3 Tricks for Softening Rock-Hard Ice Cream in a Hurry

Because frozen-solid ice cream is just too hard to enjoy.

Why thaw ice cream?

Ice cream is one of the most popular desserts in the world, and thawing ice cream makes it that much faster and easier to scoop and get into our mouths. More importantly, thawing ice cream before eating it actually makes it taste sweeter, according to science. Aside from that, softening ice cream makes it much easier to use as an ingredient in other frozen desserts. For example, you'd want to soften up ice cream so you can more easily make ice cream sandwiches, spread ice cream on ice cream cakes and ice cream pies, make sundaes, and so on.

If you use the wrong thawing method, it will leave you with melty ice cream around the edges of the carton while it's still hard in the center, thus making for a mess during dessert time. Read on and find out how to thaw and soften ice cream to make it easy to scoop, as well as how to get the perfect consistency.

Why is ice cream from the freezer so hard to scoop?

Most people keep their ice cream in the freezer with their other frozen foods. The standard temperature for the freezer is around zero degrees. The problem with this is that it's actually too cold for scooping ice cream.

The high butterfat and lack of air in most good-quality ice creams make them very hard at zero degrees. You may find yourself having to uncomfortably twist your hand deep into the carton, and the scoop that you do manage to get out may be too "hard" to enjoy.

overhead view of an array of different flavors of ice cream in cartons

How long does it take for ice cream to thaw/soften?

There are multiple ways to thaw or soften ice cream. If you just sit it on the counter and that's all, depending on its fat and air content as mentioned above, ice cream can take anywhere between 10 to 30 minutes to soften, considering the size of your carton, the hardness of the ice cream, and the temperature of the air.

Get the scoop: 3 Ways to Soften Ice Cream

These smart strategies will help make frozen ice cream scoopable or spreadable in no time.

1. How to soften ice cream in the refrigerator

Perhaps the best way to soften ice cream is to let it soften in the refrigerator. Though it may take a little longer than if you left it on the counter, letting your ice cream thaw in the fridge makes the temperature even throughout the carton and the texture consistent.

  1. Put your ice cream in the fridge and let it sit for 30 minutes. (You might want to set it on a tray to catch any moisture.)
  2. Take the ice cream out and set it on the counter. At this point, your ice cream should be about 8 degrees throughout.
  3. If you can press gently in the middle with your finger to create a ¼-inch indentation, it's ready to scoop.

2. How to soften ice cream by cutting it

overhead view of a block of mint chocolate chip ice cream sliced into rounds
Caitlin Bensel/Meredith

What if you don't have time to wait for your ice cream to thaw? Well, you can try cutting it in a few simple steps:

  1. Run a sharp knife under hot water to heat it up.
  2. Slice your ice cream crosswise.
  3. Slice your ice cream lengthwise.
  4. Heat up your ice cream scoop the same way you did with the knife.
  5. Use the ice cream scoop to dig into your handy-dandy slices.

3. How to soften ice cream in the microwave

Softening your ice cream in the microwave is another quick way to thaw your favorite dessert:

  1. Transfer ice cream from the freezer to the microwave.
  2. Turn on the microwave at 30% power for about 30 seconds.

How to make scooping ice cream easier

If your ice cream is cold, there is a neat process that you can do to ensure that residual ice cream does not get stuck on the scooper:

  1. Get a bowl or cup of cold water (not hot!).
  2. Dip your ice cream scoop lightly in the water — give it a slight shake afterward.
  3. Use your scooper and scoop up your favorite ice cream.

The reason for dipping your scooper into water before each ice cream scoop is because ice cream won't release from a dry scoop — it'll stick. Keep a bowl or cup of cold water (remember, not hot!) nearby and give yourself a scoop. This process ensures that the ice cream will come neatly off the scoop and reduces mess on the spoon.


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