Here’s What Room Temperature Butter Really Means

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 baking rule: 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 for softening 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!

132 Comments

  1. 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. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

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

  2. melinda b marashi says:

    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. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      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!

  3. Shirley Froehlich says:

    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. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      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!

  4. 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. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

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

  5. 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.

  6. 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. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

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

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