Let’s cut the fat. I don’t expect a million (or even any!) comments on this post, and some of you may wonder why I’m dedicating a day to the subject, and are frowning because there’s not a fun new recipe up, but properly cutting in butter or shortening is crucial in making crusts, pastries, biscuits and so much more. This blog is about learning tips and techniques in order to make better food, so this is one of those posts! I’ve had several people ask me what “cutting in” really means and I once had someone ask if it was okay to just melt the butter in because it was easier. Answer: No!
When you read in a recipe that you need to “cut in” butter or shortening, it’s a way to combine the flour and dry ingredients with the fat as quickly as possible. The purpose is to create evenly sized pieces of butter, coated with flour and evenly distributed throughout. When these little pieces of butter melt, they create layers of flakiness. In some recipes it’s the little pockets of steam that are important. Recipes will normally indicate the size of the fat pieces- small peas, coarse crumbs, etc. Paying attention to that size will impact your final product as well.
Here’s some basic rules you’ll want to follow:
1. Make sure the butter is COLD. I’m talking straight from the fridge cold. Even frozen is okay. You’ll want to take it out of the fridge right as you need it, and not before.
2. Cut the butter into small pieces first and then toss them separately into the flour making sure they each get covered in flour before you start “cutting”
There’s several ways to actually cut in the butter.
1. A Pastry Blender. This is my preferred method. It’s a tool made specifically for this purpose. It’s inexpensive and does the job both quickly and efficiently. You can also use it for lots of other things, including smashing potatoes, avocados, and bananas. Never seen one? It’s the tool used in the picture above. Maybe you even have one and didn’t know what it was!
2. Two Knives. Just move the knives in opposite directions actually cutting the butter or shortening. Also, a fork works.
3. Your Fingers. Just break the butter up with your fingers, while it’s in the flour. You do however have to be careful using your fingers because your body heat will warm up the butter and melt it a bit. But it works.
4. A Food Processor. Still pre-cut the butter into small pieces, and then pulse in processor until it’s the proper size.
5. Electric Mixer. And electric hand or stand mixer can actually work well too. You just have to be really careful that you don’t OVER mix. You still want butter in small pieces.
Want an excuse to practice?? Who doesn’t?