One of the first “lessons” I learned in baking was about butter. When I was first starting out I always microwaved butter to soften it. Who wants to let the butter sit out and just wait for it to get to room temperature? Usually the things I made seemed to turn out alright, and I didn’t worry about it.
Then I started reading more about baking and everything I read cautioned against microwaving butter. I began noticing that the things I made were not really alright – they were on the flat side and they often spread too much.
Butter gives baked goods their structure. If the butter gets too warm or melts, the emulsion breaks and you’ll never get that structure back. The butter will also never add air pockets to your batter or dough, which affects the texture.
I know some people will probably protest that they’ve been microwaving their butter for years without a problem. I haven’t even been able to convince my own mother to stop microwaving butter. I’ll write a future “Kitchen Tips” post about what it really means to “cream butter” in recipes and then you’ll see what I mean… it’s a beautiful thing when done right!
If you’d like to read more about the importance of butter’s temperature, check out this great article from NYTimes.com. Some of it is a bit extreme, but the important thing to take away is to let your butter sit out until it reaches room temperature (about 65 degrees) on its own. The time will vary based on the temperature of the butter to begin with, but I usually let mine sit out for about 30 minutes. Make sure you don’t let it melt!
(Photos: The first photo shows peanut butter blossoms from the Bake-a-Thon made with room temperature butter. The second photo shows peanut butter blossoms made with microwaved butter when I was home for this past Christmas).