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Cutting Butter Into Flour--What Instrument Do You Use and Why for Pie Dough

Do you use a pastry cutter or something else? Thank you

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  1. Don't have a food processor and pasty blender doesn't work for me- it just seems to lump up. I use a fork with larger tines than a regular fork. Don't know where i got it. I think it may have been my grandmother's.

    1 Reply
    1. re: vafarmwife

      Those are actually called granny forks! I suspect yours is old and much cooler, but here's the modern incarnation:

    2. I use a pastry cutter but in the past used a fork or fingers.

      1. I use a pastry cutter. It works a lot better for me than forks.

        1. Use my FP for pastry dough. You might want to ask SC for one for Xmas! I use it constantly, couldn't be without it, they have really come down in price.

          1. I don't really want a Food Processor (*gasp) but I do know what
            you mean about the pastry blender (of which I have 2 )
            after I get most of the butter incorporated I usually crumble the
            bigger blobs in with my fingers till it is the consistency I like.

            I think I may put that Granny Fork on my Christmas wish list !!
            Thanks for the links splatgirl !!!! :-)

            BTW, I am hoping my SC brings me a Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer though.
            Sorry, don't mean to highjack...

            1. Pastry blender; it's a no brainer. More effective than two knives crossed against one another or fork, easier to clean than a food processor, (goes into dishwasher) less expensive, takes less space to store, does a good job.

              1 Reply
              1. re: todao

                I have one of these, I use it, but the blades are constantly getting bent and I spend a lot of time straightening them out. Wish they used stronger metal. I use a combination of the pastry blender and my hands.

              2. I use an old wire pastry cutter. I have to scrape it with a butter knife every so often, but it gets the job done.

                1. Since reading it in Cook's Illustrated, I have frozen the butter, then grated it on the large holes of a box grater. Then toss it into the flour with a fork, and do some fraisage hand work on the dough once the water is added. I have a Cuisinart but this is better. You really want streaks of
                  butter that form tiny layers. The steam escaping from these streaks is what makes a crust flaky.
                  No way you can achieve those streaks with a processor.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: greygarious

                    This technique works like a charm and has gone a long way to assuaging my fear of pie crust.

                    1. re: greygarious

                      This is what I do with the butter, then I scatter the previously cubed and frozen shortening onto the flour, and use a pastry cutter to make sure the shortening is in small pieces and dispersed.

                      1. re: greygarious

                        Another vote for big-hole grating frozen butter, followed by brief pastry cutter session. Want to try fraisage, but have been stopped up to now by injunctions against overhandling, heating up the butter, etc.

                        1. re: ellabee

                          I do frisage. I work so fast, that the pie crust is quite cool as I do it. I feel it helps everything hang together.

                          1. re: roxlet

                            i do frisage after food processor

                        2. re: greygarious

                          wow! i are a genius. i came up with this method a few summers ago, lol. it does work like a charm.

                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                            hotoynoodle, I am confused (as always), what method are you talking about???

                        3. Food processor because it so quick and easy, but if doing by hand, I prefer a pastry blender, but have used two table knives many, many times when I did not have a pastry blender. That works fine for me, but takes a little longer than using a pastry blender. As for cleanup, it's a wash, as the FP parts can also go in the dishwasher.

                          1. I don't make pie dough often, but for other things that require cutting solid fat into flour, I use a roux whisk.

                            1. I use a pastry cutter now, but when I was young and poor, I just used two paring knives and cut crosswise.

                              People in the middle ages made pie. You don't *need* a food processor.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: 512window

                                People in the middle ages also lived with central heating or air conditioning.

                                We *don't* need either but should we live without them?

                                1. re: 512window

                                  Not to quibble, because I agree with you, but pie dough in the middle ages was most often used as a sort of lid to seal in a stew. When it was ready, the dough was broken open and the contents spooned out. The pastry itself was rock hard and wasn't usually eaten. However, this wasn't because they lacked FPs, but because they had a different idea of the use of pie crust.

                                  And I usually use a pastry cutter, too, unless I've already got the fp out for some reason. Come to think of it, I need to replace my pastry cutter.

                                  1. re: Isolda

                                    Whatever works for you (and everyone else) is just dandy. Some folks are purists & some want the latest gadget. Roland Parker is just as "right" as the rest of us. I will admit sometimes I could commit hari kari trying to figure out was is actually "right" for me. I am at the stage of my life where I have collected all the "must haves" in the kitchen & now want to kinda minimize & get back to basics...& then I look at that big bulky Kitchen Aid & just say to myself...."come here Big Mamma & mix it up good". Love you all for taking the time to post, quibble, cuss & discuss...it's ALL fun!!!!!!!!!!!

                                2. I just use my hands. Quicker to wash up than my food processor, and I have cold hands.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: serah

                                    Me, too, on both accounts -- I have friends who have warm hands, and they end up using knives/fork/cutter because their hands melt the fat.

                                    My grandmother had cold hands, but she always used two table knives held in one hand.

