A useful tool for cutting solid fat into flour and other dry ingredients, pastry blenders are a boon for those who are (or who want to be) in the habit of making their own pie crust, biscuits, and other pastry on a regular basis. Sure, you can make fantastic pastry with little more than a bowl and your fingers or a couple of forks, but a pastry blender can help things move much more quickly, and since most pastry requires that cold butter stay cold, speed is everything.
How do you use a pastry blender? The general idea is to have your fat very cold, cut into smallish pieces, and tossed with your dry ingredients in a large bowl. Use the pastry blender to repeatedly press down into the ingredients, cutting the fat into smaller pieces with each repetition. Some people use just this up and down motion, but I find it is more efficient to add a 45 degree turn at the bottom of each cutting motion to keep the fat from clumping together at the bottom of the bowl. You will likely have to stop a few times during blending to remove fat buildup from the pastry blender, keeping in mind that though the blades are rather blunt, you can still cut yourself if you catch them just right. Be careful.
Pastry blenders are generally inexpensive and easy to find. You want one with solid, sturdy blades made of stainless steel. Skip over the ones with wire blades that bend at the mere suggestion of cutting through cold butter. Mine has a little thumb tab on it for added leverage, which is a nice touch, but isn’t necessary. I prefer the stainless steel handles, as the larger molded or wooden handles are a bit bulky for my hands, but more often than not, the molded handles are more comfortable for people. Most are fashioned to work equally well for right and left-handed people, but some are made specifically for either preference, so make sure you’re getting one that works for you when you purchase one.