Here’s What Room Temperature Butter Really Means

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

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 touch.

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

Vanilla cupcakes with vanilla frosting

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.

Room temperature butter

Room Temperature Butter is Colder than You Think

Room temperature butter is cool to 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.

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.

Room temperature butter is a must for red velvet cake.

Red velvet cake

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

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. This is so true!!! First time I tried making cupcakes, they were dense, squat and unappetising, because I used butter straight from the fridge!

      1. Dearest Sally, this butter tutorial is perfect. Now I know why my cookies spread too much. Often I would let the butter sit until it was a totally melted consistency and melt the butter. I will use these tips on my next attempt at Pumpkin Chocolate Chip cookies and Ginger Molasses cookies. Thank U 4 all that U do ,xoxo

  2. When I was a young baker my aunt told me room temperature could include melted butter. I’m a stickler, and always left butter on the counter for a couple of hours before using it. My baking was always praised (and not because I was young) while my aunt received faint praise (she’s so busy, we’re glad she had time to bake anything). It really matters.

  3. What a timely post! I wanted to bake a cake on the spur of the moment yesterday and knew there must be a trick for the butter somewhere! I’ll be using this!
    What about getting eggs to room temp quickly?
    Thank you!

  4. 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!

  5. Thanks so much! One good thing about France is that eggs are not refrigerated so they are always ready to go! I do find the butter here very different. It could be that I using a hand mixer, but I find it difficult to cream. Could it be the high fat content?
    Hope you have a lovely Valentine’s Day!

  6. Sally: When my butter is not room temperature, I sometimes use the PASTE method to make my cakes. I have used this method with so many of my Bundt cakes and have had perfect results. I totally ignore the flour/sugar ratio rule. Sometimes you have to make your own rules in baking. Experimentation is what baking is all about. It’s so much fun!

      1. Sally: Like you, I am always researching new ways to bake. Why do we have to stick to the rules? The paste method is very simple and keeps the batter from curdling. And results in a fine even crumb. My method: Add all your dry ingredients to the bowl of the mixer. Cut the butter into small pieces (OK if it is cold), On low speed, blend the ingredients until the mixture looks like cookie dough. Whisk together the wet ingredients, on low speed slowly add to the mixer. When the mixture is smooth, mix at medium speed for about 3 minutes. I wrote a recipe many years ago for an Lemon Amaretto Pound Cake. I recently updated the recipe using the paste method. SO EASY! The recipe won first prize for the NestFresh Baking Contest last year. If you would like the recipe, I would be glad to give you the link. Thanks, Lorraine

  7. I made chocolate chip cookies yesterday from a new recipe. He said not to worry about chilling first, just right into the oven and they will be perfect. Well, I baked two cookie sheets worth and by the time I got to the second batch, they were spread out every where. They still taste great, but I wondered if I had over creamed the butter. The remaining dough got scooped and on a tray where it’s currently sitting in the freezer. I’m going to bake those this morning and compare, but I’m thinking they will give me something closer to the expected cookie.

    Getting the creaming phase right for cookies vs cake vs frosting is so tricky! It seems like the more you bake the harder it gets. HA HA!! I like the suggestion above for using a thermometer to check the temperature so you know when it’s ready. I like that precision. I make everything now by weighing out to grams, and would never go back to cups. Thanks for all the great info Sally!!

  8. 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.

  9. 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!!

  10. I also use my instant read thermometer! It helps the accuracy because I’ve found my kitchen is always a little chillier than most. I have to leave the butter out for at least 3 or 4 hours for it to get to room temp.

    I also feel like this may be the perfect time to ask you a question I’ve been thinking on for awhile. When your recipes call for buttermilk, I almost always just make it with milk and a little vinegar, because it’s not something I keep on hand frequently. I love the ease of the DIY buttermilk. But I’ve always wondered what the correct way is to get it to room temp quickly. Do I microwave the milk and then add the vinegar? (That is my usual method.) Or add the vinegar and then microwave it together? Or maybe it doesn’t matter! There is a definite chance I’m overthinking this lol. Any thoughts? Thank you for all your excellent recipes! 🙂

    1. Hi Rosemary! I usually make DIY sour milk/”buttermilk” that way too. To bring to room temperature, I usually microwave the milk for only 10 seconds or so, then whisk in the vinegar and let it sit for 5 minutes before using. We could be overthinking it and I don’t think it makes a difference if the vinegar is added before/after the milk is gently warmed. This is a great question!

  11. 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!!

  12. 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

  13. 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!

  14. 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!

  15. 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.

  16. 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!

  17. 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.

  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. 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

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