01 of 07
Get Yourself a Pastry Blender
How to Cut in Butter
"Cutting in" means incorporating the butter into the flour in such a way that little lumps of the raw butter remain whole within the flour mixture. When the dough is baked, these little lumps create separation in the structure of the product, which is what gives it that flaky consistency.
The easiest way to accomplish this is... with the simple tool, pictured here, called a pastry blender.Continue to 2 of 7 below.
02 of 07
Start With Cold Butter
Some bakers chill everything — the butter, the flour, even the bowl and other tools. Why? Flour contains proteins called glutens that stiffen up as a dough is mixed or kneaded. Cool temperatures slow down this stiffening, giving the baker more control over the process.
When it's warm, butter softens and blend in with the flour, so you get fewer of the little lumps and thus a less flaky texture, which is not what you want.Continue to 3 of 7 below.
03 of 07
Add the Butter to the Flour
It's important to measure your flour accurately because it's the ratio of butter to flour, and the way the lumps of butter blend in with the flour, that creates the flaky texture you want.
Sifting the flour helps ensure a uniform amount when you're measuring by volume. Unlike with liquids, the amount of flour in a cup depends on how tightly it's packed into the cup. A loosely packed cup has more flour in it than a tightly packed cup. Sifting helps eliminate that discrepancy to some... extent. And that's important, because if there's too much flour, the butter-to-flour ratio will be off, and your pastry won't be as flaky.
Ultimately, though, because baking is so precise in its ratios, professional bakers specify ingredients in weights rather than volumes. That way no matter whether the flour is sifted, tightly packed or somewhere in between, a pound is always a pound. Next page >>Continue to 4 of 7 below.
04 of 07
Press the Blades Into the Butter
The term "pastry blender" sounds like it should be some sort of electric kitchen appliance, or at least something with moving parts. But as you can see, it's a really simple device. The one pictured here cost less than $5.
Gripping the handle of the pastry blender, you're going to press the blades downward into the butter.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07
Cutting the Butter Into the Flour
See? Not hard at all. Cutting butter into flour is actually one of the easier kitchen tasks. Some people like to use a fork, or a pair of knives, or even their fingers, but a pastry blender makes it much easier. The problem with doing it by hand is that your fingers will warm up the butter too much. And it really does help to chill the pastry blender beforehand.Continue to 6 of 7 below.
06 of 07
Continue Until the Lumps are the Right Size
Some recipes will specify how big the lumps of butter should be. One might call for "pea-sized" lumps, while another says the flour mixture should resemble crumbs. Still others suggest a consistency resembling corn meal. But just remember, the flakier you want your pastry, the bigger the lumps need to be.Continue to 7 of 7 below.
07 of 07
Finished! The Butter Is Incorporated
You can see how the lumps of butter are still visible in the flour mixture. Lumps like this would qualify as "pea-sized."
At this stage, you can refrigerate the dry ingredients with the butter cut in and hold it for baking later. Once you add any wet ingredients like water, eggs, milk or whatever, you've got to finish the recipe and bake it right then, as the moisture will activate the leavening agents — your baking powder or baking soda, depending on the recipe.
NOTE: There's an alternative... technique: Making Flaky Pie Crust