True confession of a home-baker with little to no patience: I used to ignore recipes that instructed me to have ingredients like butter at room temperature. Mea culpa

Why Do We Get Ingredients like Butter to Room Temperature Before Mixing?

Recipe instructions are written a certain way for good reason. When recipes list ingredients at room temperature, there is actual science behind it. Plus, what I failed to appreciate when I ignored those instructions, is that I was actually creating more work for myself by using cold eggs and butter. 

When mixing ingredients, it is generally (yes, generally – not always) best to have your dairy ingredients at room temperature. I say generally because there are certain doughs that require cold (or colder than room temperature) butter, such as croissants. 

The main reason for having your dairy ingredients at room temperature is that all the ingredients mix together more efficiently and cohesively when they are at or near the same temperature. For butter, it is nearly impossible to beat in cold butter into any mixture. If the butter is cold, it will take quite some time for it to mix in. 

Nerd alert: Butter is itself an emulsion of water and fat. When creaming butter with sugar, you are adding sugar to the butter emulsion and incorporating air. If your butter is too cold or too warm, you could break the emulsion, causing your butter to curdle, resulting in a less than desirable baked good. Likewise, when adding other dairy ingredients, such as eggs, milk, or cream, to a butter mixture, you do not want those ingredients to be cold, as incorporating cold dairy into your butter mixture could also break the butter emulsion.

Are There Shortcuts to Getting Ingredients Like Butter to Room Temperature?

To get your ingredients to room temperature, you can just remove them from the refrigerator and leave them on the kitchen counter for approximately one hour. The timing, of course, depends on how cold your refrigerator is and how warm your kitchen is. To shorten the timing for butter and cream cheese, you can cut the butter and cream cheese into smaller pieces (½ inch or ¼ inch) and place them on a plate. In smaller pieces, they will get to room temperature faster than sitting as full sticks. (I cover mine in plastic wrap so that none of the moisture from them evaporates as they reach room temperature.)

So, what do you do if you forgot to take your butter or eggs out of the refrigerator or you are just really anxious to get your bake on? Let’s break it down by ingredient:

Butter:

You have a few options to get your butter to room temperature:

    • Method 1

  •  Cut into small pieces and let sit out, as suggested above.
    • Method 2

  • Fill a large bowl with hot water. Place the butter on a plate. Pour the water out from the bowl and quickly dry the bowl with a towel. Place the warm bowl (so the bottom of the bowl is facing up) over the plate of butter and allow to sit for 5-10 minutes.
    • Method 3

  • Place the butter on a large piece of parchment paper. Place another large piece of parchment paper over the butter. Pound the top of the butter with a rolling pin. (You are hitting the parchment paper, so your rolling pin stays clean.) This will help you take out some aggression and soften the butter quickly. 
    • Method 4

  • I offer this method last because you need to be VERY careful when using a microwave to soften butter. If you microwave it even just a drop too long, you run the risk of liquifying your butter which could be detrimental to your recipe. I suggest playing with this method a bit to determine the correct number of seconds for each interval. To use the microwave, place your cold butter from the refrigerator on a microwave safe dish and microwave for 8 seconds. Open the microwave door, turn the butter on a different side, and microwave for 6 seconds. Open the microwave door, and if not already softened to room temperature, turn the butter again and microwave for 5 seconds. Keep going at 5 second intervals if necessary. This technique also works great for frozen butter, but I do the first two rounds for 10 seconds each. If you go too far such that the butter is just starting to liquify, place it in the refrigerator for 5-10 minutes. If you have gone to the point that it is very liquidy, start over. 

Eggs:

PLEASE do not microwave eggs. You will just be cooking them. There is a simple trick though for getting eggs to room temperature quickly. Fill a bowl with very warm water (body temperature, not hot). Place the whole eggs into the water and let sit for 5-10 minutes. This is an easy enough thing to do while you gather your dry ingredients and do any other preparation such as greasing baking pans. The eggs’ shells protect them while sitting in the water bath. Use this method to get your eggs to room temperature, including before separating whites from yolks. 

Milk/Cream:

You have a few options to take the chill out of milk and cream:

    • Method 1

  • Pour the desired amount of milk or cream into a microwave safe dish. Microwave at 15-20 second intervals, stirring in between each, until you reach the desired temperature. (If you are using ½ cup or less, microwave at shorter intervals, such as 8 or 10 seconds.) 
    • Method 2

  • Pour the cold liquids into a pot and place on a burner set to low. Stir constantly until you reach the desired temperature.
    • Method 3

  • Pour your cold liquid into a glass or bowl. Place the glass or bowl into a bigger bowl filled with very warm water (body temperature, not hot), for 5-10 minutes, stirring every couple of minutes.

Sour Cream/Yogurt:

Unfortunately, there is no great way to expedite getting sour cream or yogurt to room temperature. For these ingredients, plan ahead! That said, you can spread the sour cream/yogurt onto a large dish so that it will get to room temperature faster than sitting in their wide containers. I recommend covering it with plastic wrap while it sits out.

Write A Comment