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!

76 Comments

  1. Charlotte Moore says:

    Very good to know! Thank you!

  2. Thank you Sally. I’ve been doing it wrong right along. I always thought if the butter was still cold it was not softened enough.

  3. Cheryl Parker says:

    Thank you so much. I didn’t realize your other dairy ingredients should also be room temperature. This answer a lot of “I wonder why” questions!

  4. I loved this article. Thanks for the science behind baking with room temperature butter and alternative recipes!

  5. Cyndy Disciullo says:

    I’m 63 years old and have been baking since I was 8, and have never realized how important room temperature butter is to a recipe. Now, I know why my cookies spread and why my cooking is praised and my baking is s hit or miss. Thank you so much. Proves I am never too old to learn.

  6. Mary Lou Grether says:

    You can continue to learn new things in your later years. I enjoy making recipes from scratch and will definitely pay more attention to those details and use the Internet for additional great information such as this information. Thank you Sally!!

  7. Sonia LIghtsey says:

    I had NO idea!! thanks so much for this information!!

  8. So so helpful I will use this and teach my children as well.

  9. Thank you, Sally, for such helpful tips and providing the reasoning behind them. I’ve been a huge fan of your blog for about 6 years now and I’ve become a better baker because of you. Treats and ingredients my husband and stepson never used to like, they now put in requests for them! Thank you!!

  10. I really wished that you had posted this information long ago because I can see why my cookies seem to look different every time I make them. I remember awhile ago a post you had where you touched on what room temperature butter was but this is so much more clear!¡! Thank you Sally for all you do for us!!! Happy Valentine’s Day

  11. Annette Taylor says:

    This was a very interesting read and instruction. Thanks for posting.

  12. Agreed this is so important! Sometimes I set my butter on the counter near the oven while it’s preheating so it softens a little faster, making sure to flip it around as I prep the other ingredients.

    A note on the microwave trick – be super careful moving the water out of the microwave! I still have a burn mark on my stomach from removing a cup of boiling water from my microwave last summer (I call it my cupcake scar, lol) – it splashed a little as I picked it up and I dropped it as a result, sending the water flying. This is probably more of a risk with an over-the-range model but worth mentioning.

    1. Oh my goodness! I have plenty of burn scars too, mostly from the oven, but it’s best to always be careful. Accidents can still happen. So sorry you burned yourself!

  13. Thanks for posting this, Sally! I have read similar things about room temperature butter on other blog posts, and it’s nice to verify that information on other trusted sights! This is a very useful thing to review for beginner bakers! If I had known the importance of room temperature butter, I could’ve avoided some mishaps when I was just beginning to bake. I was in a hurry once when making cupcakes, and my butter wasn’t quite soft enough for proper creaming. I decided to just go ahead. The results weren’t pretty. Greasy, sunken cupcakes aren’t all that appetizing. Now I always remember to make sure my butter is at the right temperature/consistency before creaming it!

  14. Thanks so much for the tips for butter. I know butter is best cold for biscuits but I didn’t know the full story about room temperature for butter. I am now in a wheelchair and I used to cook and bake all the time. I am trying to learn how to start cooking again. Appreciate your recipes and tips.

  15. Sharon Roodhuyzen says:

    Wow! Since I started using your recipes I always leave butter out for one hour. Tonight I am making your Funfetti cupcakes and I just took the butter’s temperature, you were right on! 64 degrees! Keep those tips coming Sally!

  16. Hi, thanks Sally!! I was actually thinking I probably wouldn’t learn much but thank you for adding additional details like the room temperature degrees and how the butter affects the cake density.

  17. Odessa Darling says:

    This is super helpful! I love the baking science posts 🙂

  18. I always knew there must be a reason recipes asked for room temperature and I always follow the directions but had never really thought about the why! Great info to share while teaching my nieces to bake. I love your site. I only discovered it a month or so ago and have now made several of your recipes. They have all come out beautifully so I know if the information is coming from you I can trust it! Thanks!☺

  19. Heather M. Whipple says:

    Thank you for this .
    Can you write separate posts about the other room temperature ingredients Like eggs and how long they need to be left out until they come to room temperature? As well as posts on room temperature milk and sour cream and their times to be left out to come to room temperature? Please .
    Please let me know

    1. Hi Heather! Here is my other post about room temperature ingredients including eggs. I hope you find it helpful! https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/baking-basics-room-temperature-ingredients/

  20. 65 degrees, genius! I always leave butter out to get it to “room temperature”, but good to know there is an actual metric for when room termerature is reached. According to this post, I have sometimes left butter out too long. Baking is definitely a science. I weigh all my large quantity dry ingredients out in metric and will now be temping my butter as well.

  21. I’ve learned so much on this tutorial! I did have a question when it comes to wanting to do brown butter for recipes that typically just call for regular room temperature butter. Is it possible to make the brown butter, throw in the fridge to let it chill, then sit it back out to get to room temperature, or is there another way to make it work?

