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How to soften cream cheese

Baked goods and spreads come out best when you’ve learned how to soften cream cheese.

Perhaps you are about to make a fabulous cream cheese frosting or a fruit dip and you need soft cream cheese.

Here, you will learn four different ways to soften your cream cheese.

Softening cream cheese isn’t difficult to do but you do want to do it safely, and you don’t want to melt it accidentally.

Cold cream cheese is delicious of course, but it doesn’t blend or spread well. I can’t count all the times when I impatiently started knifing at my cream cheese block to get it to spread on a bagel, but nope. It’s frustrating.

Most recipes call for it to be softened before incorporating it into the rest of your ingredients. 

If you are curious why that recipe calls for softened cream cheese, one, so there are no lumps in the finished product, and two, it should blend smoothly with other ingredients. Even when finally soft, it’s best to not stir it into too much liquid at first or it will clump up. Soften cream cheese blends in so much better.

By being patient and waiting for that soft cream cheese, you will avoid that dreaded lumpy frosting that we all find so annoying. Softening cream cheese will allow for that smooth consistency that your favorite recipe calls for. 

There are two main ways in which we recommend softening cream cheese:

  • Softening it up on the counter
  • Soften cream cheese using the water bath method

If you are in a hurry, softening cream cheese in the microwave will be your best bet, but it does come with a warning.

There is a fine but crucial line between softened and melted cream cheese, and it is easy to cross it in the microwave. So check out our details on this below.

How to soften cream cheese with the microwave

Estimated time required: 1 minute

If you are in a hurry, softening cream cheese using the microwave method is your best method.

Tools required:

microwave-safe plate or bowl
block of cream cheese

Instructions:

1. Unwrap the package of cream cheese. Remove it from the foil paper.
2. Place it on a microwave-safe plate.
3. Microwave on high for 10 seconds. Stir.
4. Check to see if the cream cheese is soft.
5. Continue to heat the cream cheese in 5-second intervals, stirring until it is soft.

Tips on this method:

• Checking something every five seconds may seem annoying but it is better than having fully melted cream cheese. 
• While you could use a bowl, we find it easier to scrape the cream cheese from a plate than scooping it from a bowl.
• If the cream cheese seems almost soft, go ahead and remove it from the microwave. Then give it just a couple of minutes on the countertop to finish softening.
• If you notice a bit of liquid seeping out of the cream cheese onto the plate, scrape that off into your recipe along with the cream cheese solids.

How to soften cream cheese on the counter

Estimated time required: 45 minutes

This is the simple way to soften a  brick of cream cheese. It requires the least amount of effort but is also the slowest way.

How long this takes will vary greatly, depending on the temperature of your kitchen.

My recommendation is to start this process about an hour prior to needing the softened cream cheese. So just make sure that you have enough time for this first method.

I prefer this method because there is no chance of melting the cream cheese. In addition, the consistency is better because it softened evenly.

Tools required:

• Plate
• Large bowl

Instructions:

1. Unwrap the cream cheese. Altogether remove it from the foil wrapper.
2. Place it on the plate.
3. Cover the plate with a large bowl.
4. Allow the cream cheese to soften.
5. Check the cream cheese after about 45 minutes.
6. If it isn’t yet soft, cover it with the bowl and recheck it in 10 minutes.

Tips on this method:

• The bowl is purely to keep anything from getting into the cream cheese. However, I noticed that it also seems to speed up the softening process as well. So bonus dual purpose!
• If it is cold in your kitchen, this may take a bit longer.
• As cream cheese softens, it is normal for some liquid to leak and for the cheese to separate a bit. If this happens, be sure to use all that is on the plate, liquid and all.

How to soften cream cheese with the cube method

Estimated time required: 30 minutes

This is how I soften cream cheese if I am in a hurry, and the cream cheese will be blended with other ingredients.

The reason that this is a quicker method is because by cutting the cream cheese into smaller pieces, it can soften faster.

Tools required:

• Large plate
• Large bowl
• Cutting board
• Chef knife

Instructions:

1. Unwrap the cream cheese. Remove it entirely from the foil wrapper.
2. Place the cold cream cheese on the cutting board.
3. Cut it into 1″ chunks or small cubes.
4. Place the chunks on a plate. Allow space between the chunks so that they are not touching.
5. Cover the plate with a large bowl.
6. Allow the cream cheese to soften.
7. Check the cream cheese after about 30 minutes.
8. If it isn’t quite soft enough, cover the cheese and give it another 10 minutes.

