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A dough blender, also called a pastry cutter, is used to incorporate butter into flour when you are making pastry. This process is often called cutting, since you tend to use cold and unsoftened butter, resulting in a flakier and more tender pie or pastry crust. If you make pies, biscuits, or any type of pastry, you’re likely to want a good dough blender on hand to help you do the work.
The bottom of the dough blender is a U shape, with three to five curved metal wires, through which the butter can be cut into the flour, resulting in the crumbly, corn meal texture that’s most desired before you add a liquid. The top of the dough blender is usually a straight handle, which can be made of metal, plastic, or wood. The whole shape looks a U with a line across it at the top.
A feature bakers may find handy when using a pastry cutter is a small, extended tab on one side that you can press your thumb into for greater stability in cutting the butter and manipulating the pastry dough. It also gives you the ability to press a little harder, making quick work of incorporating butter and flour. You can certainly get away with a dough blender that doesn’t have this feature, but many people who frequently make pastry prefer it.
The dough blender may very well be one of those kitchen tools bound to become archaic to some. Many people now blend dough in a food processor or in a stand mixer instead. These do work, but they are expensive. Further, you really shouldn’t incorporate liquids into the dough via food processor or mixer. It’s too easy to overmix the dough and create glutinous dough, which will result in a tougher crust. In these cases, at least remove the mixed flour, butter, and sometimes sugar from the processor or mixer, and add the liquid with either a few turns of the hand to quickly incorporate it, or you can use a dough blender.
If you don’t have a pastry cutter, or any type of mixer, you can use a fork, two knives or even your hands to make pastry. But there’s little reason not to get a dough blender. They’re quite economical, and you can find inexpensive ones, even at the grocery store for $3-5 US dollars (USD). If you want a slightly more durable one, especially with the thumb press feature, expect to pay about $10 USD.