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Cream cheese is a soft, fresh, creamy cheese that is used in dips, sauces, and baked goods, and as a spread. It is often combined with other ingredients, especially in recipes like jalapeño poppers, cheesecake, cream cheese danishes, cookies or pound cake, cream cheese frosting, or casseroles such as creamy enchiladas. Whether you are using it to smear on bagels or to bake a masterpiece, it's useful to know how to soften it.

Cream cheese comes in different forms. Whipped cream cheese available in a tub is already soft, but the standard block has a very smooth texture and is very dense and sticky. It is also sometimes available wrapped in plastic and can be a bit crumbly and lighter. Just like butter, when cream cheese is cold, it can be difficult to spread or combine with other ingredients.

The Best Way to Soften Cream Cheese

The easiest way to soften cream cheese is to allow it to come to room temperature, but that may take an hour to two, depending on the temperature in your kitchen and the amount of cream cheese you are softening. Do not leave it out of the refrigerator for more than three hours or it may spoil.

How to Quickly Soften Cream Cheese 2 Ways

If you don't have time to let it come to room temperature, there are two other ways to quickly and easily soften cream cheese. You can beat cream cheese with a mixer or food processor or warm it up slightly in warm water or a microwave. You can also use these techniques to soften Neufchâtel which is a lower-fat cheese that is very similar and often interchangeable with cream cheese.

1. Beat It

Add a couple of teaspoons of milk to an 8-ounce block of cream cheese, and beat it in a food processor, or in a bowl with a hand mixer or in the bowl of a standing mixer. This method should only take one minute.

2. Heat It

To microwave cream cheese, unwrap it and place it in a microwave-safe container. Microwave it for 15 to 20 seconds. You don't want to cook the cream cheese, so check to see if it is soft after 15 seconds, and add more time in small increments only if necessary.

If you'd prefer to forego the microwave (or if you don't have one) you can achieve the same results with warm water. Place the cream cheese inside a zip-top bag, and fully submerge the sealed bag into a bowl of warm water. You may need to put something heavy on top of the bag to keep it submerged, like a smaller bowl. Submerge for 10 minutes.