    1. Yes yes yes! I actually do this in a couple recipes: Brown Butter Pound Cake and Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

      Depending on the recipe, sometimes you will need to add additional liquid such as a Tablespoon or 2 of milk.

  22. Mary Casperson says:

    I have learned so much Sally from all of the things you have talked about ie. mentioning all the other ingredients and not just the butter (unsalted have learned and bought some as well. I copy on paper to learn my recipes and you are so good at explaining things – thank you so much… Question i’m looking for tsp and tbl spoons on up the line that actually fit in what am trying to get them in – like long ones of yrs ago that fit in baking soda box etc..

  23. Hi Sally,
    Thanks for this article. Very informative! I already knew about baking with unsalted butter but not the 65 degree room temperature fact. So, I just made two batches of chocolate chip cookies and thought I had the butter temp correct. My first batch spread and the dough was a bit sticky. I really thought the second batch had warmer butter because it was shiny, but the dough was not sticky and the cookies were thicker and more dense. Any idea what might have caused the difference?

    1. Hi Beth Ann! So glad this was helpful for you. The only thing I can think of is that the 2nd batch had a longer period of time to absorb more of the butter, meaning the cookies didn’t spread as much.

  24. Hi Sally,

    Thank you for the helpful tips. I do have one question. I took butter out to softened but i didn’t use it so i put it back in the fridge after three hours. is it ok to bring the same butter to room temperature again tomorrow to bake a cake and will this change the outcome of the cake?

    1. The butter should still be just fine, Nati!

  25. After baking for decades, this is the most helpful article I have ever read. I am about to make sour cream apple muffins for friends. Eggs and sour cream are now on the counter to warm to room temp. Thanks so much.

  26. I learn SO MUCH from you! Thank you.

  27. When softening butter, I tend to leave it on the counter but not as long as I should for softer cookies. Would it be better to slice it for better results?

    1. Yes you can slice the sticks of butter to soften it a bit faster. If you forget to take your butter out you can also use my trick to quickly soften butter!

  28. I have been trying for years to recreate a sprinkle ice cream cookie sandwich and have always struck out because the cookie would be too dry. Well I finally did it with this recipe! I double the recipe and made two pans of the cookie. Let them cool and popped them in the freezer for a couple of hours just so the cookie was cold and wouldn’t melt my ice cream. Then spread softened vanilla ice cream on one and popped the other cookie layer out of the pan and put it on top. I wrapped it in plastic to tighten all the layers up and put it back in the freezer again it was perfect!
    I did this for Valentine’s Day and used red and pink sprinkles. When I cut the squares I rolled them around in more sprinkles they stuck to the ice cream on the sides. They were a huge hit an

  29. Thank yo so much for the article on room temperature and softening butter. A tremendous help ! I have two suggestions that would also be helpful to me and maybe others. My really big problem is “cream butter and sugar together” I have no idea how to do this. I have read and watched videos and I just don’t seem to get it right. The sugar never dissolves completely–is that ok? My second problem is high altitude adjustments. I am at 3500 feet–not really a great difference, but it is within the range where it is suggested you start to make these adjustments. Do you have any reference as to what adjustments to make for cake and cookies? Thank you

    1. Hi Anne! Creamed butter and sugar will look different depending on the recipe. Some recipes call for a lot of sugar and only a little butter and therefore, the mixture will be a bit grainy. Regardless, though, creamed butter and sugar will always have sugar granules. You aren’t cooking the two together, so don’t expect it to be smooth of granules– just smooth without any large lumps. I don’t have any experience baking at high altitude, but I know some readers have found this chart helpful: https://www.kingarthurflour.com/learn/high-altitude-baking.html

    2. Hi Sally, fantastic post, thank you. Recently my cupcakes haven’t been as light and fluffy as normal and thankfully I think I’ve found the answer after reading your post. I never realized room temp actually had a temperature, I just knew to leave it out of the fridge for a couple of hours, obviously a couple of hours in winter is different than a couple of hours in this climate!!! My butter has been aay too soft!! Can I just check the temperature the eggs should be? Does it matter if they’re to warm aswell?
      Sorry for the long post xx

      1. I’m so glad you found this helpful, Julie! The eggs need to be room temperature but they aren’t quite as exact as the butter. You obviously don’t want them warm enough to cook them 🙂 You might also enjoy reading the post Room Temperature Ingredients Make a Difference which explains not just butter, but all ingredients!

  30. Sally,
    My question is about creaming the butter and sugar. I had a home ec teacher “back in the day” who used to make us continue creaming until the butter and sugar were super whipped with peaks. Is this necessary for the best product, or do you simply have to cream just enough until the butter is completely mixed with the sugar?

    1. Hi Marcia, thank you so much for asking. Unless a recipe specifically calls for the butter and sugar to be whipped into peaks, it’s not necessary. Simply cream the two together until light in color, creamy, and a bit fluffy looking. Usually a recipe will specify an amount of time, such as 2 minutes on medium-high speed.

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