Addictive Recipes from a Self-Taught Baker

Room Temperature Ingredients Make a Difference

Why room temperature ingredients matter! Read more baking tips on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Here we go again, bakers! A new post in my baking basics series.

While traveling and meeting you on my book tour these past few months, I’ve learned two things. (1) You cannot take a jar of peanut butter through security. They will confiscate it. And (2) many of you– not only in person but also in comments, emails, social media, etc–  have told me that you LOVE learning about the science, background, whys, and why nots in baking. Why some ingredients work, why others do not. The particular methods for particular recipes and why they are used. I’m fascinated by it all too! So that’s why I’m focusing on a few new topics in this baking basics series, including today’s crucial rule.

I’m the most impatient person on this planet. Or at least it feels that way when I’m sitting in traffic or GASP in line at the grocery store. (That’s why I go when the doors open at 7am.) But something I always treat with patience is baking. You can’t rush baking. You can’t speed up cookie dough chilling, the chocolate setting, or the cheesecake evenly firming. You can’t rush French macarons or skip a dough proofing step. And you absolutely can’t ignore the need for room temperature ingredients by using straight-from-the-fridge instead.

Certain recipes call for ingredients like eggs, yogurt, cream cheese, butter, and/or milk to be at room temperature but many people ignore this step. No! Don’t! Room temperature isn’t listed next to ingredients for fun. Recipe authors aren’t trying to make your life difficult and then laughing “muhaha!” like an evil sinister in the corner. Well, most aren’t I hope. There’s science and legitimate reason behind the importance of temperature. Which brings me to my top baking rule: if a recipe calls for room temperature ingredients, use room temperature ingredients. There is no way around this and if you use, say, cold butter or cold eggs when they should be room temperature– your recipe won’t live up to its potential. And it most certainly won’t taste the way it should.

The importance of room temperature ingredients on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Why Is Room Temperature Important?

When at room temperature, eggs, butter, and other dairy ingredients form an emulsion which traps air. While baking in the oven, that trapped air expands and produces a fluffy baked good. For example: a light-textured cake or a tender cupcake. Not only this, room temperature ingredients bond together very easily since they’re warmer, creating a seamless and evenly textured batter. A smooth batter = a uniformly textured baked good. Cold ingredients do not incorporate together as easily. Or even at all! This results in clumpy frosting, chunky cheesecake, dense cookies, flat breads and muffins, etc.

In other words, complete recipe failures.

The importance of room temperature ingredients on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Room Temperature Butter

A lot of recipes start with room temperature butter creamed with sugar. Creaming just means that the two are beaten together until light, white, and creamy. When you think about it, sugar is nothing but a billion little jagged-edged (and delicious!) crystals. When beaten with butter, their edges dig out little air pockets in the butter. If your butter is too cold because you just took it out of the fridge or only gave it 10 minutes to soften, the sugar crystals can’t claw their way through the hard butter. No trapped air, no light and airy baked good.

If the butter is at its magic room temperature, the sugar effectively aerates the butter during that creaming process. The baking powder and/or soda helps expand those little air pockets the creaming process created and your finished baked good is light! Tender! Fluffy! Just as it should be because you followed the rules with the MAGIC that is room temperature butter.

And the same goes for room temperature butter in buttercream frostings. How can you start a beautifully creamy and fluffy frosting with cold butter? And the same for cream cheese frosting– with cold cream cheese? You can’t! The resulting frosting will be clumpy. It’s not pretty and chunks of butter or cream cheese in your frosting certainly isn’t appetizing.

When butter is at room temperature, you should be able to press your finger into it and make an indent easily, without your finger sliding anywhere. Firm, but not cold. Lightly softened without being greasy or melty in the slightest. Here’s a photo:

The importance of room temperature ingredients on sallysbakingaddiction.com

How to bring butter to room temperature: no rocket science here! Simply take the butter out of the refrigerator 1 hour before beginning your recipe. No ifs, ands, or buts. Sometimes I put the butter on a plate near my oven if I’m using the oven for something else– even just a little heat helps speed it up. If you try to use the microwave to soften that butter, be extremely careful as the slightest bit of melted butter can ruin your entire creaming process. Try slicing the stick of butter into 8 equal pieces (8 Tablespoons), placing on a plate, and microwaving for 2 seconds. Stop. 2 seconds more. Stop. But I urge you to just do it the old school way. The one where patience is needed. The microwave is one risky method.

The importance of room temperature ingredients on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Room Temperature Eggs

It’s also super imperative for eggs to be at room temperature when the recipe calls for it. A lot of this is because of air bubbles again. When you beat or whisk an egg, the egg’s protein traps the air bubbles. And while baking, the bubbles expand in the heat of the oven. And, again, air bubbles expanding = lighter textured baked good. Air trapping is at its peak when the eggs are at room temperature. Ever notice that it’s much quicker to whip, beat, or whisk eggs when they’re room temperature? They come together so much easier and actually whip to a higher volume! That’s because they’re more loose, for lack of better words.

The whole air trapping business isn’t the only reason why we use room temperature eggs in baked goods. Adding cold eggs to a room temperature fat (like creamed butter and sugar) could shock, harden, and curdle that fat. This would ruin the creamed mixture, the entire base of your recipe. If you bake the recipe with this ruined creamed mixture, you’ll have a bunch of little holes in your cupcakes from the hardened butter pieces. Don’t sabotage your recipe!