Quick Tip:

• If your kitchen is a bit cold, try and find a sunny spot in your kitchen to put the plate. Don’t put the cream cheese in direct sunlight though. Remember, we don’t want to melt it. We just want to soften it.

How to soften cream cheese using the water bath method

This is the second quickest method for softening cream cheese. It is a quicker alternative to the countertop method without stressing about whether or not the cream cheese melts.

Tools required:

• Microwave-safe bowl
• Tongs
• Hot water
• Lid or large plate

Instructions:

1. Remove the cream cheese from the box but leave it in the foil wrapping.
2. Heat up some water. You can either heat it in the microwave for about a minute, or you can let your tap water get hot and use that.
Note: The water should not be boiling, but it should be hot to the touch.

3. Place the foil-wrapped cream cheese in the bowl of hot water.
4. Cover the bowl.
5. Using the tongs, rotate the cream cheese every 5 minutes for 15 minutes.
6. After 15 minutes, it should be softened.
7. Remove the cream cheese from the bowl and place it on a plate. Before removing the foil, gently press on the cream cheese to see if it is softened.
8. If it doesn’t feel soft enough, place it back in the water for another 5 minutes and check again.
9. Once it is softened, pat the package dry and remove the soft cheese from the foil wrapping.

Tips:

• Be sure to use a microwave-safe bowl.
• You can use plastic wrap to cover the bowl instead of a plate if you would prefer.

How to thaw frozen cream cheese

The best way to thaw frozen cream cheese is to place it in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Leave it in the packaging that it came in while in the fridge. Then after 24 hours go ahead and soften it using one of the steps above.

How long does it take cream cheese to soften at room temp?

It generally takes cream cheese between 30 minutes and one hour to soften at room temperature. It varies based on your room’s actual temperature.

What is the quickest way to soften cream cheese?

The quickest way to soften cream cheese is to soften it in the microwave, but you need to be careful with this method. Heated too long and it changes the consistency of the cream cheese, which can ruin it for some recipes.

How to know when cream cheese is soft

The best way to know if the cream cheese is soft is to press on it with a spoon or your finger gently. It should give with very little pressure.

If your soft cream cheese still doesn’t seem soft enough to spread without ripping your bread, use a fork to stir the cream cheese, gently whipping it to incorporate air.

Can you leave cream cheese out overnight?

You should not leave the cream cheese out overnight. According to the USDA, you should not leave cream cheese above 40° F for more than two hours.

So if you forgot to put away that cream cheese dip and it stayed on the counter all night, you should throw it out. As a general rule, dairy products should not sit out at room temperature for more than two hours.

The bottom line

One of the easy ways to soften cream cheese is the room temperature method.   Softening cream cheese will make sure that your recipes have that smooth texture and right consistency.

No matter which of these different methods that you choose, your favorite recipes will be delicious. Looking for your next cream cheese favorite? Try our Crack Dip recipe!

How to Soften Cream Cheese in a Water Bath

How to Soften Cream Cheese in a Water Bath

Yield: 1 8-oz pkg cream cheese, softened
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 20 seconds
Total Time: 1 hour 20 seconds

Cream cheese, when softened, is easier to spread or smush and is ready to use as part of a recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1 8-oz. package cream cheese
  • Microwave-safe bowl
  • Tongs
  • Hot water
  • Lid or large plate

Instructions

  1. Remove the cream cheese from the box but leave it in the foil wrapping.
  2. Heat up some water. You can either heat it in the microwave for about a minute, or you can let your tap water get hot and use that. Note: The water should not be boiling, but it should be hot to the touch.
  3. Place the foil-wrapped cream cheese in the bowl of hot water.
  4. Cover the bowl.
  5. Using the tongs, rotate the cream cheese every 5 minutes for 15 minutes.
  6. After 15 minutes, it should be softened.
  7. Remove the cream cheese from the bowl and place it on a plate. Before removing the foil, gently press on the cream cheese to see if it is softened.
  8. If it doesn't feel soft enough, place it back in the water for another 5 minutes and check again.
  9. Once it is softened
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 1 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 794Total Fat: 78gSaturated Fat: 46gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 24gCholesterol: 229mgSodium: 722mgCarbohydrates: 13gFiber: 0gSugar: 9gProtein: 14g

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