If your house is cool in the colder months, it can take a long time for butter to soften enough to be creamed, which is the first step in many baking recipes. Careful use of a microwave will soften butter without melting it, but if you don't own one, Chowhounds have a variety of solutions—from simple to whimsical—for speeding up the process.
Butter softens more quickly and is more easily beaten if it's in smaller pieces, so many hounds endorse cutting up the quarter-pound sticks it's packaged in. Some grate very cold butter with a box grater. "Not only will it soften quicker ... but the smaller bits will cream like a dream, too," says pine time.
Exposing the butter to gentle heat helps as well. freia puts it in a bowl in the oven with the light on for a bit. "[W]orks like a charm!" she says. Others put a stick in a zip-top bag and submerge it in hot water. Or fill a bowl with boiling water, empty out the liquid, and invert the hot bowl over the butter on a plate.
You can even multitask. Take the butter into the bathroom when you shower, and then leave it in the steamy room for an hour, suggests ipsedixit. The result: "Room temp butter. Clean Chowhound. Win. Win," ipsedixit says.
Then again, your cool house might have just the right climate for the best results. "Research shows that it’s best to bake with butter that’s about 65 [degrees Fahrenheit], which is actually cooler than room temperature in most homes," says Becca Porter.
How do you tell if your butter is the right temperature? "Short of using an instant-read thermometer in a stick of butter, I like to use the thumb method," Becca Porter says. "I learned this from master baker Carole Walter, author of the cookbooks Great Cakes and Great Cookies. She suggests holding a wrapped stick of butter in your hand and pressing firmly with your thumb. There should be a slight indentation."