In many recipes you will see it calls for ingredients (primarily eggs, dairy (milk, yogurt), or eggs to be at room temperature. If you know in advance that you will be baking, you can pull your ingredients out before you go to sleep (if you are baking in the morning), or before your work day (if you are baking right after work), and keeping them in a cool, dark place to let them come to room temperature over time.
However, you may not feel comfortable leaving your ingredients out for that long, or maybe you didn’t know you wanted to bake later, or maybe you forgot to leave your ingredients out, that’s ok! There are ways to speed up the process of bringing them to room temperature.
What is room temperature and why do we bring ingredients to room temperature?
When a recipe refers to room temperature, it means that they should be around 70F.
In general, having all of your ingredients the same temperature allows them to incorporate better and bake more evenly. There are certain reasons we want different ingredients to either be cold or at room temperature, which are explained below.
When you want your butter cold and firm and when you want it room temperature and soft
Cold: You want to use very cold butter when making laminated doughs or baked goods that should be crisp. Cold butter is good for lamination because cold butter doesn’t fully incorporate into your batter and instead breaks into small pieces throughout your dough. When baking, the steam from the butter releases and creates those lovely flaky layers.
Room temperature: Soft butter helps to create lift, tenderness, and fluffiness. You want to use room temperature butter if your recipe calls for creaming or whipping your butter. At room temperature, the butter is capable of holding air. The way to tell that it is at the right temperature is that it is soft enough that your finger can leave an indentation with no resistance, but not so warn that it is greasy. If it is too warm, it cannot aerate properly either.
Bringing your butter to room temperature
Depending on the temperature in your kitchen it can take 30 minutes to an hour for butter that has just been taken out of the refrigerator to reach room temperature. However, there are ways to help speed up the process.
Heating the butter: This can help speed the process up, but it’s also easy to overshoot and melt the butter or get it too warm so that it’s oily or greasy. Be patient and do things at a low heat and in small time increments so as to not over do it.
Cutting it up: By cutting up the butter into small cubes or shred it, there is more surface area exposed to help speed up the warming process.
Use the microwave: Cut the butter into cubes and put it in the microwave at 20% power in 5-10 second intervals until it is holding its shape but easily pliable.
Make a double boiler: Grate your butter into a shallow bowl and place the bowl in a larger bowl of warm water. Move the butter around a bit so that all of it is exposed to the warm area of the bowl.
If you need to separate your egg whites and yolks before using, it is easier to separate them when they are cold (see cracking and separating eggs) and then let them come to room temperature.
Why do we want to use room temperature eggs?
Warmer eggs aerate more quickly and whip up with more volume because the egg proteins unfold more readily.
Room temperature eggs more easily incorporate into other ingredients, allowing them to mix together more smoothly.
If you added cold eggs to a creamed butter and sugar mixture, the cold shock risks hardening the fat solids back up and countering the aeration process.
Bringing your eggs to room temperature
Depending on the temperature in your kitchen, eggs can take between 30 minutes and two hours to come to room temperature. However there are a few tricks to bring them to room temperature quicker:
Whole eggs: Fill a bowl with warm water (not too warm or you risk cooking your eggs). Place the eggs in the water for 5-10 minutes and they should come to room temperature.
Separated eggs: If you needed to separate the whites and the yolks first, you can still use a trick to bring them to room temperature faster. Using a similar technique to a water bath (bain marie), like what we use for baking a souffle or cheesecake - but the yolks and whites in separate, thick walled ceramic bowl (like a ramekin). Set the bowls in a shallow pan and pour hot (not boiling though) water into the pan until it reaches half way up the sides of the bowls. Let the bowls sit in the water bath for 5-10 minutes.
Milk and Cream
There are times, particularly with cream, where you want it to be cold, and other times you want it to be room temperature. Make sure to reference the recipe you are using so you know which you should use.
When you use cold cream: Unlike with butter and eggs, which aerate better when at room temperature, you want your cream to be very cold when you whip it up.
When to use room temperature cream/milk: When incorporating the liquid with other ingredients that you are mixing together, adding in cold liquid could be a shock to the other temperature ingredients, causing the fat solids to harden up if you’ve creamed your butter already. Room temperature liquids will more smoothly incorporate into the rest of the ingredients and allow things to bake more evenly.
Bringing your milk to room temperature
Milk and cream will come to room temperature after 20-30 minutes out of the refrigerator. To speed up the process, heat it up. Measure out the amount of milk or cream your recipe calls for and microwave it at 20% power for 10-15 second intervals. You can also do this by using a small saucepan on the stove over low-medium heat for a few minutes, stirring every 10-15 seconds.