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Butter is the fine line between recipe success and recipe failure.

sticks of unsalted butter

Did you know that the temperature and consistency of butter will MAKE or BREAK your recipe? This means that recipe success or recipe failure is literally in the hands of your butter. And I’m not exaggerating.

But the good news is that you can control this!

Whenever I work through recipe failures with bakers like you, I always ask about the butter. Most baking and dessert recipes begin with room temperature butter. This does not mean very soft butter. In fact, room temperature butter is supposed to be cool to the touch.

And this is where some recipes are doomed from the very beginning.

Vanilla cupcake with vanilla frosting and star sprinkles

These are my Vanilla Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream.

Why is Room Temperature Butter Important?

“Butter softened to room temperature” is not listed just for fun. Recipe authors aren’t trying to make your life difficult when calling for room temperature ingredients. In fact, there’s legitimate science involved.

Most baking recipes begin with creaming butter and sugar together. Butter, a solid fat, is capable of holding air and the creaming process is when butter traps that air. While baking, that trapped air expands from the heat and produces a fluffy baked good. Not only this, room temperature ingredients bond together very easily since they’re warmer, creating a seamless and evenly textured batter. A smooth batter with trapped air = a uniformly textured and proper tasting baked good. Cold ingredients do not emulsify together. Period. This results in clumpy frosting, chunky cheesecake, dense cake, flat breads, and oily muffins.

In other words, complete recipe failures.

It’s literally my #1 rule in my 10 best baking tips: if a recipe calls for room temperature butter, use room temperature butter. It’s *that* important.

stick of room temperature butter

Room Temperature Butter is Colder than You Think

Room temperature butter is cool to the touch and about 65°F (18°C), which might be colder than your kitchen. If your cakes are dense, you’re probably softening the butter too much. And butter that’s too warm causes cookies to overspread. But guess what? You have complete control to prevent these problems.

Room temperature butter is a must for red velvet cake.

slice of red velvet cake on a white plate

How to Bring Butter to Room Temperature

Sit out: Allow the butter to sit out on the counter for about 1-2 hours before beginning your recipe. The amount of time depends on the weather and how cool you keep your kitchen.

Test it: To test the butter, poke it with your finger. Your finger should make an indent without sinking or sliding down into the butter. The butter should not be shiny or greasy. It will be cool to touch, not warm.

  • Sometimes our schedules don’t allow 1-2 hours for softening butter prior to beginning a recipe. Don’t take a shortcut and microwave the butter because it will not heat evenly. Even the slightest bit of melted butter means less aeration in your baked good. And, after reading above, you know that’s a big problem! But guess what? I have a foolproof trick to soften butter quickly. Works like a charm.

Sometimes It’s OK to Skip the Fuss

Don’t have time to waste on room temperature butter? Here are several recipes calling for melted OR cold butter:

And Always Remember

If a recipe calls for room temperature butter, make sure all other ingredients are room temperature as well. This includes eggs, milk, and sour cream. When cold ingredients touch creamed butter, the butter will cool down and solidify again. And, as you read above, this sabotages the recipe. Place eggs in warm water for 10 minutes and/or microwave dairy ingredients (not butter!) for about 10 seconds prior to using.

Almond cinnamon cupcake batter in a glass bowl

More Tips to Make YOU a Better Baker

Q: What do you think about room temperature butter? I hope this has been helpful to you. Now get your bake on this weekend!

Reader Questions and Reviews

  1. I use a tall thick coffee mug. Stand a stick of butter on its end. I use an electric kettle that gets the water very hot. Pour the hot water into the mug. Let the mug sit for a min to let the water heat it. Then pour the water out and place the mug upside down over the butter. in about 5 min you have room temp butter, if the butter is frozen it may take heating the mug up again 3 times. I find I get a more even fast butter softening that the steam in the microwave.

  2. I mixed up cookie dough with butter that is way too soft. I baked five cookies snd they spread out paper thin. If I chill dough overnight will this correct issue?

    1. It will help, but adding a little extra flour would be beneficial too. See if you can beat in 2-3 extra Tablespoons of flour before chilling the dough overnight.

  3. thank you thank you thank you
    I have been trying to make spritz cookies without success I live in Florida and keep my home between 76 and 78 degrees I have turned on my air conditioning and put my butter back in the fridge. Will use my probe thermometer to make sure both the butter and the dough is at the right temp

  4. Hi Sally, I wanted to ask if its suitable to use margarine instead of butter? btw love your recipes! I’m still relatively new at baking and trying to learn as much as I could so your tips and tricks have helped a lot 🙂

    1. Hi Lara, If a recipe calls for butter we strongly recommend using real butter and not margarine. They are made of different ingredients (fat vs oil) so will yield different results.

