Softened butter is one of those things you see in so many recipes, but somehow, it isn’t exactly clear why we should use it, or why it’s important for your butter to be softened enough prior to using. Perhaps, more importantly, with the varying environment and temperatures, how do we know when our butter is softened, and is there such a thing as overly-softened butter?
Yes, yes there is.
In Singapore, where the weather is warm and it perpetually feels like summer (even if we are used to it), butter softens quicker than what an American or European writer might suggest in their recipes.
And because butter that’s overly-softened affects the results you’re looking for, it’s very important to know when your butter is softened adequately, and ready to cream!
In most cases, we cream softened butter and sugar in order to create air pockets (lots and lots of them!) within the batter or dough. These air pockets will then expand and puff up in the oven because of the heat and any chemical leavening agents (baking powder/soda) added. This is why we adopt this technique in our loaf cake recipes – to give us light and fluffy cakes!
Using softened butter for this step greatly improves the efficiency and effectiveness of creaming. Butter that’s too cold will not be able to hold the air bubbles, and butter that’s too warm and soft will cause the air bubbles to collapse.
That makes softened butter one of the key components when it comes to creaming.
Softened butter is perfect and ripe for creaming when its temperature is about 20°C. In Singapore, our average temperature is about 30°C, so unless your kitchen is air-conditioned, taking your butter out of the refrigerator and leaving it out for more than 30 minutes will likely result in overly-softened butter.
As avid home-bakers ourselves, we aren’t about to recommend a thermometer to check for softened butter. Instead, here are three tips that will help guarantee perfect butter for creaming each time:
If your butter’s stored in the freezer (we store our butter in the freezer in the test kitchen because it stores longer that way), you might consider increasing that time up to 45 minutes. Butter straight out of the fridge in Singapore’s weather will probably soften to the right temperature by 30 minutes.
We often hear instructions such as leave your butter to room temperature however, what you may not realise is that the room temperature that many of these recipes are referring to is about 20°C, which means that the butter should still be pretty cool to the touch!
To check: Use a finger to lightly press the butter, it should leave an indentation but still provide some resistance to the pressure. If your finger sinks into the butter without much or any pressure, your butter’s too soft. Refrigerate it and have a go again!
Consider this: When sugar is being added to your butter, and when you start creaming it, the temperature of the butter will increase. If you start creaming your butter at the ‘perfect temperature’ of 20°C, its temperature will go past the ideal point after a minute of creaming, especially in Singapore’s weather. When in doubt, it’s better to start with colder butter, rather than butter that's too soft!
If it sounds complicated, don't fret, essentially all you have to do is to leave your butter out for 20 - 30 minutes (depending on how warm your kitchen is/size of your butter block). Test the butter with your finger and cream it with confidence, and even if it turns out to be a little too cold, it’s better than warm butter!
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