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What Room Temperature Butter Means (and why it’s important)

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Part 9 of my Baking Basics series: Learn about the different butter temperatures you might see in recipes, what room temperature butter really means, how to get it right, and why butter temperature matters so much in baking.

A stick of better with an indentation from being temperature tested

You’ll frequently see recipes calling for “room temperature butter”, but do you really know what that means? If not, you’re in the right place! Let’s do this thing.

What room temperature butter really means

Room temperature butter doesn’t mean that it’s warm – in fact, it will probably be colder than the room that it’s in. It will still be cool to the touch, and should be around 65°F (18°C).

Why the right butter temperature matters in baking

The temperature and consistency of your butter can make or break your recipe. No, seriously – it can.

If you’ve ever made cookies and had them spread all over the baking sheet to form one giant mutant cookie, the butter was likely too warm and fluid.

Or if you’ve ever made a cake and found that it was dense when you were expecting it to be fluffy, that means the butter was likely too soft.

You’ll notice that I often call for room temperature butter and eggs in my recipes, and the reason why is simple – room temperature ingredients combine more easily than cold ones.

Cold ingredients have a tough time emulsifying, and you end up with uneven and unappetizing results.

Butter is a solid fat that has the ability to hold air, and the process of creaming together butter and sugar traps that air. So when you’re baking a cake, the trapped air expands as it bakes and provides you with that soft and fluffy cake you’re seeking.

A stick of butter on its wrapper on a plate

Different butter temperatures

Chilled

  • Temperature: About 35°F (2°C)
  • Application: Commonly found in pie recipes. You cut cubes of chilled butter into the dry ingredients for the crust, and it lends itself to a wonderfully flaky crust.

Softened

  • Temperature: About 65°F (18°C)
  • Application: Commonly found in cake recipes, as well as some cookies. It’s texture is flexible enough to be creamed together with sugar, but still firm enough that it incorporates the right amount of air during mixing.

Melted and Cooled

  • Temperature: About 85°F (29°C)
  • Application: Commonly found in brownie and bar recipes, as well as some cookies. When added it brownies, it can help provide a shiny, crackled crust, and lends itself to chewy cookies. Keep in mind that when melted butter is used in cookie recipes, you’ll need to chill the dough before baking to prevent them from overspreading.

How to bring butter to room temperature

The tried and true method to bring butter to room temperature: Let the butter it on your counter for 1-2 hours prior to using it. The amount of time it takes will depend on how warm your kitchen is.

Side by side photos showing a way to bring butter to room temperature

However… you can’t always plan that far ahead, right? My favorite method to bring butter to temperature more quickly is to fill a glass with boiling water, let it sit for 10 seconds or so, then pour out the water and turn it upside down over the stick of butter on a plate.

After a few minutes, you can remove the glass and you’ll find yourself with softened butter!

The easiest test of your butter’s temperature is to press a clean finger into the top of the butter – your finger should make an indent, but not slip straight through to the other side.

Side by side photos showing how to test the temperature of butter

Full disclosure: I never actually take the temperature of my butter. But if you’re new to baking and still trying to get a hang of it, go ahead and stick a thermometer in the middle of the stick of butter as you get accustomed to what it should look and feel like.

If you’ve ever wondered what a cat that desperately wants the butter you’re working with looks like, here’s a prime example of one such cat being deprived of the golden goodness he desires:

A black and brown cat looking up longingly in a sunbeam

I hope this helps! Are there any questions about butter that I didn’t answer? Let me know in the comments below!

Other content in the Baking Basics series:

Paleo Chocolate Chip Cookies
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Loaded Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
Next →
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