It is never too late to learn how to soften cream cheese, as it is a staple for a pleasant diet and tons of recipes!
You get out of bed in the morning and stumble blindly to the fridge, only to find the cream cheese you wanted for your toast is hard and unpalatable. What is a sleepy person to do?
If you have ever found yourself in this scenario— I know I have!— or in others that call for less firm cheese texture, read on! My trial-and-error experiments with softening cream cheese will help you.
Why I love cream cheese
This type of cheese is softer than most (because it is made out of milk and cream), but the additives it receives in the industrial process help it firm up. Every 100 grams contains: 342 calories, 34 grams of fat, and 6 grams of protein.
Whipped cream cheese, in particular, is great for those trying to lose weight. The airy consistency tricks your stomach into thinking it is fuller than it actually is: you will not go hungry while you diet! I would pick it over fat-free cream cheese any day, as it is far superior in taste and texture.
Cream cheese is great for many recipes: from soups to baked goods, from ice-cream to hearty winter dishes— it is extremely versatile! That is why I love it.
It might not provide the best nutrition in the cheese world, but it can be good enough and is good for both a simple breakfast and a creative combination recipe.
Cream cheese uses
This sort of cheese is a lot more than a party dip or a spread: it can be used to make almost any recipe yield a thicker, more hearty product.
It can be used for frosting and to replace butter in baked goods. In the savory department, it is great as a lighter substitute for cream. Its variable texture makes it great for binding together different ingredients in a recipe or filling.
If cream cheese is so prevalent in our cooking, it stands to reason that we all learn how to store it correctly and adapt it to our changing needs.
How to store cream cheese
No matter whether it comes in foil or plastic packaging: you must always keep cream cheese in the refrigerator. From purchase to use and after you have opened it: because it is a dairy product, this is the only safe way to store it.
Never— neither open nor unopened— should your cream cheese sit on the counter for more than 2 hours (or 1, if it the weather is hot). This is to prevent the spread of dangerous germs that can make you ill.
If you keep it unopened, you can expect it to last— in the fridge— one month after the “best before” date that is printed on the package. If you open it, it will last for one or two weeks after that date.
You can also keep cream cheese in the freezer— which will inevitably end in having to soften it— for a maximum of two months after the printed date. The downside of this is that frozen cheese often does not taste as good as fresh cream cheese: it clots and becomes crumbly.
When you thaw cream cheese or soften cream cheese that was previously frozen, it will shorten its shelf life: you can no longer refreeze it. If you thawed it at room temperature, you can put it in the fridge for a few more days.
However, if you used heat during the softening process, you will need to either use the cheese immediately or, otherwise, throw it out.
Problems you can find when softening cream cheese
While softening cream cheese is not an exact science, it can be harder than it looks! What you want is to achieve that melty, smooth texture that gives this type of cheese its name, but you may run into a couple of different problems:
You might not be able to soften it enough: maybe nothing you are doing is achieving the desired result! A scenario in which nothing will melt your cheese is possible, especially if it was stored in the freezer until recently.
You can go the opposite way and fully melt it. While this is suitable for some recipes, it is just not handy for many others that require at least some solidity.
You might burn your cream cheese: if you go too hard, too fast, you might end up with inedible bits of charred dairy.
It can heat up unevenly. This happens often when you try to soften cream cheese in the microwave without knowing the tips and tricks to make it work.
Serum and runny cheese with lumps. This can be the result of uneven heating or of overheating. In either case, the texture is irrecoverable, so be careful!
How to soften cream cheese: different methods
There are many ways to quickly soften cream cheese. They include methods that apply direct heat, methods that apply indirect heat, and others that do not heat up the cheese at all.
What you prefer depends mostly on what you will be using the ingredient for: maybe it is a cake or dessert, in which keeping it cool is more important for quick results. Or, maybe, you want to use it in a soup and, therefore, do not care about keeping the texture as smooth as in other cases.
It also depends on what kitchenware, appliances, and other ingredients you have at hand. All this means you have to think it through before starting the softening process.
So: read on, pick a recipe, and make an inventory of the things you have and do not have.
Let room temperature do its thing
The safest way to soften cream cheese is to just let the natural temperature and humidity of the air work on it and save your efforts for the actual recipe.
As I have said, you should never let the cream cheese— or any other type of cheese— sit on the counter for any longer than 1 or 2 hours, depending on the heat. How long to soften cream cheese using this method? Around half an hour.
If, after 30 minutes, you still want a softer texture, let it sit for 15 to 20 more minutes. If this again does not work, use a different method!
This— it does take a bit longer than other techniques— can be a disadvantage. However, it can be easily resolved by thinking in advance: just calculate when you will need the cheese and take it out of the refrigerator in time.
Use some direct heat!
How to melt cream cheese enough but not too much? When using heat, it is a tricky balancing act.
First of all, never put cream cheese in your microwave while still in its original package. Take it out and put it in a bowl that is safe for microwave use (not a plate, unless you want a cheesy disaster to flood your device).
Set the bowl in the microwave and place it, as I always recommend, to the side of the rotating disk instead of at the center. This is so that all its parts will travel through all the heat waves and heat up evenly.
Set the timer for fifteen seconds— remember, you want to soften it, not to make it liquid— and then check on it. If it is still too firm, go bit by bit: heat it up for ten more seconds. Repeat the process until it has your desired texture.
If you are asking yourself how to melt cream cheese or how to soften cream cheese quickly and do not care about texture too much, then the microwave is the way to go.
Put the cream cheese in a water bath
The water bath is famed to have been created by a medieval alchemist. Maybe she had cheese in mind!
How do you soften cream cheese using a water bath? Easy peasy!
When you use this softening method, you can keep the cheese in its package. However, you can wrap it in an airtight bag (and squish the air out) in order to keep the water from coming in.
Pour not hot but lukewarm water in a small bowl and put the bag with the cheese in it.
Let it stay there for 10 minutes. Done!
Note: if your cheese just came out of the freezer compartment, use cold water to keep the texture smooth.
If you wanted to find out how to quickly soften cream cheese in a way that keeps its delicious taste intact, use a water bath!
Add extra ingredients to make cream cheese softer
Depending on what the goal of the recipe is, you can gently combine the cream cheese with different other ingredients using a bowl and a spoon or blender:
If you are going to make a soup or other savory dish, you can use unsweetened cream.
For spicy recipes— or just achieve that extra zing—, you can blend the cream cheese with lemon juice.
For sweet, forgiving recipes such as cakes, you can mix the cheese with whipped cream.[/su_list] In all, a lot of options!
Enjoy that cheesy goodness!
Whatever method you choose, stay safe and be careful!
You now know how to soften cream cheese to use on its own or in lots of different recipes. Kudos to you, cheese alchemist!