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A pastry wheel is a tool which is used to cut, shape, or mold pastry. Pastry wheels come in a number of forms, from cutters which are designed to produce uniform strips of pastry to pie crimpers. Some companies even make the wheels with removable inserts, allowing bakers to choose from a number of options. If you do much baking, a pastry wheel is a very useful thing to have around, and well worth the cost, since these tools are generally inexpensive.
As the name implies, the wheel is designed to rotate. Generally, the tool consists of a handle which can be mounted to an axle which may hold something like a blade for cutting or a rotary crimper for producing a neat, uniform edge. The best pastry cutters have large, soft handles which make them easy to hold and use, and most are designed to be run through the dishwasher, reducing the risk of a buildup of butter and other pastry products.
One form of a pastry wheel is the crimper, which, as the name implies, crimps. Crimpers can be used to create fluted, ruffled edges while closing pastries like turnovers and pies. They can also, incidentally, be used to make ravioli, which classically have a crimped and ruffled edge. Most crimpers will cut in addition to crimping, when applied with enough pressure.
A pastry wheel can also hold a bladed cylinder which is used to cut pastry and pasta. Many have several blades, allowing bakers to cut a piece of dough into strips which can be used for lattice and decorations, and this design can also be used as a pasta cutter. Other pastry cutters have very wide blades which are meant to produce wide and uniform strips of pastry which can be used for a variety of tasks.
A single-bladed wheel can be used to quickly and cleanly cut through pastry, producing an even edge, and it can also be used to score pastry to create patterns and designs, or to leave air holes for venting. Some companies make pastry wheels with a two-wheeled design; depending on which side faces the pastry, bakers can crimp it, or cut it.
When cleaning a pastry wheel, watch out for patches of flour, which can adhere like glue to the wheel and the handle of this kitchen tool. If the wheel does become caked in flour, soak it and scrub it before attempting to wash it, to ensure that the flour does not turn into a crust which will be impossible to remove.
One of the handiest tools I have used when making pasta or working with dough is a five wheel pastry cutter. The benefit of using one with multiple wheels is you can cut strips faster and they work great with long pieces of pastry.
The one I use most often is stainless steel and also works great for cutting brownies. I am not always very good at cutting even pieces, so this helps marks off the squares or strips so they are all even.
Not only are pastry wheel cutters inexpensive to buy, but they are fun to use when making your own pie crust. They are lightweight and easy to use, and make it very easy to make air holes if you are making a double pie crust.
It doesn't really take any special know how to use one, just be creative and you can't really go wrong. I have always found working with dough and pastry of any kind to be relaxing, and using a pastry wheel lets you be more creative.
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