You’ve been there. We all have. You get the craving for some baked deliciousness (or maybe just the ever-therapeutic act of baking itself) and then… you check your recipe.
You want to get in the kitchen and start breaking eggs right away, so it can be real buzzkill to find out that the recipe you’re using calls for room-temperature butter.
Do you really have to wait for your butter to de-chill? And how warm do you have to wait for it to get? We’ve got answers from Bon Appetit, and the reasons why! (Because it does actually matter. A lot.)
Why is room temperature butter important in the first place? Because butter has certain unique properties that distinguish it from other fats used for baking. It’s solid at room temperature, but unlike other saturated fats, it’s whippable—in other words, it’s capable of holding air.
When you’re whipping – or creaming – butter, the sharp sugar crystals actually create air pockets in the butter fat. This aerating action is how we give baked good their lightness and fluff. Butter that’s too cold or too warm just won’t cream properly.
But how do you tell when butter is at the right temp?
When it comes to butter, “room temperature” refers to the semi-solid stage where butter is extremely spreadable but still holds its shape. It should be soft enough that your finger will make an imprint with zero resistance, but not so warm that the butter looks shiny or greasy (or is melted completely, which happens around 90°F).
While you can try to cheat this stage, it’s risky. Microwaving butter will take it from hard to liquid in seconds if you aren’t vigilant, and even warming gently under a hot glass can leave the overall butter temperature uneven.
If you don’t keep butter on the counter so it’s always room temperature (which is the perfect solution), try cutting your sticks into one-inch cubes and spreading them across a plate. It won’t soften immediately, but you’ll still be baking much sooner than if you waited around for an entire stick to warm!