We put an Internet kitchen hack to the test to see if it’s really worth it.
Does It Hack? is a new series where we take common time and energy saving cooking techniques from the internet and challenge whether or not they actually make your life any easier.
You need soft butter and you need it now. But you forgot to leave a stick on the counter a few hours ago.
The Usual Solution
Set butter out an hour or two before you need it. Or try to microwave it which can lead to inconsistency and melting. Melted ≠ soft.
The Internet’s Solution
Boil water. Pour the water into a glass and let it sit for five minutes. Pour the water out and set it the glass upside down over the butter stick creating a miniature sauna of sorts. Let that sit for another fifteen minutes and you’re supposed to have perfectly softened butter.
A Food & Wine staffer told me to stick the butter in a plastic bag and shove it under my armpit. Sure. Why not.
I did the math and, depending on how long it takes you to boil water (my electric kettle is fast but depending on your method and elevation it could take quite a little while) you’re looking at about 25 minutes all told for the entire hack process. So this came down to a time test — how soft can I make butter in about half an hour?
A note about glassware: I didn’t want to risk shattering a drinking glass by dumping a bunch of super hot water into it. Not all glasses are heat safe, so I would urge anyone attempting this solution to be careful in selecting your container. If you’re not sure, use something that is meant for high temperatures. I chose a Pyrex measuring cup, but this and the butter I used may have affected the results. More on that later.
The control butter was placed out on the counter for the entire duration of the other two methods, about 25 minutes. Simultaneously, the hot glass butter was out on the counter while the water boiled and while I waited for the glass to heat up, then it was placed under the Pyrex. (Incidentally Hot Glass Butter will be the name of my band, if I ever start one.) And finally, the armpit butter was placed into a sealed plastic bag and stashed under my arm to absorb body heat for the same amount of time as the other tests. (Don’t name your band Armpit Butter.) I decided to test this weirder method for two reasons: 1. I was dared to by a co-worker. 2. I realized that if you’re just watching TV or even if you’re measuring out other ingredients, the bag o’ butter doesn’t hinder you from doing another activity. Since the hot glass method requires some serious babysitting and the counter method requires zero attention, I figured the armpit test was a relatively reasonable, if somewhat ridiculous, middle ground.
Does it Hack?
Yes. Clearly, leaving butter on the counter for just 25 minutes wasn’t going to produce soft butter for creaming or mixing into doughs. But that doesn’t mean the internet’s solution was going to solve the problem. One potential issue was the butter simply melting, and another concern I had was the center of the butter stick not getting enough heat. I was surprised to find that while, yes, the center of the butter sticks I put under the warm glass and under my armpit were still a little stiff, with a bit of finessing in the mixing bowl they would both achieve the proper texture.
As I mentioned before, my choice of a Pyrex measuring cup may have affected these results for a couple of reasons. First, the people attempting this on the internet did use a drinking glass which allowed them to stand the butter stick vertically on its end. That would allow for more even absorption of heat along the longer sides of the stick. Also, because some butter sticks are longer and skinnier than others, the sticks I used would not fit vertically under my Pyrex cup which meant I had to lay it horizontally, thus a whole side of the stick was not exposed to the radiant heat. That also meant I used a larger Pyrex container to accommodate that width, so my “sauna” wasn’t as compact as it could have been. Conversely, if you use the shorter, girthier sticks of butter they would fit upright but might not soften as completely. There could be some solutions to any of these issues that involve cutting the butter sticks down into in halves or lengthwise.
So, if you want to risk the microwave, go for it. But if you’re in need of soft, pliable butter on the double, plan to boil some water, set some timers and you’ll be good to go in about half an hour. Or, you know, use your armpit.