Cheese is an extremely versatile food. Cream cheese is an extremely versatile cheese. It has many popular uses and works as a dip, in pasta recipes and in baking. The mild-tasting fresh cheese is favoured because it surprisingly works well with both sweet and savoury flavours. Cream cheese is soft and smooth at room temperature but in the refrigerator, it hardens. Softening cheese on the countertop is a bad idea as it is susceptible to rapid bacteria growth. So how do you soften cream cheese quickly and safely? First, let’s look at the composition of cream cheese.
What is Cream Cheese?
Cream cheese is a soft fresh cheese that is made from a mixture of milk and cream. The earliest documented evidence of the existence of cream cheese is from England in the 16th Century. Cream cheese is not matured and this contributes to its mild and creamy flavour. This makes cream cheese a star in dips, pastries, pasta, desserts and many other popular recipes. Cream cheese is high fat, in some places the minimum threshold for fat content in cream cheese is 33%. Cream cheese is hard at refrigerator temperature and this makes it hard to cook with or mix in for baking. You will often find the cream cheese becomes lumpy when you attempt to mix it into recipes. There are a few viable ideas you can use for softening cream cheese and we can group these into 3 approaches.
The first approach is softening your cream cheese at room temperature. Some methods of softening cream cheese at room temperature involve a little labour on your part to get things right.
The first and easiest method is just leaving your cream cheese to soften on the counter at room temperature. This has the advantage of very little labour and takes about 30 minutes for your cream cheese to soften. However, leaving food at room temperature accelerates bacterial growth and this is worse with cheese. This is not the safest method.
The second method for the countertop at room temperature is to cut your cream cheese into small cubes. The smaller sizes of the individual cubes will help the cream cheese soften faster which is worth the trade-off for a little cutting. You can have your cream cheese soft in 10 to 15 minutes with this method if the cubes are around 1.5 to 2.5 centimetres.
You can achieve a quicker softening period for your cream cheese by stirring or rather agitating your cream cheese with a spoon. Cut it into cubes as in the previous method and then place those cubes in a bowl. Using the back of the spoon start by squashing the cubes and then graduate to a mixing motion. You can have soft cream cheese in under 10 minutes with this method.
You can also soften cream cheese by using a rolling pin which is a surprisingly effective and fast method. To achieve this you will need two sheets of parchment paper and a rolling pin. Place the cream cheese between the two sheets of parchment paper. If you want to get the fastest softening time then cut the cream cheese into slices or small cubes before placing on the parchment paper. Now roll the cream cheese until it’s in a flat layer. You can get soft cream cheese in 5 minutes or less with this hack.
If you’re not a fan of the labour or the risks involved in the room temperature methods you can look to methods which involve introducing heat to the cream cheese.
Microwaves can heat up just about anything but it’s how you do it that determines your opinion on using the microwave. There’s a great risk of overheating your cream cheese and therefore melting it. Place your cream cheese in a microwave-safe plate or bowl. Heat the cream cheese for 15 seconds then let it rest for 10. Return it to the microwave for 10 seconds again. This time check the cream cheese for softness after the 10 seconds. If it is not yet soft return it to the microwave for 10 seconds checking it each time. Once the cream cheese is soft enough it’s ready to use.
If you’re worried about using the microwave you also have the option of using a water bath system. To pull this off you will need watertight packaging for the cream cheese and bowl large enough to fit your cream cheese. Place lukewarm water in the bowl then add the cream cheese to the bowl. Allow the cheese to sit in the bowl for 10 minutes then examine for softness. If it is not as soft as desired allow a further 10 minutes. If it still hasn’t softened your best course of action is to add warm water to the lukewarm water. Just avoid adding hot water which could melt your cream cheese.
Another way to soften your cream cheese is by using softening agents. You should know right away all the agents involve the labour of mixing the cream cheese with the agent so if you’re after no effort none of these agents will be right for you. On the upside, the agents can add qualities to the cream cheese that you may find desirable. Firstly you can mix the cream cheese with cream or milk to help it soften. Secondly mixing with melted butter also helps soften the cream cheese well. Further, you can mix cream cheese with lemon juice to add a tartness to the creaminess of cream cheese. Another agent that adds a different flavour is mascarpone. Finally, if it’s going into a sweet dish consider adding whipped cream and mixing.
You have 3 main ways to soften cream cheese and a wide variety of options within them. You can soften it at room temperature, soften it with heating or by introducing an agent to it to soften it.