Quickly bring cold ingredients like butter, cream cheese, milk, and eggs to room temperature for fluffy cakes, silky frostings, creamy cheesecakes and so much more! Here are my best baking hacks for getting those chilly ingredients up to temp in a jiffy. Whether you’re gearing up for holiday baking, or have a sudden yen for chocolate chip cookies, you’ll rely on these easy techniques over and over again.
Why do we need room temperature ingredients for baking?
The short explanation is that this helps batters and doughs come together and blend beautifully, whereas cold ingredients do the opposite, they can turn your batter into a curdled lumpy mess. But why?
- When you beat eggs, butter, and oils with liquids like milk or buttermilk it forms an emulsion which traps air in batters and doughs. During baking that air expands and helps to create a light tender result.
- Room temperature ingredients emulsify easily, whereas cold ingredients cannot. Translation: you’ll get thick chewy cookies and tall fluffy cakes with room temperature ingredients 🙂
- Room temperature ingredients also blend easily, creating a silky batters and smooth doughs, without lumps or curdling.
How to warm up fridge cold eggs
Eggs can be safely left on the counter overnight, which is ideal if you’re planning ahead. But for more spontaneous bakes, here’s what I do…
Take your cold eggs and carefully place them in a bowl. Put the bowl in your sink and start running warm tap water into the bowl. Let the water run until it has completely filled the bowl and the water is quite warm, but not super hot (you’re not trying to poach them!)
Let the eggs sit in the water while you prep your other ingredients. Refresh the water if it cools down. Your eggs will come up to temperature quickly. Dry them off before using so you don’t inadvertently introduce extra moisture into your recipe.
Hot to soften butter that’s hard as a brick
Take a wrapped stick of butter and place in the microwave. Set the timer for 30 seconds, on high. Give the stick a quarter turn every 5 seconds. This has to be precise, turn it every 5 seconds. It should be perfectly soft but not too soft, after 20-25 seconds. If you’re softening 2 sticks it will take a little longer, just keep turning every 5 seconds.
Note: if your butter is wrapped in a foil type wrap, unwrap it first and put it on a piece of parchment paper or a small plate.
Perfectly softened butter is not glossy or greasy. You want the butter to give just a little when you press the side with your finger, then you know it’s ready for creaming. Tip: if you’ve taken your butter too far and it’s starting to melt, pop it back into the fridge to firm up.
Exceptions to the rule: you want cold butter for recipes like pie dough, biscuits, and scones. For these recipes you will cut cold butter into pieces, or even freeze butter and grate it!
How to bring cream cheese to room temperature safely
Love cheesecake or a great cream cheese frosting? It’s essential to bring brick style cream cheese to room temperature for using because otherwise you’ll get those dreaded lumps. But the confounding thing is, health experts tell us not to leave it out on the counter overnight because dangerous bacteria can grow in soft fresh cheeses. In fact it should not be left out for longer than 2 hours, which is not nearly enough time to soften. What’s a baker to do?
No worries! I carefully unwrap my cheese and place it on a sheet of parchment or waxed paper. Cut the bricks of cheese in quarters and microwave them on full power for 20 seconds. Don’t let it go too long or the cheese can start to melt. If you are using whipped cream cheese this step is not necessary.
Tip: If you don’t have a microwave, all is not lost. If you use a food processor to blend your cheesecake or frosting, you can use cold cream cheese without issues; the processor is powerful enough to blitz it, lump free.
How to take the chill off cold milk, cream, and buttermilk
Milk, half and half, cream, and buttermilk are essential in so many cake recipes, but they shouldn’t be used cold or they won’t incorporate well into silky batters, like the yellow cake, above, or the plum blitz kuchen, below. And just like cream cheese, it’s not safe to leave milk products out for longer than 2 hours at room temperature. Luckily I can show you how to warm them up quickly and safely.
Microwave (on high) a cup of milk, etc, for 30 seconds, or a 1/2 cup for 20 seconds. Stir gently to even the temperature. You just want to take the chill off.
Tip: use room temperature dairy products asap, do not let them sit for prolonged periods or bacteria can flourish.
But what about yogurt, sour cream, creme fraiche, and mascarpone cheese?
These are all wonderful to bake with, but the same principle applies. Sour cream can make an amazingly creamy frosting, like the chocolate frosting in Ina Garten’s Chocolate Cake, above, but cold sour cream can instantly curdle it.
Bring yogurt, sour cream, creme fraiche, or mascarpone cheese up to room temperature, or thereabouts, by microwaving in very short bursts, and stirring in between. This will not take long, but you will need to stir a few times, and keep alert, you don’t want to heat them up because that can change their structure.
Mascarpone cheese is blended with whipped cream in the dreamy tiramisu, below, but there’s no way you can do that with cold mascarpone! Warming it just enough so it’s soft and malleable is the answer ~ yum!