Room Temperature Ingredients Make a Difference

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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:

84 Comments

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  1. I really enjoy your baking basics series – always something fun and informative! I’m also really impatient and make my always warm boyfriend hold butter/cream cheese for 10 minutes or so to bring them to room temperature, lol. It works in a pinch but I know being patient is always worth it in the long run. 

  2. I really love these tips, Sally! And I especially love learning about why it’s important to have your butter and eggs at room temperature. Now, when I bake, I have a better understanding why baked goods sometimes turn out different even though the ingredients are measured correctly!

  3. Again, an amazing post about baking basics! I really love your series, Sally, and I often go back afterwards to read your tips one more time. It’s so useful! Thank you for taking the time to explain all this to us! It’s very interesting to learn how eggs and butter at room temperature can have such an important impact on a recipe. I’m curious to make some experiments in my kitchen now, just for fun 🙂 Thanks Sally for this amazing post once again. Waiting for the next one!

  4. Ahhhh if only…
    I have this ever present struggle to get things to “room temperature” because my kitchen really is no warmer than my fridge. This little stone cottage in Northumberland, uk is very hard to heat!! 🙁
    Ellie
    xx

    1. Ohh… can relate.  I posted a really long story here last winter about baking in an old, poorly (if at all) insulated farmhouse in the winter.  On the days when my kitchen is not much warmer than my fridge, it seems the only thing that helps is to cook some stuff on the stovetop and set all the baking ingredients as close to the stove as sense permits!  

  5. Thanks so much for this post! It really does help to understand WHY it’s important, otherwise I usually forgo following through with it. Good to know and looking forward to reading more of these posts! Thanks, Sally!

  6. I wanted to ask…as I live in the Republic of Panama, my “room temperature” is surely different from someone in Florida or Maryland… All year round I have very high humidity and mucho calor ! and if I have the oven on…my kitchen is scorching! How can I tell what is perfect (or close) “room temperature”? I dont have central air conditioning only a pedestal fan I could bring into the kitchen….Ellie, my heart bleeds for you!

    Sandy

    1. Sandy, take a look at the photo of the butter in this post where I explain what perfectly softened butter looks like/feels like. Go for that. Your butter won’t take an entire hour to get to this point. For the other ingredients– the same, they will take less time to come to room temperature than mine would. If it’s milk, stick your finger in it. When it’s no longer cold, it’s the perfect temp for recipes.

  7. Thank you for posting!  Would you say that all cookie recipes should be baked with room temperature eggs and butter?  Not one of my recipes state room temp. Thanks!  

    1. Definitely room temperature eggs and either melted or room temperature butter, based on the recipe. Some cookie recipes call for melted butter, others call for softened to room temperature butter. Either way, use room temp eggs.

  8. Thanks for the post and the great info.
    What is standard room temperature? I keep mine between 62 and 64 and still have issues with my butter being too cold. Should I still warm it a little?

    1. I guess anywhere around 62-70. How about that very quick microwave trick I explain for butter? Try baking a recipe doing that– should make a little difference.

  9. I’m one of those people who used to bake with butter and other ingredients straight from the fridge. It wasn’t until I understood the science behind them that got me to be more patient with baking. Thanks a lot for elaborating the science behind baking with room temperature ingredients.

  10. In response to your comment about not being able to take peanut butter through security I tried to take Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter and a rolling pin through security. Neither was allowed. I was a bit surprised too.
    I could just picture myself on the plane slathering the rolling pin with cookie butter and knocking people over the head.

  11. So you are saying that when one ingredient in a recipe calls for room temperature spelled out and if it does not call for the rest it just means automatically that every ingredient in that recipe calls for room temperature also unless spelled out to use cold or stored temperature? 

      1. Now I know why sometimes the same recipe where the product comes out fabulous and sometimes not , the reason.   When I think about it since I bake so much sometimes in a hurry(just adding the cold ingredient for example)  and sometimes not.   thank you.  

  12. I love love love that you write these. As a young baking enthusiast, it has really made a difference (although I did show my Mom how to properly measure flour thanks to you!). I actually currently have a basic cookie dough sitting in the fridge that  turned out different due to one of the above mentioned. EGGS!! I used cold eggs. I even took the time to get my butter to room temperature, but not my eggs. It’s much denser than it should be. I honestly didn’t think one tiny thing could make that big of a difference, but that’s the only thing I did wrong. Ironic that you wrote this in the same week

  13. Thank you, Sally, for explaining so clearly why things need to be done a certain way.  My baking has improved since I began following you and I have been able to share some of your tips with others as well.  Love you and all of your recipes!

  14. Thank you Sally! Knowing why something is important to do often helps me actually do it – as opposed to ignoring perfectly good advice! PS, this really made me laugh – “You cannot take a jar of peanut butter through security. They will confiscate it.” Peanut butter is a matter of national security? 🙂

    1. I mean the flight I was on had peanuts so it wasn’t like it was an allergy thing. It was a security thing. And the jar was unopened, too!