                                  2. Pastry cutter, but I found that technique is more important than the tool. I push down with the pastry cutter, and then I do a 1/4 turn twist--seems to help incorporate the butter better into the flour.

                                    1. I've used a fork, a pastry cutter, the food processor. It all depends on the amount I'm making, what is easiest and clean. I never use fingers, as the point is to keep the fat cold for pastry.

                                      1. I use my kitchenaid. Sounds weird, but it works for me. I cut the butter into small chunks (about 1/4-1/2") toss with the flour to coat, and pour in the water while the mixer runs, just until it's dough-like, about 10-20 seconds. I do the same for my quick puff, but with larger chunks. I then turn it out, smash it together, and roll it out. Turns out better this way than any other I've tried

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: sarahjay

                                          Yes. The evidence:


                                          The biggest advantage to this is that the water moistens the dough faster and prevents overworking.

                                        2. Depending on how many I am making I either use my Kitchen Aid, or my Hobart A-120. I make the old Spry water whip crusts though that use shortening instead of butter.

                                          3/4 C shortening
                                          1 tbl milk
                                          1tsp salt
                                          1/2 C boiling water
                                          2C flour

                                          I put the milk, salt, and shortening in the mixer , and whip till it looks like whipped cream. Add the boiling water and whip again till it looks like whipped cream. Add the flour, and bump till it is cut in. Makes 2 - 9" crusts.

                                          I recently picked up a vintage USA made (Foley, or Ekco can't remember which at the moment) pastry cutter at a thrift store to try out on other recipes. Mom used a Foley fork which I have now. They are a wide tine fork which has the tines kicked sideways at an approximately 45 degree angle. If you can find one grab it, they work great for a lot of things.

                                          1. Partially freeze, then use knife and hand.

                                            1. As someone who used to struggle with this :) the following two steps have been critical for me:
                                              1. I cut the sticks of butter into tiny cubes, tranfer to plastic wrap and wrap gently, and stick in the freezer until very firm (I'd guess about 15-30m, but I'm usually measuring/prepping stuff during this time so I can't say for sure). If you just chill/freeze the whole sticks I find the butter is already softening by the time you're done cutting.

                                              2. To combine/cut the butter and flour I use a Williams-Sonoma pastry cutter AND a chilled fork and knife. I got the W-S pastry cutter as gift and it's the only one I've ever used, so while I can't vow that it's better than others, it works very well and I think what's important is that it's stainless steel with pretty thick, hefty blades. I use the cutter, then quickly target very large lumps/squashed bits with the chilled fork & knife (in a steak cutting motion).

                                              I've found the above to be an easy, consistent way of cutting the butter without it getting too soft.

                                              5 Replies
                                              1. re: Jennlax27iga0

                                                Ever since I found the French boiling water crust, I've never cut butter into flour. This is just too easy and pleasant.

                                                1. re: oakjoan

                                                  oakjoan, is that anything like the one I posted above?

                                                  1. re: BIGGUNDOCTOR

                                                    She can correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm betting oakjoan is talking about this: http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2009/05/...

                                                    1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                                      Yikes, I hope not. French pastry dough is not the same thing at all as American style pie dough.

                                                      1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                                        Thank you, Caitlin. So many good ideas come from David Lebovitz.

                                                2. I use a pastry blender, but I put my ingredients in a really large bowl & then use a "chopping" up & down on a portion of ingredients, then push that pile aside & then chop in another portion of the ingredients, that is why the big bowl comes in handy. Just chop enough times so that all shortening/butter has some flour on it, the less the dough is worked, the better it will be. I don't worry about what size the lumps are, it will drive you nuts if you fret over the size, I never could come up with that "pea" size thing.

                                                  1. If I'm using butter and not shortening, then I use a food processor. I find that with hard, cold, butter, a pastry blender won't cut down into the butter, it just kind of splays around it. Only a food processor will really CUT the cold butter.

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: Avalondaughter

                                                      Stand mixer! It really is the best tool for the job.

                                                      1. re: Avalondaughter

                                                        Avalondaughter, I believe now we are coming down to the nitty gritty of what works & doesn't work in all these different ingredients/ methods of blending & whatnot. I would read a recipe & it said to use a food processor, then I would try a different recipe & use a food processor & it just did not work. Then I would go to a pastry blender & a new recipe & that would not work either! Now I can see why folks are so confused about making pie crusts. So many variables & some don't always mesh. You gave many of us an "enlightened moment" here. That is why pastry blenders don't work with one recipe & food processors don't work with another. Maybe crumbling up with the fingers for both butter & shortening/lard would eliminate that problem, or have I just thrown another spoon into the pot? Does this mean "fingers" won't work since they can't be stuck in the fridge to get cold or what? I think I am going crazy over this whole thing. I will never sort this out in my mind. I think I need to go sit in front of the fireplace & have a little nip of wine to clear my head. What if the recipe calls for both butter & shortening???? I am outta here!!!!

                                                        1. re: cstout

                                                          Keep in mind that people have been making pie crusts for hundreds of years, with all kinds of equipment, all kinds of ingredients, and all kinds of recipes, and most of them were somewhere from not too bad to pretty darned good.

