A pastry cutter, which is also occasionally referred to as a pastry blender, is typically used for making pie crusts and various types of breads. Pastry cutters are typically made with a handle on one end attached to small steel blades or wires that are fairly close together. The ends may make it easier to get shortening or butter thoroughly mixed into flour, which is usually important for making good pie crusts and some breads. Bladed pastry cutters are often thought to be more effective for blending pastry, but the wire variety is generally easier to clean and may be less expensive to purchase. Both types are usually inexpensive and may be purchased at most retail stores that sell kitchen utensils as well as online.
Using a pastry cutter to blend shortening or butter in with flour typically involves rocking it back and forth inside the mixing bowl until the mixture looks like pea-sized crumbs. Some people also add water to the mixture as they blend, but this is usually most effective for pie crusts because it may make it easier to get the perfect consistency. When making bread, the liquid can normally be added after the other ingredients are blended. It might also be a good idea for a person to chill the pastry cutter before use, especially if she will be working with ingredients that are supposed to be cold. This could keep the room temperature pastry cutter from increasing the temperature of the ingredients.
Many people do not own pastry cutters and might avoid recipes that call for their use as a result. There are some items that almost anyone is likely to have in the kitchen that could work as a substitute for a pastry cutter. Some people blend shortening in with flour using just a fork and rotate the bowl around with their fingers as they work the ingredients in. Two knives may also work well to blend pastry ingredients together. Most people use knives to cut pastry by crossing them and repeatedly sliding them to opposite ends of the bowl from each other.
Pastry blending isn't the only thing a person can use a pastry cutter for. The unique shape and design of these kitchen tools make them useful for a few other kitchen projects. The sharp edges of a pastry cutter might make it very easy to score the tops of breads or pies. It is also possible to use them for making indentations in homemade pastas. Some people also like to use pastry cutters for mashing up potatoes.