Cream cheese is great on a bagel, but it has so many other uses in the kitchen. I love using cream cheese to make things like sweet cream cheese frosting, pimento cheese, and creamy cheesecake bars. Ideally, I like to set out my cream cheese an hour or two before I want to use it to get it perfectly soft. But what to do if you forget to set out the cream cheese?

A bowl of cream cheese that has been softened.

Unlike butter in its paper wrapper, cream cheese comes packaged in foil, eliminating the possibility of using the microwave to soften it. Plus, if you remove it from the package and over-microwave it, the cream cheese is unusable until it firms back up again.

This hack makes perfectly soft cream cheese that’s ready for shrimp dip and banana pudding without the fear of over-softening it. 

With this easy kitchen tip for how to soften cream cheese to spreadable perfection, you can save yourself the hassle of melted or grainy cream cheese in the microwave, or the struggle of having to wait to get your recipe started until it has softened. Let’s get started. 

Chocolate chips added to the cheesecake batter.
Add chocolate chips.

What is cream cheese used for?

Cream cheese is the ultimate food. Its tangy, creamy flavor can easily incorporate into sweets like carrot cheesecake bars and chocolate cream cheese cake. Yet magically, it’s perfect for savory foods, too! Bacon dip, mashed potato casserole, and Buffalo chicken dip all benefit from the addition of a bit of cream cheese.

I don’t know where I’d be without this versatile food, but the catch is… you really need your cream cheese to be the right consistency when you’re blending it with other foods.

If you’re just going to slather it on a bagel, cold cream cheese works perfectly. But if you’re making a dip, a frosting, or a sauce, you’ll need that cream cheese to be at room temperature. 

Why do I need to use softened cream cheese? 

Softened, room-temperature cream cheese is necessary for making cream cheese frosting, pimento cheese, cheesecake, and many other recipes. Softening the cream cheese makes it easy to beat with powdered sugar or stir other ingredients into the cheese. 

Using cream cheese from the refrigerator is possible for some recipes, but it makes it much more difficult to combine with other ingredients. 

When your cream cheese is still cold and you begin to mix it, it breaks into chunks instead of getting creamy and fluffy. Those little chunks get coated in the other ingredients, like powdered sugar. Then, they tend to remain in tiny chunks in your mixture, and never fully incorporate. When your mixture does eventually warm up, you’ll have pockets of plain cream cheese in the mix that aren’t incorporated, and your mixture remains grainy and lumpy.

That’s why using room-temperature cream cheese is so important. It may seem like a simple, insignificant detail, but the consistency of your frostings, dips, and fillings depends on it!

Pink strawberry cream cheese frosting with a hand mixer.

Why You’ll Love This Kitchen Hack for Quickly Softening Cream Cheese

  • Quick and mess-free: This kitchen hack guarantees perfectly softened cream cheese in just ten minutes and doesn’t require any dirty dishes. The cream cheese stays in its foil wrapper, so everything stays contained
  • No special equipment: All you need for this hack is a block of cream cheese and a bowl of hot water.  
  • Perfectly softened cream cheese: This hack ensures the cream cheese becomes soft enough to cream but keeps it solid and unmelted for the perfect texture. 

What You’ll Need 

A block of cream cheese in a foil wrapper.
Leave the cream cheese in the foil wrapper.
  • A glass or metal mixing bowl 
  • A block of cream cheese (packaged from the store in a foil wrapper)
  • Hot tap water 

How to Soften Cream Cheese Quickly 

Step 1: Fill a bowl with hot water. 

Fill a medium-sized mixing bowl with hot water from the tap. 

Step 2: Soften the cream cheese. 

Place the cream cheese block – still inside its foil wrapper – into the bowl. Let the cheese sit in the warm water for about 10 minutes. It should be totally soft and ready to use in all kinds of applications. 

A block of cream cheese in a bowl of hot water.
Lace cream cheese in a bowl of hot water.

Pro Tip

  • You can soften two or three blocks of cream cheese at a time as long as they all fit in your bowl. You may need to dump the water after about 5 minutes and refill it with more warm water if you want to soften more than one block of cream cheese at a time. 

Other Ways to Soften Cream Cheese

Using a warm water bath is my favorite way of softening butter. But there are a few other methods you can try:

Cut the Cream Cheese Into Cubes

You can use a knife to cut up the cream cheese into small pieces that will warm up quicker than the larger chunk.

Microwave the Cream Cheese 

If you decide to microwave your cream cheese, unwrap it and cut it into a few smaller pieces. Then, microwave on 50% power for 5-10 seconds. You’ll likely find the outside of the cream cheese is soft sooner than the inside. However, once the outside is warmed up, you’ll need to stop microwaving.

Recipes That Use Softened Cream Cheese 

1
Cream Cheese Coffee Cake with Lemon Streusel
Indulge in a moist cream cheese coffee cake topped with a heavenly streusel made with the zesty essence of lemon and the rich nuttiness of almonds. This irresistible coffee cake is an ideal accompaniment to leisurely mornings or as a sweet ending to brunch.  Made in a bundt pan for a beautiful presentation.

I first published this post on How to Soften Cream Cheese on my Southern food blog Butter and Baggage.

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