  5. When I need baking guidance, I always check here or King Arthur Flour sites first. Almost 9 years ago, I started my baking journey as gluten free. Now having found a reduced gluten (weak) flour and using regular recipes – baking is such a “walk in the park.” From gooey, unforgiving batters that turned into sand granules three days later, to sticky, manageable dough’s. Nirvana!

    I believe that if one is addicted – like you – that one – like you – knows all the rules but is forever learning! I love the science behind why things work and baking is no exception.

    Happy 2021. XO

  6. Thanks, Sally for always explaining the game-changing details. I have taken up baking after 72 years without so much as lifting a mixing bowl and your site is a great support system. I always go there first not just for recipes but for tips that make the difference between an adequate bake and a great one. I’ve recommended SBA to friends who, like me, only came to baking because of the pandemic and are now loving it!

  7. I have recently started making spritz cookies using my mom’s tried and true recipe.
    I have made 4 batches so far and they taste great. However, my big question is about room temperature, soft butter.
    For the first batch, I used your method for softening the butter. I didn’t think it got terribly soft, and maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be when adding the sugar. Not too soft and not too warm. However, the dough stuck very well to the cookie sheet using the cookie press.
    For the other 3 batches, I slightly softened the butter in the microwave. To me, it was the perfect softness and seemed to mix well with the sugar. However, the dough had a really hard time sticking to the pan when coming out of the press.
    Any thoughts on the different butter softening methods and the dough sticking to the pan?
    Thanks –

    1. Hi Julie, you really want butter that is cool to the touch. It sounds like the 1st round of butter was ideal since the cookie dough was sticking to the pan (and not the press). It sounds like the cookie dough after that was simply too soft– and that’s why it was sticking to the cookie press. I hope this helps!

  8. Hi Sally,
    I just moved into our motor home which has a microwave/convection oven. When making these cookies, should I reduce the temp to 325 and lessen the cooking time by a few minutes?
    Thanks so much,

    1. Hi Katherine! Yes, the general rule is to lower your oven temperature by 25 degrees F if using convection heat. And the bake time may still be shorter so check your baked goods a few minutes early.

  9. I leave my ingredients out overnight so I can bake as soon as possible in the morning. However, during winter, the butter never seems to soften, despite being out 8+ hours. I do cover milk in its measuring cup with tightly stretched plastic wrap. I keep the butter wrapped. But, I measure the temp. at 68F for the butter, yet the finger press test shows it’s still unyielding. Is it because of less humidity in winter? Seems perfect at 72F in my proofing box, which has a water tray for humidity.

    1. Less humidity and drier air account for this, yes. Do you recipes turn out appropriately when making them with the 72F butter? You may want to try the 68F butter even if it doesn’t feel and look right with the finger test.

  10. If I use a darker loaf pan [i don’t have a light one] should I lower the temperature by 25 degrees? Will it burn the bottom of my banana bread?

    1. Hi Anna, If your pan is very dark you can try lowering your oven by 25 degrees F. Just be sure to use a toothpick to check for doneness. A toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf will come out clean when the bread is done.

  11. I usually leave my butter in the cupboard from when I buy it because I like to spontaneously bake very frequently, all my stuff turns out well I think but after reading this I’m questioning my ways. Do you think this is an issue?

    Also thank you so much you’ve turned me into a baker! I love your website and since I found it I’ve been baking all the time, I used to bake sometimes but thought I hated it compared to just cooking, I’m a 19 year old guy and now I picture myself baking frequently for my whole life! I’m in love and you’ve changed my whole opinion of baking and your thorough guidance has allowed me to perfect cookies and experiment with anything under the sun! Keep up the amazing work.

    1. Hi Justin, thanks so much for your thoughtful note! We’re happy to hear you’ve been enjoying all our recipes and baking tips. You can use your best judgement regarding storage of your butter, but we recommend keeping it in the fridge until you’re ready to use, then bringing it to room temperature before baking.

  12. Hi Sally

    I love you recipes and I have tried your Black Forest cake recipe it’s delicious.I also tried the vanilla cake recipe but it was not soft and was Dry.I’m in Uk can you please help me which butter in need to use

    Thank you

  13. Hi Sally,
    You are the mum I never had! I needed all this advice when I was younger to steer me in the right direction. I love baking but have made so many errors as I was never shown how subtle changes can make or break an end result. I have made your carrot cake with huge success and it boosted my confidence. I wanted to thank you for your outstanding contribution to all the bakers and to me personally. You are amazing.

    1. Hi Nikki, thank you SO much for this sweet comment. We truly appreciate your kind words.

  14. Sally I made a deep chocolate cake and frosted it with your delicious white buttercream frosting. My neighbor told me that the frosting was a little “gritty” when she tasted my first cake with your frosting. I made another cake with your buttercream frosting yesterday, and I could taste the “grittiness” that my neighbor spoke of. What am I doing or not doing in order to get this “gritty” textured frosting?

    1. Hi Melinda! Sometimes frosting texture can depend on the brand of confectioners sugar you are using. If you find yours is gritty try sifting the sugar after measuring it next time. That should help!

