Cream cheese and butter are amongst the most popular ingredients used in American cuisine, both for desserts and main dishes. However, getting them to the perfect temperature to be used in recipes requires some kitchen hacks, so you can find more info here on how to do that.
Why is it important to soften cream cheese before using it?
Cream cheese and butter are dairy products that can only maintain their properties and shelf life when kept in the fridge. However, all recipes, including cheese dips, frostings, and those delicious cheesecakes require cream cheese to be softened before combining it with other ingredients if you want to achieve a creamy and smooth texture without any lumps in the composition.
However, leaving cream cheese to soften at room temperature may take hours, especially if you just brought a brick from the fridge. And, in the end, it won’t taste as fresh anymore, so it may alter the taste of your recipe.
What are the risks of leaving cream cheese to soften at room temperature?
Unless you plan your cooking thoroughly, chances are you won’t remember to take your cream cheese out of the fridge sooner than 20-30 minutes before the actual cooking process.
Dairy products don’t have a long shelf life and even when kept in the fridge may not last more than a few days if they are not chemically prepared. According to the USDA, leaving cream cheese at room temperature for more than two hours may alter the taste of the product and even jeopardize your health as it favors bacterial growth.
Unfortunately, depending on the amount of cream cheese you choose to use in your recipe, it could take hours for it to reach the ideal temperature and texture when removed from the fridge. A small 8-ounce brick of this ingredient may take between 1 and 2 hours to reach a spreadable consistency, suitable for cooking, so what can you do under these circumstances?
Here are the easiest ways to soften cream cheese while maintaining its original taste, texture, and nutritional properties.
Cutting it into smaller pieces
One way to soften the cream cheese without too much effort is to cut the original block into smaller pieces or cubes.
Leaving the block to melt naturally at room temperature will take a lot of time as the first one to start warming up will be the outside, while the inside will remain cool, slowing down the softening process. If you want to avoid this, simply use a butter knife to slice the product in 1-inch pieces.
The process will work faster so that you can end up with spreadable cream cheese in around 30 minutes. If you want to speed up the process, you can either use a warm knife blade or remove the cream cheese from its original package into a warmed-up recipient.
If you don’t like the consistency of the ingredient after 30-40 minutes, you can also try stirring in another ingredient such as lemon juice, milk or whipped cream, depending on the recipe you are making.
Other room temperature methods to soften cream cheese
You can try to soften it manually by spreading it out. Put the cream cheese in a bowl and use the back of a spoon to stir it. The more you stir, the softer it will become after just a few minutes.
If you own a stand mixer, you can beat the cream cheese with the help of the paddle attachment for about one minute to bring it to the required consistency so you can use it in your recipes.
Once it is soft enough, we recommend using the cream cheese immediately. As we previously mentioned, if you leave the cream cheese outside the fridge or freezer for more than two hours, you cannot use it anymore.
Microwaving cream cheese is the most popular method to soften it in a matter of seconds. To do this efficiently, remove the cream cheese from its original package and place it in a microwave-safe bowl or dish. Use your kitchen appliance on high power and let the cream cheese soften for about 15 seconds, then check it.
If the consistency is not creamy enough, you can continue microwaving it for another 10 seconds. This method usually applies for one regular 8-ounce bar of cream cheese, so don’t forget to add 10 seconds to the microwaving time for each additional 8 ounces.
There is also the possibility of the ingredient becoming too soft, in which case you should transfer the content of the bowl into a cool bowl, then leave it at room temperature for around 5 minutes or place it back in the fridge for 2 minutes.
If you notice any liquid separating from the cream cheese, you shouldn’t be worried. It is a natural process and the liquid named whey can be incorporated in your cooking recipe along with the solids.
Another way to use heat to soften cream cheese is to place the product in its original package in a water bath for 10 minutes until it warms gradually. Use lukewarm water and only add warmer water after the first 10 minutes, in case your cream cheese isn’t soft enough. We don’t recommend using hot water as it can melt the solids.
If you kept the ingredient in the freezer, it is advisable to use cold water instead of lukewarm for the same reason – to gradually increase the temperature of the cream cheese, without altering its taste or properties. However, this method might take more than 20 minutes, also depending on the temperature inside your kitchen. For faster results, we recommend putting it in the microwave.
Don’t forget that we are talking about a rather sensitive product that can be altered by prolonged exposure to high temperatures. When trying to soften it, you may end up overheating the ingredient, which can leave you with a runny, soupy mess that might not return to its original texture even if you cool it. To avoid that, increase the temperature gradually and never use hot water from the beginning.
Softening with the help of other ingredients
As we previously mentioned, another method to reach the necessary consistency of your cream cheese is to thin it with the help of other ingredients such as milk, cream, melted butter, lemon juice, whipped cream or mascarpone.
It is important to know that only a few of these ingredients will maintain the original taste and texture of cream cheese, while others will make it sweeter, more bitter or change its consistency.
You can use the Italian spread mascarpone for desserts like bread pudding, cheesecake, and French toast as combined with cream cheese, it will give a subtle yet noticeable sweeter, creamier taste.
Cream cheese can be mixed with whipped cream to add sweetness and this combination is mainly used for frosting. As a general rule, use 1 tablespoon of whipped cream to 8 ounces of cream cheese, and add more if you feel the need.
Similar to whipped cream, lemon juice can also be used in combination with cream cheese for sweet and sour desserts, as well as the frosting. It does give your recipe a noticeably tart taste so we don’t recommend it for all recipes. Use about 1 teaspoon of lemon juice for every 8 ounces of cream cheese.
Melted butter is another popular ingredient that can be added to soften cream cheese. For the best results, we recommend using unsalted butter. One tablespoon of butter should be preheated in the microwave and then combined with the same 8-ounce package of cream cheese. If your cream cheese isn’t soft enough after, you can add half a tablespoon more.
You shouldn’t melt the cream cheese and butter together in the microwave as the first one will melt and you won’t get the necessary texture to use for your desserts.
Lastly, you can also use cream or milk to soften cream cheese without altering its taste in any way. Combine one teaspoon of unsweetened cream or milk with 8 ounces of cream cheese and stir well. If necessary, add another half teaspoon of milk or cream until you reach the desired consistency.