Baking Basics: What Does “Softened Butter” Mean?

Stack of 4 sticks of butter on a red checked cloth
Stack of 4 sticks of butter on a red checked cloth

Almost any baking recipe that calls for butter tells you what state the butter is supposed to be in: melted, cold, and the enigma-softened.

But what the heck does softened butter mean?

Growing up, I didn’t like using a mixer if I could help it so I would always melt the butter, regardless of what the recipe called for. And my cookies turned out ok so I didn’t worry too much about it. (Turns out melted butter makes for nice chewy cookies, so it worked out). But so many recipes called for the butter to be softened rather than melted…

Then I got a stand mixer and suddenly mixing didn’t seem like the pain that it used to be. So I would dutifully pull my butter out of the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for a couple hours before starting my project. Because the recipe said to.

The trouble is-I live in the midwest, and room temperature can mean anywhere from 65 degrees to 85 degrees depending on the time of year. That is quite a range.

So, I got to reading. Because I am a nerd. Does “softened butter” have a specific temperature? Why do we soften the butter?

According to America’s Test Kitchen, correct temperature for softened butter is between 65-67 degrees Fahrenheit.

Stack of softened butter on a red checked cloth

How do you know when your butter is “softened?”

When you press your finger into it and it makes a dent but doesn’t squish.

Why do we soften butter?

According the the smart people over at America’s Test Kitchen, softened butter provides structure to finished baked goods. Like in these soft sour cream sugar cookies.

Oh, crap, I forgot to take my butter out of the fridge and I need some cookies stat!

No worries-put your butter in the microwave for 5-10 seconds on half power. This is a situation where less time is better, so unless you are super familiar with your microwave, start with 5 seconds. We aren’t aiming for melted butter.

To make things a little easier in the kitchen, I’ve created a handy printable conversion chart (cause honestly, who can remember how many teaspoons are in a tablespoon?). Sign up below and I’ll send it to you!

Happy Baking!


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