if this happens, the batter won’t capture air the cake won’t have that tasty and pretty crumb.
So if you are using a microwave to quickly soften butter, keep a very close eye on your butter to make sure it doesn’t melt. The safe way to melt butter in the microwave is alongside a glass with half a cup of water. The water absorbs some microwave energy and prevents hot spots and spattering.
Plate warming technique
Another gentle way to soften butter quickly is the plate warming technique. Turn your oven on to 200 degrees Farenheit, put a sturdy ceramic or plate inside, and let it sit for ten minutes. Pull it out with an oven mitt and set it on the counter. Put a stick of cold butter on the warm plate and in a few minutes it will be warm if not melted. A variation on this trick is to place the cold butter on a thin plate on top of your toaster oven while you’re making toast—by the time the toast is ready, the butter will be pliable.
Here’s a similar way to soften butter quickly: slice the amount of butter you want to use and put it on a plate. Take a tall glass and fill it with hot water, then let it rest for a minute (until the glass outside is warm). Moving quickly, tip the water out of the glass, dry it and invert it over the chunk of butter. In a minute or so, the captured heat in the glass will soften the butter. You can also use this technique to soften cream cheese quickly to bake or cook with.
Rolling pin method
Still another method for quickly softening cold butter to bake with or spread on toast requires a little muscle. This method works best with a stick of butter, but you can use it with smaller amounts. Place the butter in between two sheets of wax paper or aluminum foil. Take a rolling pin and press down hard on the butter. The butter should yield under the pressure, going from square to lumpy. Make sure you are doing this on a hard, steady surface. Keep rolling until the butter is a cake 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch thick (any smaller than this and it will be hard to work with). An alternative to this method, if you don’t have wax paper or aluminum foil is to use a Ziploc bag and whack at the butter with the rolling pin, or a strong spoon. It’s a good way to work out some aggression too. Some cooks prefer to use the heat of their hands to soften the butter; they just massage it inside the bag until it yields its shape and becomes workable.
Still another way to soften butter quickly is with a box grater. This method works best with a stick of butter—the box grater will slice your hand with anything less. Take the cold stick and grate it into a bowl or pan. You can use a hand held cheese grater for a smaller amount of butter. This is a good trick for spreading butter on bread slices before a party, because you can leave the grater by the butter or soft cheese if you don’t have a chance to do it yourself; slightly drunk people enjoy grating things (and it’s safer than leaving them a knife).
One way to soften butter quickly but hold on to for 3-4 years is by canning it. Canning butter is easier than it sounds, and you’ll be glad you did when civilization breaks down. It’s not much harder than canning tomatoes or berries. Here’s what you do:
- Either make your own butter with a churn, or buy some butter on sale. Lesser quality butter requires more shaking for consistency, but the result will be the same as with pricier butter.
- Heat pint mason jars in a 250 degree oven for 20 minutes (without rings or seals, obviously). One pound of butter slightly over fills a single pint jar; if you melt down 11 pounds of butter, heat up 12 pint jars. A roasting pan works well for holding the pint jars while in the oven, or use a bunch of bread pans.
- While the jars are heating, melt the butter slowly until it comes to a slow boil. With a large spatula, stir the bottom of the pot often to keep the butter from scorching—if it burns, it’s ruined. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes at least to break down the fats and oils. A steady simmer time will lessen the amount of shaking required later on. Place the lids in a small pot and bring to a boil to sterilize them, leaving the lids in simmering water until needed.
- Now you pour the melted butter carefully into heated jars through a canning jar funnel. A soup ladle works well for this purpose. Leave some air room (at least 3/4″) in the jar, to allow you to shake and aerate the contents.
- Carefully wipe down the top of the jars, then get a hot lid from the simmering water, add the lid and ring and tighten securely. As with all home canning, the lids will seal as they cool. Next, shake the jars while they are still warm but cool enough to handle easily, because the butter will separate otherwise. It becomes foamy on top and white on the bottom. In a few minutes, shake again, and repeat until the butter retains the same consistency throughout the jar. (If you were making ghee, you’d scrape off the foam and keep the clear gold liquid).
- While the jars are still slightly warm, put them into a refrigerator. While the butter is cooling and hardening, shake the jars again; magically, here the melted butter will look like butter again and become firm. The final shaking is very important. Check the jars every five minutes and give them a little shake until the contents are hardened. Leave in the refrigerator or a cold cellar for an hour.
- Canned butter will store for 3 years or longer on a cool, dark shelf. By going through the heating, cooling, and shaking, you have changed its chemical structure and it won’t spoil like new butter will. Canned butter will not “melt” again when opened—so it does not need to be refrigerated once it’s opened, as long as it’s used within a reasonable length of time.
What you can do with softened butter (besides put it on toast or beat it into a cake)
We like to make Garlic Herb Butter (and honey butter, rosemary butter, oh, lots of butters), with this recipe. You can spread it on bread, put it under a chicken’s skin, serve it on crackers, use it in hamburgers, make it a side for fish and seafood….lots of uses.
4 tablespoons butter, room temperature (in other words, softened)
1 garlic clove, minced
1⁄2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 teaspoon parsley
1 1⁄2 tablespoons basil
1 tablespoon oregano
1. Beat all ingredients together with a fork until they are light and fluffy.
2. Place on plastic wrap and roll into a log. Wet your hands and the ingredients won’t stick to them as much.
3. Twist the ends of the plastic wrap to “seal” the herbed butter inside.
4. Store this in freezer and cut off discs of butter as needed.
5. You can store this in the fridge, it will not last as long if you use fresh ingredients.
6. Try adding chives, rosemary, or tarragon. Honey butter is even easier—just mix the two room temperature ingredients together in equal measure and put them back in the refrigerator until you make pancakes.
And just to bring it full circle, the ButterBlade Serrated Bread Knife from page one in this article will help you serve this delicious garlic herbed butter. Both will add a touch of class to an afternoon tea, no question.