                                                          Relax. It's just pie crust.

                                                          The ingredients are cheap -- so you can practice without guilt. Start by baking them blind (with no fillings) -- get some beans or pie weights...when you have a good empty pie shell, then you're off and running.

                                                          If's it's crummy, toss it out and start over. If it's good, enjoy.

                                                          And while you're learning -- Pillsbury makes a pretty acceptable crust...no shame in using a premade.

                                                      2. I've used fingers, forks, knives, pastry cutters, but my current favorite method is using a food processor. It's quicker and cleaner.

                                                        4 Replies
                                                        1. re: dave_c

                                                          dave, what recipe do you use with the food processor?

                                                          1. re: cstout

                                                            Hi... I use a basic pie crust recipe and a lot of pulsing. I believe there's a video on YouTube of Alton Brown making a pie crust.

                                                            My basic recipe
                                                            2 1/2 C AP Flour (I take out 1 tablespoon for dusting the crust during rolling)
                                                            1 Cup of Shortening (or use a 50/50 shortening to butter ratio)
                                                            1/2 teaspoon salt
                                                            1/4 Cup of ice water (sometimes less and sometimes a touch more)

                                                            I try to keep the ratio simple so I can remember... for example
                                                            2 1/2 reminds me to start with 2 and 1/2 each measure.
                                                            2, 1, 1/2, 1/4. It works for me... lol

                                                            1. re: dave_c

                                                              I just want to comment here that the OP specified butter. Pie crust with shortening is a whole different world.

                                                              1. re: JudiAU

                                                                Oops! You are correct. For an all butter crust, I would definitely use a food processor and frozen butter chunks.

                                                          1. Hands. Takes longer, but you have absolute control. And you develop Popeye forearms, so there's that, too.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: kebyar

                                                              Yep, kebyar, I think your hands are the most important tool in the piecrust world...thanks for getting us back to the basics.

                                                            2. Highly recommended reading for people stressing over piecrusts: Teresa Lust's Pass the Polenta. There's a chapter titled "Easy as Pie," which essentially commends a simple, old-fashioned approach.

                                                              1. Well, first I cut the butter into big chunks and toss them into the flour, and then I either use my hard plastic scraper or my fingers to bend them into the flour. The scraper is nice. Half of its surface is hard and the other side is soft. Needless to say, I use the hard side to cut butter.


                                                                2 Replies
                                                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                  That looks like such a cool tool! But it it says ITEM NO LONGER AVAILABLE next to it :-(

                                                                  1. re: sandylc

                                                                    :) I am sure there are probably other similar tools elsewhere. If I see another one, then I will let you know.

                                                                2. I usually use a pastry cutter, but there are a few recipes where I use the food processor and pulse a few times.

                                                                  1. After many years of experience, I now almost always use my kitchenaid mixer with the whisk attachment. I love the way it creates both big lumps of butter (critical with all butter pie dough) and totally incorporates other pieces. I then slightly flatten the big pieces with my fingers. I mix in a third of the water with the mixer (just two quick rounds) and the rest with the fork. It is better incorporated than just mixing with a fork and I can use a little bit less water than just with a fork.

                                                                    All butter dough is trickier to work with than butter + nasty fake fat and using the mixer really improves the quality of my pie dough.

                                                                    I never use a food processor though. Not a good choice for butter pie dough alhtough I really like it for other dough purposes.

                                                                    1. Kitchen Aid mixer--paddle, not whip. I've made piecrust this way for over 3 decades. Works like a charm.

                                                                      3 Replies
                                                                      1. re: sueatmo

                                                                        sueatmo, Thank you for your support! It works much better than the processor, doesn't it? The mixing in of the water is handled better by the Kitchenaid - it distributes the water more efficiently, preventing overworking of the dough.

                                                                        1. re: sandylc

                                                                          I've never tried the food processor, although I have always assumed it would work OK. But the Kitchen Aid does a really good job, and I can control how much I mix. This is something I will never change. I hadn't thought about the water, but you are right. And it does a good job with butter or shortening distribution too.

                                                                          1. re: sueatmo

                                                                            The problem with the processor is that you have to blend it too long and hard to mix in the water, or else dump out the flour/fat mixture and mix in the water by hand - not good!

                                                                            BTW, from your name I assume that you are in MO - my kid just graduated from school in MO and had a great experience!

                                                                      2. Pastry cutter, absolutely! It's less mess than a food processor, faster than 2 knives and keeps the fat colder than rubbing it in with your fingers as a lot of my older recipes suggest. Mine looks like this:


                                                                        I had a wire one but it seemed to bend and tangle too easily! The "blades" of mine are far sturdier, and as I like to actually freeze the butter, this cuts right through so everything stays cold. Plus, I make a lot of "small-batch" pastry (I have yet to master a regular-size pie crust that stays flaky and doesn't get tough!) and my recipe calls for butter rather than shortening or lard. With my cutter, I don't have to dirty the food processor for an itty-bitty pie!