  15. Hi sally
    I had all my ingredients at room temperature for my pound cake. Baking time was 70 minutes at 325. At 65 minutes it looked bake as it had come away from the sides. I tested it with a toothpick and not a crumb was visible. Removed from the oven and left it in rage pan for 15 minutes and turned it out. It looked wonderful but when I cut it, it looked as though the bottom had not baked through. What could have happened?

    1. Hi Shirley, I’m not sure exactly which recipe you are using. But for example, our cream cheese pound cake typically takes between 75-95 minutes in the oven at 325. If you took yours out after 65 minutes it likely just wasn’t finished baking. Pound cakes are large heavy cakes so don’t be alarmed if it takes longer in your oven. Adding a few extra minutes of bake time should be an easy fix for next time!

  16. What if the softened butter gets too softened? Sometimes, if you are making swiss meringue buttercream, you took the butter out and the egg white and sugar is whipping for so long that it gets too softened, can you pop it back in the fridge?

    1. Hi Veronica! Yes, definitely. Letting the butter sit in the fridge will help firm it back up again.

  17. This is a very important question for me as I live in a desert environment and keep my house about 80* f. 27c. If I leave butter out for more that 15-20 minutes it will slump and be very oily on the outside. Lots of recipes call for room temp butter that have NOT worked well for me. So thank you and I will keep my laser thermometer nearby.

  18. If a recipe calls for 8 tablespoons melted butter is that the same after it is melted or should I measure out 8 tablespoons again?

    1. Hi Catherine! It will be the same amount, no need to measure again. Enjoy!

  19. Hi! I have been making the same sugar cutout cookies for 25 years. The last two times i made them they were way too sticky & very difficult to roll. What could have been the X factor? I carefully measured especially the second time since i was troubleshooting. Thank you for any input or suggestions.

    1. Hi Robyn, while we can’t speak to that specific recipe, it sounds like the butter was too warm. Also, be sure to spoon and level your flour to measure to ensure you have just the right amount — not too little (which can cause the dough to be soft) and not too much (which can dry out the dough). The hot temperatures and humidity can also make the dough a bit trickier to work with, depending on where you live. Hope this helps!

  20. Hi Sally I’m in Durban south Africa I made your rich chocolate cake came out moist an awesome. Thank you

  21. Thank you for sharing your blog, seems to be useful information can’t wait to dig deep!

  22. Thank you so much I am new to cookie making and so far I love it , I have a question about the cookie recipe …I have a recipe almost identical to your except 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of butter everything else is the same it is not working I tried rolling it out and baking 6 cookies they said to roll them out 1/8 of an inch as I did well you could not pick up the cookies without them falling apart I believe they should have called for a lesser amount of butte how can I save and use the dough thank you

  23. Hi sally I’m reading all this info for the first time as I’m starting on my baking experience. In doing a lot of reading and comparisons and research I’ve found several other bakers that insist on cold butter for buttercream frostings. I want a delicious perfect texture frosting but I’m so confused with all the different info. Please help. Thank you.

    1. Hi Michele, There are many different methods to making buttercream for different results. Using room temperature is the method that we find works best for regular style buttercream frosting.

  24. Hi Sally: I just found you online a few years ago and thanks to you I have become a proficient scone baker. I had tried numerous recipes and purchased scone products such as Sticky Fingers and found them okay. When I tried your recipe for Cinnamon Chip Scones and for the first time grated the cold butter, oh my goodness, what a difference in texture and flavor.! I imediately went to Amazon and purchased 2 of your recipe books. I have found that everything I’ve tried with your recipes turns out great. There is one thing that I’ve been wanting to ask you though, before I try any of your cake recipes. We moved to Denver CO a few years ago and I’m having a horrible time getting my cakes not to drop in the middle. I’ve found numerous people online giving advice but most of these things haven’t worked. Could you give those of us living in dry, high altitude locations some good baking advice, especially for cakes and cupcakes? Thanks!

  25. Hi Sally! What is the best way to defrost frozen butter to get it to room temp? Later today i’m baking cookies I wasn’t planning on so I have taken the butter out of the freezer and put it in the fridge but would I use the same process for softening the butter in your video? What if the butter is still frozen when I take it out of fridge later? Thank you for all you do to help us be better bakers!

    1. Hi Barb, I’m glad to help. I always thaw butter on the counter at room temperature. Once thawed, you can use the trick for softening butter quickly.

  26. Thanks for the info on room temp butter. I have been leaving my butter out too LONG.

    1. It makes a huge difference! Glad this was helpful for you, Den.

  27. Oh noooo and I’ve been almost melting the butter in microwave due to mixing batter with a spoon So tomorrow I’m going to make your cocoa coffee vanilla cake with ROOM temperature butter in my rarely used electric cake mixer and I will take notes BTW LOVE your website videos recipes advice

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