By Gage Hanson
Cream cheese is a popular ingredient in a lot of different recipes. Whether you are making cheesecake, a cream cheese dip, cream cheese frosting, or even marbled brownies, you will need to use a stick or two of cream cheese. The problem with cream cheese is that it is tough to mix and hard to cut up because it is initially thick and very tough to work with even when it is barely chilled. That’s why you need to know how to soften cream cheese.
If you don’t have cream cheese that is soft all the way through, you won’t be able to work it into your recipe easily. You will have chunks of cream cheese that are still in your batter or mix that haven’t softened. Soft cream cheese is instrumental to create a smooth, enjoyable final product.
Soften Cream Cheese Ahead of Time
If you have your cooking plans made well ahead of time, then you will have plenty of time for the most simple way to soften your cream cheese. It only takes an hour or two of sitting at room temperature for a stick of cream cheese to soften thoroughly. You will want to cut through the brick or stick a spoon into the tub to make sure that the cream cheese is cool all the way through. Sometimes the center will stay stiff.
A quick way to speed up the room temperature method and make sure the cream cheese softens equally is to cut the block into smaller squares with a knife. Divide the brick into fourths vertically, and then divide those smaller rectangles into another set of fourths horizontally. These smaller cubes will thaw more evenly and quicker. They will also mix into your recipe a lot easier, or spread easier.
Warm Water and a Bag
Fill a bowl or your sink with lukewarm water. You don’t want the water to be too hot or it will melt the cream cheese into a consistency that is too liquidy. Take your stick or block of cream cheese and put the amount you need into a watertight bag. Once the bowl or sink is full, place the bag of cream cheese in the water.
You can let the cream cheese sit in the water for about ten minutes and it should soften all the way through. In larger amounts, you might need to test the cream cheese after the first ten minutes. If it is still stiff, let the cream cheese soften for another ten minutes. It should have reached the right consistency by then.
This is one of the better methods I have come across for warming up cream cheese (and butter/icing/anything frozen) because it ensures that the cheese will be warmed all the way through. It isn’t very messy and it is easy to ensure the correct consistency because you can feel the cream cheese through the bag. It is a little more time consuming, but well worth the time to get the perfect cheesecake.
If you are using cream cheese to cook, there is a solid chance that you have a stand mixer on hand. If this is the case, you have another incredibly easy way to soften cream cheese and get it ready for mixing with other ingredients.
Use the paddle attachment for your mixer to create a soft batch of cream cheese. Add the cream cheese and then mix it for about a minute. If you want a softer consistency, just let the mixer work its magic for a few more seconds. If you want cream cheese that is a little stiffer, take it out after 30 or 40 seconds.
The Microwave Method
Probably the easiest and most-used method for softening cream cheese is the microwave method. It is simple, quick, and most people have access to a microwave. This method is often used by bakers to soften or even melt butter, but it works just as well for cream cheese.
Find a microwave safe dish (a bowl is usually a better option just in case the cream cheese starts to melt) and put your desired amount of cream cheese on the dish. You will want to set your microwave to about half power and set the timer for ten seconds. After the ten seconds are up, flip the cream cheese over and microwave it again for ten seconds. I definitely recommend specifically putting ten second into the microwave instead of typing in one minute and pulling it out yourself. If you get distracted, you will have a tough mess to clean up.
All in all, there are a lot of different methods to soften cream cheese. Hopefully there is one here that will work for your situation and give you the perfect consistency. Enjoy these techniques and good luck on your next cream cheese cooking project.