How to bring eggs to room temperature: It’s easy! Simply place the eggs in a bowl of warm water for 10-15 minutes. I usually do this while I’m getting other ingredients ready. Do not use piping hot water– you don’t want to cook those eggs.

The importance of room temperature ingredients on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Room Temperature Yogurt, Cream Cheese, Milk, Etc

A lot of cake, cupcake, or bread recipes starting with room temperature butter call for other dairy ingredients like milk, cream, yogurt, etc. The emulsion begins with the butter, sugar, and eggs but it doesn’t stop there. It continues with the rest of the ingredients. To keep your batter smooth and the emulsification seamless, make sure the rest of the recipe ingredients are room temperature as well. Like in my recent yogurt bars = all room temperature. Or in cakes, cupcakes, breads, everything!

Good rule of thumb: if the recipe calls for room temperature or melted butter, the rest of the ingredients should be room temperature as well unless otherwise specified.

How to bring these ingredients to room temperature: no shortcuts here. Simply take these ingredients out of the refrigerator when you take out the butter to soften, about 1 hour before beginning the recipe.

Buttery Blueberry Streusel Muffins by sallysbakingaddiction.com

Here are the blueberry streusel muffins pictured today.

I’ve said it a billion times and I’ll say it again: when it comes to baking, it pays off to be a perfectionist. Pay attention to temperature. Temperature is a reason your recipe will or won’t turn out. Always follow the recipe. Do you understand the importance of room temperature ingredients now? Hope so!

Further reading:

70 comments

  1. I ALWAYS make sure that my egg, milk and melted butter is room temperature when I make pancakes, if not, they just will not mix together well and the pancakes are not fluffy or tender.  But this was perfected from many failures before.  🙂

  2. I have a strange story about room temperature ingredients…many years ago, I never thought it was necessary to have softened butter. When it came to creaming together butter and sugar, I never understood why the the butter wouldn’t combine with the sugar. As you can imagine, every time i tried to do this, bits of butter and sugar went everywhere, i would lay down newspaper on the bench so clean up was easier! and all this because i didn’t realise how important to was to let the butter warm up! I mean the food still tasted alright, but I can’t even describe how much more enjoyable baking is when there’s less to clean up and the baked goods taste even better!

  3. I have similar problem too. I live in trophical country. According to Wikipedia, 24 C is the temperature for room temperature, but here is always higher than that.
    I usually leave my butter on the stove (turn off, obviously) or on the counter for about 30 minutes. The reason I leave it on the stove is because sometimes when I leave it on the counter, the ants come and I have to start over. (Butter is not cheap! Haha)
    I occasionally forget time and leave it more than 30 minutes. If I’m lucky, it still can be used just fine, but if I’m not (or in this case, it is a hot day), the butter will turn out very soft, almost like soft peak whipped cream or worst, it starts to melt.

  4. I love your posts. Thanks so much for all of the good info.   I learned a little tip to speed up getting eggs and butter to room temp… Boil water in a microwave, put the butter and eggs inside the microwave with the water and close the door.  It is like a nice little steam room in there.  

  5. Very helpful, Thank-you for the little tricks to perfect any baking recipe !
    Another trick I use would be to put boiling water in a measuring cup and after emoting it out the water, turn it upside down and put it on top of the butter. This will speed up the process. 

  6. Another trick I use is to take a glass bowl and fill it with water, microwave it for about a minute, dump the water and place over the butter, cream cheese etc and wait a few minutes.  Then I don’t have to risk the microwave melting it and I don’t have to plan so far ahead 🙂

  7. Thank you very much for all your teaching. I am learning more with you than in 10 years taking paying classes. Congratulations for your fantastic blog.

  8. For butter, if it’s too cold in the kitchen or I’ve just forgotten to take it out early enough, I’ll microwave it at level 2 or 3 in 20-second increments. That way it doesn’t get overzapped, and I can walk away from the microwave without being too worried.

  9. How long should a casserole with milk and eggs that has been required to rest overnight in fridge be out before baking. Re; Breakfast casserole and French toast casserole.Thank you.

  10. I made your marble cake for my mom’s 60th on Saturday. I followed the directions, using room temperature ingredients. The cake didn’t rise much. Why?

    • Your baking powder– is it expired? I replace mine every 3 months because I find it loses its potency.

      • nope, it’s fresh. Could it be the eggs? I’ve been racking my brain and my laptop trying to figure out what went wrong. It was delicious though!

  11. Hi Sally, Can you please tell me how long Yogurt based cake can keep at room temperature and still be good to consume. Temperature is like 10-12degree C.

  12. You’re soo good explaining these tips and why they are important. Thanks!!

  13. Hie!I’m from Malaysia and I love to follow your recipe. Malaysia is a hot and humid country, the temperature ranges from 28-34 celsius. So when the recipe calls for the ingredients to be in room temperature, what is your suggestion as to how long they should be outside the refrigerator prior to the making ?

  14. I might just be completely over paranoid but aren’t you scared of milk products spoiling or eggs picking up some salmonella? I’m always scared ill leave it put of too long

    • I’m not concerned about it– they aren’t left out for hours upon hours or days 🙂 But use your discretion and whatever you’re comfortable with.

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