Essential Tools

Inessential Tool: Pastry Blender

September  9, 2015

As home cooks, we rely on our instincts, our knowledge, and our curiosities—but we also have to rely on our tools. Some we couldn't cook without (knives, pots, pans). Others we don't necessarily need, but sure are glad we have around. Here, we talk about those trusty, albeit inessential, tools.

Today: Forget pie crust—wait, actually don't, but a pastry blender can do so much more. 

Pastry Blender

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This past November, I was in Italy, at pastry school. Making croissants, mille-feuille, and croquembouches was a daily occurence. The recipes weren't easy, but required little more than repetition, memorization, and early mornings covered in flour. Elbows deep in pastry dough, I never would’ve guessed that mashed potatoes would almost be my undoing. But let’s back up.

More: How to make mashed potatoes without a recipe.

It was a week before Thanksgiving when my host mom called me to say she ordered a turkey. I would be cooking it, along with the rest of the meal. It wasn't a question. When your host family asks you to make Thanksgiving americano, you just say, “si” and go about your merry pumpkin pie-making way. But when they tell you 20 people will be coming for dinner and you’ve never touched a turkey before, you can—and will—freak out. It was, in a word, terrifying. Never mind that Italians don’t celebrate the holiday, that they had no clue what stuffing was, that the turkey came with all its feathers, or that my grasp of the language was moderate at best: The spuds sent me soaring into an almost-meltdown.

I peeled, cut, and boiled the potatoes and warmed the cream and butter. They were the last thing on the Thanksgiving to-do list. But, wait—rifling through cabinets for the better part of an hour in my host family’s unfamiliar kitchen, there was nary a potato ricer or masher in sight. And then I saw it: a pastry blender. I set to mashing the potatoes like I would cut butter into flour.

Sure, they weren’t the creamy, platonic ideal, but the coarse potato mash was rich with cream, butter, and thinly sliced chives. It was delicious—and the Italians knew no difference.

Fast-forward several months and I see Food52’s Test Kitchen Manager, Derek, using a pastry blender to mash red-skinned potatoes. “Ingenious,” I thought, and memories of Thanksgiving past came flooding back. Which got me thinking, testing, and cooking: What can this handheld blender not do?

A pastry blender makes me feel like one mean mashing machine—able to tackle potatoes, chickpeas, and pie crusts with equal gusto. It fits nicely in my hand and even more nicely in my overpacked kitchen cabinet. Here are my favorite ways to use a pastry blender:

    

  • Let’s start with the obvious: cutting butter into pie crusts, biscuits, and scones. It’s what the tool’s made for—and there’s a reason for that. Turning chunks of butter into pea-sized bits is supremely satisfying.
  • I like to partially mash potato salad. A pastry blender’s steel blades cut perfectly through the skin, while still leaving a bit of texture and exposing more surface area for the mayonnaise to cling to.

  • When I saw this Instagram from Molly Yeh, I knew I was onto something. Sure, you could go at egg salad with a fork, but a pastry blender is much more efficient and will get you to the creaminess you want faster.
  • Chickpea salad used to be annoying. Mashing and chasing chickpeas with a fork is no one’s idea of fun. A pastry blender takes care of this, cutting through the beans faster than you can say “garbanzo.”

  

  • As a former vegetarian, my love for tofu runs deep—uncooked, deep-fried, grilled, or scrambled. The latter (paired with some tempeh bacon, please) is one helluva satisfying breakfast. Here’s a pro tip: Use a pastry blender to break apart that soy block pre-scrambling. It’ll give you sizeable chunks that brown perfectly in the pan.
  • If you like smooth guacamole, a pastry blender will be your new go-to mashing tool. Avocado doesn’t stand a chance against these blades of glory.

Photo of pastry blender by Bobbi Lin

 Have an unexpected use for the pastry blender? Tell us in the coments below!

5 Comments

Christine September 28, 2016
I have used it to chop up cooked ground meat for sloppy joes, tacos and have used for egg salad too.
 
Maralyn September 10, 2015
I couldn't do without my pastry blender. I've had one for more than 50 years and my mom always had one too. Besides all the uses mentioned I do what my mom did and use it to slightly mash strawberries for strawberry shortcake.
 
Sarah J. September 9, 2015
Thank you for all the smart suggestions! This makes me feel VERY justified in buying one.
 
SophieL September 9, 2015
I gladly sacrificed precious drawer space for my pastry blender, which I'd owned for over 25 years and used only for cutting butter into flour. The tool felt so comfortable in my hand and always did a great job. Now I know other uses for this tool and will be bringing it out more often. Thanks!
 
Smaug September 9, 2015
I got by for years cutting in butter with a knife, but I would still consider a pastry blender pretty essential- I'd much rather do without a food processor.