How to Cut Butter Into Flour

  • 01 of 07

    Get Yourself a Pastry Blender

    Pastry Blender
    lovelihood/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    How to Cut in Butter

    Often a recipe will call for you to "cut in" butter or shortening — usually when making biscuits, scones, or some other pastry that needs to be flaky.

    "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...MORE 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

    How To Cut In Butter
    Start with cold butter. Photo © Danilo Alfaro

    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.

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  • 03 of 07

    Add the Butter to the Flour

    How To Cut In Butter
    Add the butter to the flour. Photo © Danilo Alfaro

    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...MORE 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 >>

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  • 04 of 07

    Press the Blades Into the Butter

    How To Cut In Butter
    Press the blades into the butter. Photo © Danilo Alfaro

    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.

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  • 05 of 07

    Cutting the Butter Into the Flour

    How To Cut In Butter
    "Cutting" the butter into the flour. Photo © Danilo Alfaro

    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.

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  • 06 of 07

    Continue Until the Lumps are the Right Size

    How To Cut In Butter
    Continue until the lumps are the right size. Photo © Danilo Alfaro

    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.

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  • 07 of 07

    Finished! The Butter Is Incorporated

    How To Cut In Butter
    Finished! The butter is incorporated. Photo © Danilo Alfaro

    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...MORE alternative technique: Making Flaky Pie Crust