A pastry blender, also called a pastry cutter, is a useful tool in the kitchen. Many recipes for pastry crust and for butter or shortening rich biscuits or scones require you to add cold butter or shortening to flour. While you can accomplish this process with two knives or a fork, using the pastry blender makes it easier to adequately cut the butter into the flour.
This helpful kitchen tool is undoubtedly inexpensive, usually about $5-10 US Dollars (USD) or slightly more if you want a very fancy one. It has several u-shaped wires that connect to a straight handle. A few types of the pastry blender have a slight protrusion from one side of the handle that gives you a place to rest your thumb. It’s well worth looking for a type with this extra thumb rest, since you can better control the pastry blender if you can use your thumb to exert pressure on the flour/shortening mix.
The u-shaped wires of the pastry blender do a nice job cutting the ingredients together, and unlike working with your hands to combine the two, the pastry cutter stays cool so you’ll keep the shortening at optimum temperature. Bakers develop various techniques for using them; perhaps at first cutting the butter into smaller amounts between the wires, then rocking the blender back and forth to create an incorporated mix. For standard piecrust, your work is finished with the pastry blender when the butter/flour mix resembles coarse cornmeal. If you’re adding liquid to the pastry, some people continue to use the pastry blender, or they switch to hand combining at this point so just enough liquid is added to make the pastry adhere but not be too sticky.
Even though the pastry blender is specifically meant for making piecrusts and the like, you can use it for a few other things. It makes a perfect masher for a potato or two if you’d like to make some quick mashed potatoes. You can also make delicious guacamole with a pastry cutter. The wires aren’t terribly strong, so you wouldn’t want to use it to mash anything exceptionally hard, but it will work well to crush a few bananas for banana bread, or turn your butternut squash into a lovely puree.