  15. I absolutely love everything about your website – the recipes are delicious, the photos make me salivate, and I always learn something new.  Thank you so much for sharing all your wisdom and whimsy!

  16. Sally–
    I’ve been baking for over 35 years and I am finally learning why some recipes turn out great sometimes and other times, good or “OK”, but not great. The temperature issue is certainly one of them. I am usually good about getting the butter to room temp, but sometimes forget about the eggs & milk as well. Just the other day, I made some muffins where I subbed out coconut oil for the vegetable oil, but I had to melt the oil first. Then I added the cold eggs, & presto–solid coconut oil that wouldn’t mix in!! Uh oh!

    The other thing I finally did that has made a very big difference (in a good way) is that I took your advice and got a scale. I measure all my flour now for sure, sometimes the sugar and other dry ingredients, but mostly the flour. Thank you for that tip, it makes a huge difference (especially cookies!)

    –Lisa

    1. Lisa, so happy you’re learning from my blog and these posts. Yep– coconut oil is the same as butter in this sense. It will solidify if you add colder ingredients to the batter/dough! Happy you use a scale 🙂

  17. Hi, if a recipe does not state room temp or melted for the butter, is it always safe to assume room temp is best, even when not specified? Also, for the eggs, can you just leave them out for an hour with the rest of the stuff or do you recommend the warm water trick. Thanks so much, it’s so nice to be able to ask these questions!!

    1. Sarah, if creaming is a step in the recipe then yes– begin with room temperature butter. You can leave eggs out with the rest of the ingredients for the hour, yes. But if you forget or if you only need eggs for a recipe then the warm water works!

      1. I had the same question about the eggs, thank you both for asking and answering!  I learned a lot from this post, Sally, and I look forward to meeting you in Wayne, PA next week!

  18. Now I know! When I made your choco chip cookies they were puffy, when I use the recipe I cut off the flour bag, they flatten out. My question is whether it is safe to “clean” the bowl and spoon, spatula, beaters? When I make your recipes with the warm egg, I don’t let the kids (or myself) lick the spoon or anything.  

  19. This was a really informative post. I knew it was important to follow the recipe when it called for brining something to “room temperature” but I never knew why. Now I do! Thanks so much!

  20. This was an amazing review of all of the King Arthur Flour baking classes I have taken!   Thank you for wonderful collection of recipes and blog.  (Next time in Vermont, head over to the NH VT border and pop into KAF, maybe you’ll be a guest baker!  Fingers crossed!) 
    Happy Baking!

  21. Thank you, Sally for this post that is a summary of several things I’ve learned in just the last year and a half…that’s how long I’ve been following your blog now!  I wrote last winter about the chocolate drop cookies that I had to do over because of too-cold ingredients (partly because my kitchen is just cold in the wintertime).  If I still forget and add cold eggs to that nicely creamed butter mixture, yes it gets all curdly and separated and weird.  Glad it’s getting to be second-nature now to set those eggs out at the same time as the butter…and make sure the flour and sugar are stored in the most “temperate” area, too, not against an outside wall….etc.

    1. Hey Erin! You’re right, it’s also super imperative to store those dry ingredients at (or as close to) room temperature too– such as sugar and flour. A couple exceptions for me– I like to use COLD flour in pie crust and when I make scones because you need cold cold cold ingredients, as typical pie and scone recipes suggest.

      1. Yes definitely!  Sometimes when I’m making either of those, i stick the flour/cut butter mixture into the fridge for a half hour or so, just to make sure it’s all good and cold.  🙂 speaking of scones, I got this idea for chocolate covered cherry scones for v-day…. using your triple choc recipe of course, and adding cherries of some sort.  Rehydrated dried, or frozen maraschino, or frozen canned tart cherries… what do you think?  If you don’t get back to this, I’ll experiment and let you know how they turn out (and how many clothes sizes up we are by then, haha!)

  22. Hooray, more science! I love these posts (not that I don’t love all of your posts, of course).

    I cannot tell you the amount of times I’ve left something out to soften or get to room-temperature, then come back to find it gone. “[Boything]! Where’s the cream cheese?” “Oh, you left it out so I put it back in the fridge!” Men. Always trying to be helpful in the worst ways.

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who dislikes a grocery store line. Boything and I tend to do our grocery shopping around 10:30 at night. I went once around 5:30 and I remember thinking “…what are all these people doing here?”

  23. Great advice! We bakers know that temperature plays a very important part in the finished product. This is one of the hardest lessons to teach cooks/chefs that want to bake. You can’t just add a dash of this and a pinch of that. Look forward to reading more of your posts.

  24. I love your baking basics! I’m sometimes in denial about how such small changes can make such a big difference. And it’s usually because my sweet tooth doesn’t have any patience 🙂 thanks for the positive reinforcement! 

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