Baking Tips: How To Soften Butter

microwaving-butter

Betcha didn’t think Christmas cookie baking could be improved with your microwave.

This weekend, the ladies in the Warner family attempted to start a tradition of Christmas cookie baking.

Baking Christmas cookies takes a lot of planning and shopping and measuring and mixing and of course, baking (which includes cooling and sometimes rotating, if your oven lacks convection).

My soon-to-be sister-in-law chose to make these Russian Tea Cakes for the first time ever. The recipe calls for a cup of softened butter, but because we were making 6 dozen instead of 4 dozen, we needed a cup and a half of softened butter (that’s a lot). And although I am  horrible baker, she asked me a question I could actually answer:

How do you soften butter without melting it?

Because of our early morning start, the butter I brought to my mom’s was still refrigerator-hard. So we needed to intercede.

Perhaps your experience with softening butter in the microwave involves you — nose pressed up against the glass — nuking the flavorful fat ingredient in short intervals and praying it doesn’t melt.

Softening gone wrong

Softening gone wrong

But that’s not how it’s supposed to be at all.

Soften a stick of butter by microwaving it for a minute at 10% power.

Soften a stick of butter by microwaving it for a minute at 10% power.

To soften our cup and a half of butter, we microwaved each stick for a minute a piece at 10% power.

Based on your microwave, you might want to amp up to 20% and adjust the time or even use the defrost setting (which is 30% power).

Later, we also adjusted our microwave power to soften cream cheese for Peanut Butter Balls (which are amazing, by the way).

Microwave power levels can also come in handy for reheating foods, I’ve found. Foods like pizza and French fries revive less soggier when microwaved longer at lower power.

Try it out!

Share your tried and true baking tips in the comments section below. 

Are Your Thanksgiving Leftovers Safe to Eat?

leftover Thanksgiving sandwich

Because leftovers only remain safe to eat for four days, you’re going to want to eat up all your turkey, stuffing and gravy by Monday.

(The importance of Thanksgiving leftovers as immortalized in pop culture by the Friends Moistmaker episode)

To ensure your Thanksgiving leftovers are safe to eat, you should freeze them as soon as possible. If you throw the leftovers in freezer-safe bags or containers, they will be good to eat for another six months.

Food technically remains safe to eat forever if it’s frozen. It just loses flavor and moisture over time.

Reheating Leftovers

The USDA wrote these guidelines for safely reheating stored leftovers:

  • When reheating leftovers, be sure they reach 165° F. Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the food. Reheat sauces, soups and gravies by bringing them to a rolling boil. Cover leftovers to reheat. This retains moisture and ensures that food will heat all the way through.
  • Thaw frozen leftovers safely in the refrigerator, cold water or the microwave oven. When thawing leftovers in a microwave, continue to heat it until it reaches 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer.
  • Any leftover “leftovers” thawed by the cold water method or in the microwave should be reheated to 165 °F before refreezing.
  • In a real hurry? It is safe to reheat frozen leftovers without thawing, either in a saucepan or microwave (in the case of a soup or stew) or in the oven or microwave (for example, casseroles and combination meals). Reheating will take longer than if the food is thawed first, but it is safe to do when time is short.

Make sure to occasionally stir foods when microwaving them, because foods won’t heat evenly (especially if you don’t have a turntable) and cold spots will develop in which bacteria hasn’t been properly killed.

How To Get Rid of Burnt Popcorn Smell in Microwave

Burnt popcorn smell lingers in microwaves so badly, some offices ban it from break rooms. It’s notorious, but completely removable.

If your microwave harbors its own dirty Pop Secrets, try this cleaning tip we got from Frigidaire.

Microwave Odor Removal

You’ll need:

  • 1 cup water
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • grated lemon peel
  • several whole cloves

Combine together in a 2-cup glass measuring cup and boil for several minutes in the microwave on full power. Allow hot mixture to sit in the microwave until cool. Wipe interior with a soft cloth.

Though this tip wasn’t specifically written for burnt popcorn, I can’t think of much else that smells up a microwave. Help me out in the comments below!

10 Kitchen Tips for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving cooking can be confusing, especially for those who don’t use the kitchen much otherwise. Check out these tips to make your Thanksgiving cooking a breeze (or just a little bit easier).

1. Calibrate the Oven

Your oven’s temperature could be off, causing you to over- or undercook. If you still have it, check your manual for specific instructions on making sure that your oven’s 350 degrees is really 350 degrees.

2. Use Convection Oven

Many people buy a convection oven with holiday cooking in mind, and then forget to use it! If you have true convection or settings that allow multi-rack cooking (the bake and broil element shut off after the preheat), you can put a dish on each rack without having to rotate them.

Just remember to set the temperature 25 degrees below what’s recommended for normal baking.

3. Use Convection Microwave

If you have a convection microwave, you have a second oven. The 25-degrees-below-normal-bake-temp rule applies here, too.

4. Use Sensor Cooking

Many microwaves come with a sensor you can use to automatically adjust cooking power and temperature based on the amount of moisture in the food. Try it on meat, potatoes and vegetables to save time and ensure a perfect dish. Again, check your manual for instructions of how to use your model’s specific features.

5. Make Extra Ice

Empty out your icemaker bin into a large, plastic bag and keep it in the freezer 24 hours before your guests arrive. By the time they do, you’ll have a bin full of ice and a cheap refill once that’s gone.

6. Use Oven Light

The temptation to open the oven and check on your goodies is high, but the temperature won’t be if you do. The oven temperature can drop 25 degrees in just seconds, increasing cooking times and wasting energy. So keep that door shut, already!

7. Use Meat Probe and Warming Drawer

Hopefully just reading this jogs the memory of that stuff you have but never remember to use. Many ranges now come with metal probes to stick into a turkey or ham to monitor the temperature, which should hit 180 degrees.

(Note: The probes usually come packaged next to the manual, so they’re probably waiting for you in that same junk drawer filing system where you left them.)

And, are you sure that drawer under the oven you use to store pots is only for storage? Some range models include warming drawers, which work great to keep early bird guests’ dishes ready while you finish up the bird.

8. Match Cookware to Burners

Having a tiny pot on a large burner wastes energy and a big post on a tiny burner slows cooking time. Cook smart on the stovetop to shorten cooking times and save energy/money.

9. Fire Up the Grill

Grilled turkey tastes great and frees up your oven for everything else. Get creative and use your grill for potatoes, biscuits and pie.

(Bonus tip: We all know those who don’t cook, but only grill. Now there’s no excuse to not help!)

10. Adjust Refrigerator Shelves

Remember that shelves can be moved up and down to fit tall items like 2-liter bottles and frozen turkeys. And consider making a short shelf for platters that can’t be stacked. That way you won’t be wasting all that space above the trays.

Do you have any other tips to make the most of your kitchen? We’d love to read them in the comments.