What you use for shortening depends on the recipe, your personal taste, and your storage situation. Butter adds flavor, and dough products baked with butter are flatter and crispier. A crust baked with shortening is lighter, but not as flavorful. Lots of expert bakers combine the two. There’s nothing wrong with a little experimentation.
In any case, whether you go with vegetable shortening, lard, or butter, the cut-in technique is the same. Before you begin, make sure the shortening is chilled but not too cold. You should be able to mold it with your fingers.
1Mix the dry ingredients, including flour, according to your recipe.
2Cut the shortening into chunks, about the size of a big olive.
3Drop all your shortening chunks into the dry ingredients. Mix the shortening with your fingers so that each piece gets coated with dry ingredients.
4Scoop up some of the coated pieces and loose flour. Rub the shortening pieces through your fingers, breaking them into smaller pieces. Alternatively, you can get yourself a pastry blender. It’s a little handheld tool with some blades—not an appliance. Press the blender blades into the shortening chunks and flour.
5Repeat step 6 until the mixture is loose and crumbly and resembles coarse meal. Different-sized pieces of shortening, plus a small amount of loose flour, create the ideal texture, especially for piecrust. Your recipe will tell you how big your shortening clumps should be.