10 November 2011

KØKKEN/KITCHEN TIPS: Just Grate…to ‘Cut the Butter’!

The baking term to ‘cut in’ comes from the fact that you are adding a solid fat (ex: shortening / butter) into dry ingredients (ex: flour) to form small particles. This crucial step is how dough gets its flakiness and/or lightness. By forming these small pellets of coated flour, the formation of gluten is stalled which allows for small pockets air to form and thus, creating lighter layers to form. But, getting there can be easily meddled if the right step is not followed.

Here is a list of various techniques that have evolved for ‘cutting butter’
depending on whether you kick it old school or rely on modern appliances to ease your game:

Old Time Fingertip Technique:
This way always required one to have a very cold light touch in order to avoid melting the fat by our simple body temperature.
Possible butter meltdown, sticky fingers and inconsistent shapes.
Double-Knife Technique:
This way uses two knives like a pair of scissors with each hand holding a knife
and criss-crossing the blades through the cold butter.
Inconsistent shapes and a new found sense to open a teppanyaki restaurant and chop away .

Pastry Cutter Technique:

This way uses a tool that consists of a single handle made up of multiple narrow metal u-shaped strips.
With this tool, a rocking motion is used to press through the cold butter and cut the butter
into small pieces.  Hence, this technique is known as ‘cutting in’ the butter.
Tool gets jammed with butter as it has a tendency to get sticky from the friction of the wires cutting through it. Also, this is not very consistent.

Modern Food Processor Technique:
(no photo shown) This is the hands-free or as I like to call it, ‘whatever happens in the bowl mixer stays in the bowl’. Here one simple uses a blade paddle for breaking up the butter by pulse the mixture until you have a mealy crumb-like consistency. Result: Quick results with little involvement other than your finger pressing the button.
You have got it made…you are one with the 21st century and fingers are clean.

So, if you are like me and don’t use a food processor (in my case, the kitchen is too small to have one) I have another technique to share with you that may ease your buttery blues. Whether you cut it with a knife or use a pastry cutter, odds are that you never quite get your butter equally cut without it leaving a greasy mark on your hands or tools.

I use to always use a pastry cutter to chop up my butter into flour. But, it never failed me to get all clumped up between the blades even when using very cold butter. There had to be a better solution out there. Heck, there had to be something in my kitchen that would ease this process and also, make for more evenly distributed cut butter.

My ‘a-ha’ moment came one day when I was putting away some clean dishes and saw my IKEA metal shredder with plastic bowl attachment. I must have had butter on the brain because there was my little answer to all my buttery blues. With my lazy version of a Danish ‘weinerbrød’ pastry dough in mind for my rustic tart recipe, this was my opportunity to test my idea. It turned out to be a sweet easy step that I use every time now butter needs to be incorporated into a flour mixture. Sadly, my abandoned pastry cutter simply sits there replaced by this new way of cutting butter.

Here is my technique for preparing cut butter for use in Danish Pastry and other baked goods using a simple grater instead of a pastry cutter.

1: Place the butter in the freezer for about an hour or two to harden it (you can even put it in the freezer overnight). Use a shredder that fits over a bowl (I use this handy combination grater/bowl/lid set from IKEA). 
If you don’t have one like this, you can use any grater placed over a bowl. Preference for other type of grater would be a flat one; not a multi-sided one as the latter type would be difficult to remove any left-over shredded butter.
2: Using a knife, score along the foil/paper for the desired amount to use. Hint: use two separate sticks of butter for desired amount by dividing required amount by two. This allows you to have something to hold onto and prevents sticky fingers. (see below)IMG_0756IMG_0758


3: With grater in place over bowl, take butter by the wrapper and begin grating the butter into the bowl. (see below)

4:  Scrape any extra butter from the underside of the grater with a knife into the bowl. Cover the bowl of grated butter. Return the now grated butter to the freezer and it will be ready to incorporate into your flour mixture…within an hour or so.

This step can be done before you start any baking project that requires one to incorporate cold butter into your flour..

Article resources:

IKEA: CHOSIGT - Grater with container  http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/50153180/


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