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Sometimes a recipe will call for softened butter. How soft is soft, why does it need to be soft and how do you soften it properly? Grab a slice of bread and a dull knife and meet us in the kitchen.

As we all know from this crazy Japanese butter contraption, cold, stiff butter won’t spread. If you have the time, half an hour outside of the fridge or an hour outside of the freezer will soften butter to the point of malleability — important if you’re going to evenly distribute it under a chicken before roasting or combine it with other ingredients to make a compound butter or cake or cookie batter. 

If you don’t have half an hour, maybe learn to read the recipe before you go in head-first, because the microwave isn’t the best way to take the chill off your butter. Keep the whole stick wrapped (individual tablespoon pats will melt immediately), place it on a microwave-safe plate, knock the power down to 50% and zap in increments of 30 seconds until soft but not pooling melted butter at the bottom. The middle may still be a little cold, just give it a few minutes to even out. 

Once soft, you needn’t fear chunks of cold butter flying out of the stand mixer, tearing holes in your pastries or wreaking any other sort of havoc on your food.

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