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So this past weekend I encountered a peculiar line in a recipe which I am hoping someone with more cooking knowledge than me can shed light on

Combine flour, brown sugar, and a pinch of salt in another bowl. Using two knives, work cold butter, cut into pieces, into flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle mixture evenly over blueberries.

What I ended up doing whats putting everything into a pyrex bowl and pathetically hacking at the butter chunks until my wrists hurt. My question is two-fold:

1) Why? I assume the recipe has some justification for why two knives are the appropriate tool.

2) Is there a particular technique one should use when "working" the mixture?

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You need to incorporate the butter into the flour such that the butter is in hazelnut sized lumps, without melting the butter. If you chop it that small on a board it will soften as you handle it. So you have to do it in the bowl.

You could buy a pastry cutter/dough blender but to be honest they are a pain in the wrist. If you have a food processor, you have a perfect pastry making tool - just blitz the butter and flour with a couple of pulses, then dribble in some cold water, blitz again, and repeat until you have a coherent (but not too sticky) dough with the aforementioned hazelnut sized lumps of butter mixed through.

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  • You might've missed something - with two knives you don't just hack with them separately.
    – Cascabel
    Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 13:21
  • Also, are you trying to say pastry blenders are worse than knives, or just that food processors are easier? I know it can be hard work with a pastry blender but knives seem like they take forever!
    – Cascabel
    Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 15:35
  • Oh, pastry blenders are better than knives, but they are still hard work. The tines bend, they get clogged easily, and they're uncomfortable to work with. But still better than two knives. Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 18:22
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    Pastry blenders aren't that difficult to use. I use them not just for dough. They are as good as a whisk for mixing dry ingredients for a batter; I'll grab whichever tool is closest to where I am working. I can't recall other things I have used it for, but it is worth having around. The food processor is my goto dough maker lately, assuming I don't want to break out the KitchenAid. EDIT: I would NEVER use a knife in a bowl, glass or plastic. I would be VERY upset if my knives were used that way.
    – JSM
    Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 23:21
  • They're not difficult, they're just a PITA. Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 7:07
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You don't stir with the knives; the process is called 'cutting in'.

You can find videos showing how to do it, but the basic technique is:

  • cut the butter into smaller bits
  • toss the butter bits into the flour mixture.
  • hold a knife in either hand
  • pull the knives across each other, while keeping them touching the bottom of the bowl.

You can also hold your non-dominant hand still, and pull the other knife in your dominant hand across it, but it'll take a little longer.

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  1. Using knives is an old fashioned way to "cut butter." Which really means make the butter into smaller pieces that are then coated with flour. The best way I've found is to skip knives, pastry blenders, or the mess of my food processor, and instead freeze the butter and instead use a box grater, shredding the butter on the largest hole side.

  2. Shred the butter on top of the flour and mix with hands working the butter into the flour until you have the consistency your recipe calls for. The frozen butter won't melt fast enough in your hands to over soften.

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