Countless recipes, my own included, indicate “soft butter.” I even have a couple recipes where I instruct for the butter to be “soft like mayonnaise.” The trouble is that while it’s easy to get butter rock solid in the fridge, or totally liquify it in the microwave, it’s hard to strike the pliable temperatures in between. If the usual methods haven’t worked for you, try using the hot glass trick.
The risks of other methods
Yes, you could plan ahead and leave the butter out on the counter overnight. This takes the longest, but it’s the most hands off. Sadly, a lot of bakers forget to do this. Then you’re in a pinch on baking day with a pound of cold (or worse, frozen) butter. You could chop it into chunks and microwave the amount of butter you need to the consistency you need it. This is the fastest method, but it requires a lot of attention, stirring, and mashing. And if you’re not careful, your butter will melt.
How to soften butter with a hot glass
But here is a third way balances the two extremes: You can soften butter with a glass and some hot water. It’s pretty simple—boil water and pour it into a tall glass, something big enough to hold a stick of butter (or whatever proportion of a stick of butter you need to soften). Place the stick of butter on a plate so it is standing up on one end. Carefully dump the hot water out of the glass, shake off the water drops, and invert the glass over the butter stick. Leave it like this for five to 10 minutes. When you take the glass off, the butter will be pliable.
Although this trick isn’t faster than microwaving (which is how I normally soften fridge-cold butter), it is more gentle, and it absolutely works. The glass creates a tiny, enclosed sauna for your butter, as the air trapped inside heats up from the warmth of the glass. The warm environment softens fridge-cold butter, but what I like most about this method is that it takes the chill off of frozen butter quickly too. Frozen butter is difficult to chop even to stick into the microwave. Five minutes in a hot glass brings it down to a fridge-like texture.
If your butter is frozen solid, or if you’d like the butter to soften even more, flip the stick over to stand on its other end and repeat the procedure, waiting another five minutes. Check on it, and repeat if necessary. This method is also effective with multiple sticks of butter under a large glass bowl. Just make sure to flip the sticks over each time you reheat the bowl to ensure even softening. This may take five to 20 minutes of heating water in a tea kettle and flipping sticks of butter, but it sure beats waiting overnight (or risking your recipe on a pool of over-microwaved melted butter).
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