The Rubbing-in Method in baking

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What is the rubbing-in method in baking? When is this best to be used? Read the answers in this post below.



 

One of the first mixing methods that I learned was the rubbing in method. When I worked at a bakery, it was one of my daily jobs to make scones each day. And by making scones, I mean making at least 12 batches by hand using the rubbing in method.

So yes I guess me and this mixing method go way back. Let me just say, if you want really nice arms, make 12 batches of scones by hand and skip the gym! You’re welcome.

But we’re not talking about nice triceps today, we’re talking about how to make flaky, tender biscuits and scones using this super easy baking method.

The Rubbing-in method

The rubbing-in method, or also known as the biscuit method, or cutting in method, in baking is commonly used for making shortcrust pastries, pie crust, biscuits, crumbles, and scones. It is called the rubbing-in method because we rub the fat into the dry ingredients mixture using our fingertips.

When the flour mixes with water, it makes gluten, which is stretchy protein that provides structure to our baked goods. But if our dough becomes overworked then too much gluten forms and can create a tough, chewy baked good. So by using our fingertips, we can ensure that we don’t overwork the dough.

Using our finger tips, we will rub the butter or fat into the flour. The flour is then coated in the fat, preventing gluten from forming once the liquid is added. The fat acts a barrier preventing gluten formation from occurring. This means less gluten is formed, which means tender baked goods in the end! Hooray for baking science!

Now if you don’t want to use your finger tips, or have warm hands, you can also use a pastry cutter, or pastry blender as it’s also called, to work the butter and flour together. I love using a pastry cutter so I can keep my hands clean and my butter cold!

See Also:

  • Improve your baking by learning one of the most commonly used methods in baking, the whisking method, that can be used in so many of your baking recipes.
  • The all in one method for baking is the best method for new bakers to learn how to make easy cakes and loaf breads.
  • Did you know that the melting method in baking is an easy method to make fudgy chocolate cakes and brownies?
bowl of cut up butter and flour with a pastry cutter in it

Cutting In Method

The rubbing in method is also called the cutting in method, because by rubbing the butter into the flour, the fat is going to be cutting through the gluten strands that form once the flour becomes hydrated.

By cutting through the gluten strands, it creates for a tender crumb in the end.

Preparing to Bake Using the Rubbing-In Method

plate of sliced butter chunks
  • Clean surface or bowl to work with: To prepare for baking using the rubbing-in method, we need a clean surface or bowl to place our dry ingredients where we will be rubbing our chosen fat, usually butter.
  • Cold fat: You want to make sure your fat, usually butter, but other fats can also be used such as lard or vegetable shortening to be cold. If the butter is too warm, then it will become absorbed into the flour instead of stay in small pieces.
  • Fat cut into small cubes: You also want to make sure to start with the fat cubed or cut into small pieces to start to easily work into the flour.
  • Have rest of ingredients ready: We would also need all the other dry ingredients that are needed or called for in the recipe. If your recipe calls for some kneading such as pies, you may want to prepare your rolling pin as well.

The rubbing-in method: up close

hand rubbing butter into the flour
  1. Start with cold fat. The rubbing method requires only our finger tips. To start, we have to cut our cold butter into smaller cubes. Remember not to use melted butter or room temperature butter. We want our butter to stay cold until it hits the oven.

    Those visible pieces of butter will stay solid and not get absorbed into the flour, which is what we want. It’s not until our pastries are in the oven is when the butter, or fat will melt, and create steam. The steam will then escape from our dough, creating flaky layers.

  2. Add cold fat to the flour. Once you have the dry ingredients measured out into your bowl, add the cold fat. I like to toss the butter into the flour mixture, to coat the butter before rubbing it in. This will keep the butter off your finger tips, and help add some air to the mixture.
  3. Cut the butter into the flour. You want to then use your finger tips and squish the butter pieces into smaller pieces. During hot days when our fingertips are more moist than usual, we can use the food processor or pastry cutter to do the rubbing in for us. You want the butter to still stay visible and solid. In the end you should have a crumbly mixture, that resembles breadcrumbs with some bigger pieces of butter the size of small peas.
  4. Add remaining ingredients. Once the butter has been rubbed into the flour, you can proceed with the rest of the recipe. After this, you can incorporate the egg mixture or the wet ingredients that your recipe requires. Prepare it for kneading and for baking in the oven.

Pro Tip: Shake the mixing bowl back and forth. This will help the big pieces you haven’t rubbed in yet to float to the top.

Baking recipes best for the rubbing-in method

pie plate filled with buttermilk biscuits and a knife on top

As mentioned, the rubbing-in method is best for making a shortcrust pastry, scone, pie crust, and other baked goods.

Other baking methods

slice of pound cake on a plate
  1. Creaming method

    Making some pound cake or butter cake? Then the creaming method is perfect for it.
  2. Whisking method

    Also known as the egg foaming method, the eggs and sugar are whisked together to create an airy mixture that are then turned into so many delicious cakes and desserts, like angel food cake, meringues, or pavlovas.
  3. Melting method

    If you want a method that is best for moist and rich cake making, The melting method is best for it. Just make sure you do not miss the baking powder so the cake will rise perfectly.
  4. All in one method

    This method is the easiest because it just needs all the ingredients to be mixed in a bowl.
  5. Muffin Method

    This method involves two mixing bowls and very little effort. You can use this method to make easy quick breads, muffins and cakes.
  6. Reverse Creaming method

    The reverse creaming method is another method used to make cakes. The butter is combined with the dry ingredients first. Then the liquid ingredients and eggs are added after. By combining the ingredients this way, the gluten development doesn’t happen right away creating for a tender crumb.
  7. Rubbing method

    The rubbing method is best used for biscuits, crumbles, pies, and scones. To do this, you take a cold fat, usually butter, and cut it into small cubes. Then, using your fingertips, carefully rub the butter into the dry mixture.
whole apple pie on a wire rack

FAQs

How long does the rubbing-in method take?

It can be done in five minutes. We do not need to spend too much time rubbing the fat in the flour because we might make the fat too warm.

What if I used my whole palm instead of just using my fingertips?

The reason why we use our fingertips is that it creates moisture and helps the dough to rise. This creates a light crumb that is best for certain types of pastries. If we use our palms in rubbing the fat into the dry mixture, it will soften the batter.

dish of blackberry cobbler and a bowl of cobbler with ice cream on top

Final Thoughts

The rubbing-in method is best to create a crumbly or flaky texture. Because of this, it is best to use in pies, scones, and other shortbread recipes. If done properly, this method will result to a wonderful crust that everyone will love.



 

2 Comments

  1. Linda Polloc,k says:

    Have I invented a new “rub in” method? I doubt it. I use a large spoon and actually press the room temp or cut slices of cold butter into the flour mixture before folding in the liquids (it helps keep the butter cold). Now I know what to call what I have been doing for years to create my flaky short dough’s. I use it for muffins and biscuits as well as crusts.
    Thank You for the lesson on kind’s of if dough I wanted to learn what “shoe” ha ha dough is, (choux). Love the internet! I love to bake and cook new things and create elegance.
    I appreciate the time you spent in producing this web site with this information.
    Thank You
    LL

    1. Hi Linda! I love your method haha it sounds like it works – I mean it’s basically the same thing aka smooshing the butter into the flour (and you keep it cold!). Glad you found it helpful 🙂

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