Pastry Blender: An Essential Kitchen Tool
Do You Need a Pastry Blender?
I usually make biscuits from scratch on a weekly basis. To make proper biscuits, you need to cut some kind of fat into the flour--usually butter, margarine, or lard.
Now, there are two ways to cut butter into a flour mixture: You can do it bit by bit with two knives, or you can do it efficiently with a pastry blender.
I can say from experience that cutting butter into flour using two knives is a pain. It's a slow and painstaking process, and it was always my least favorite part of making biscuits. The pastry blender cuts my work down quite a bit! It's one kitchen tool I use all the time.
What Does it Mean to "Cut" Butter Into a Flour Mixture, and What's the Point?
Let's talk about butter for a minute. Until it melts, it's a solid. Now let's say you need to mix it up with some flour or sugar. But how do you mix a solid stick of butter into a flour mixture?
You could melt the butter, but unless the recipe tells you to do that, it's a bad idea. Little crumbs of butter or fat are what help give pastries a delicate, flaky texture. The only way to achieve this is by cutting up the fat into little pieces. You can do this with two knives, or you can make short work of it by using a pastry blender.
A pastry blender is a device that has a handle-grip and parallel prongs or blades to help cut up the butter. Just dump the stick of butter into the flour mixture and start mashing it with the pastry blender.
What to Look For in a Pastry Blender
A pastry blender should feel good in your hand, and it should also feel solid. As simple as this tool is, some manufacturers have managed to botch up the design. Maybe the handle falls apart, or the screws keep coming loose while you're using it. Maybe the metal bars get all bent out of shape after you mash one stick of butter. A cheap but defective kitchen tool will cost more in the long run, since you'll end up replacing it.
If you buy a pastry blender online, it's a good idea to see if anyone has left reviews. If you see a lot of good reviews, chances are you'll be pleased with it.
Although price isn't the only indicator of quality, it's generally true that you get what you pay for. You can expect to pay anywhere between 8 to 12 bucks for a decent pastry blender. Some of the really high end ones can cost nearly $20!
Blades or Wires?
There are two different kinds of pastry blenders: One has the solid blades, the other has semi-flexible wires. What are the advantages to using one over the other?
The blades tend to be more solid and cut through cold butter more easily. Many people find the wire pastry blenders too flexible and difficult to use. The one possible advantage that the wire cutters have is that they are slightly easier to clean.
Go for the blade pastry cutter. It makes life easier.