Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Tools and Tips: Stand Mixer



If you read my blog regularly, you'll probably notice I rarely drop brand names - unless in angst or derision - and generally I dislike recommending specific products because the quality of brands and products can change so quickly. Besides, my blog is about food, love and relationships - not a sales platform eagerly hawking wares after accepting sufficient monetary compensation.

So while I use a KitchenAid stand mixer currently, I am not recommending this brand specifically. In fact, after a little recent research, I'm not sure I'd even buy a KitchenAid again given other options out there. So while I will explain what I love about my stand mixer and why I find it so valuable in the kitchen, please do your own due-diligence and carefully research all your options before buying.

No one needs this
Before I start raving about how much I love a stand mixer, let me clarify a common misconception:

One does not NEED a stand mixer. 

::gasp:: Hater! Poser! Blasphemer!

Yeah, yeah, but let's talk about this. You can stir cookies together with a spoon and bowl, you can kneed your bread by hand and you can mix your cake batter with a whisk (or hand mixer). And don't let the myriad attachments fool you either - you can buy hand-crank meat grinders, separate ice cream maker appliances, pasta cranks, etc. You see? No one needs this appliance.

Machine hands
However, if you frequently find yourself in the kitchen - and especially if you have a penchant for baking - a stand mixer can simplify and speed-up your work. And (most of the time) you can dump ingredients into the stand mixer and walk away while it beats or whips or mixes. Which is extremely liberating if you're accustomed to being chained to a bowl and spoon. And it saves you time since you can prep other ingredients while the stand mixer does its efficient job.

Adding Chocolate to Cookie Dough

As much as I love having a second set of machine hands to take some of the pressure off me, that's not the reason I originally bought my stand mixer. In fact, the only reason I bought the mixer was for the paddle attachment.

Paddle
I know that sounds a little lame - $300 for a paddle attachment? - but the paddle is so useful and unique in its ability to beat and mix with just the right intensity. Have you ever tried to beat butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy using just a spoon? Or a hand-held mixer? My arm muscles fatigue long before I achieve anything close to fluffy and generally I end up with buttery-bits flying out of the bowl with a hand-held.

Creaming Butter and Sugar Together

Honestly, I should probably just write an entire post about my love-affair with this paddle attachment. Because while I also have a whisk and dough-hook attachment, they will never have a special place in my heart like the paddle. So if you're going to buy a stand mixer, just make sure it comes with some kind of paddle.

Adjacent markets attachments
At some point, someone decided stand mixers should be able to do more than just mix, beat and whip - and so the makers of these mixers covetously eyed adjacent markets, created some attachments, and loudly proclaimed the stand mixer to be the ultimate multifunctional appliance. Or something along those lines.



And I'm a big fan of some of these attachments as they can be space and time savers. However, keep in mind your mixer was designed primarily for one major accomplishment and using the motor for every possible attachment from grinding to ice cream making may not be the wisest use of this appliance. I personally invested in the pasta attachment and meat grinder, opting for a stand-alone ice cream maker and not bothering with a shredding/slicing attachment.

Size matters
Maybe you're thinking: "If I'm going to invest in a stand mixer, I might as well get a big one so I can make enormous batches of EVERYTHING!"

While I applaud your enthusiasm, consider the following before purchasing:

  • Will the mixer fit on your counter beneath your cabinets?
  • Do you (in all truthfulness) have room for a super-sized mixer?
  • Do you have the arm-strength for hoisting said mixer?
  • Will a super-sized mixer bowl fit in your dishwasher?
  • Are you really (REALLY?) going to need super-sized capacity?

I went with a 5-quart model which has served me well. I rarely (if ever) long for more capacity and it's ever so pleasant being able to tuck my mixer under the cabinet when not in use. And my other half is eternally grateful I selected a model with a bowl that fits comfortably into pretty much any dishwasher.



Perhaps more important than size is the mixer's available wattage and quality. If you're sinking serious cash into an appliance nobody really needs, you want that extra luxury set of hands to last. My model came with a 325 watt motor which has served me well over the past 4-5 years. However, I don't often use the stand mixer for bread (and never for ice-cream), so I hardly feel I'm taxing the motor. I'd err on more watts and fewer negative user reviews vs. lower cost and better-known brand name. Just saying.

What it's good for
I've been using my mixer so long it seems silly to explain the uses, but when I stop and think back, here is a list of common tasks my mixer frequently helps with:

  • Cookies: it's so easy to cream the butter, beat in eggs and gradually add flour when you don't have to mess with a spoon or hand-mixer.
  • Cakes: the paddle attachment is excellent for delicately folding in flour.
  • Fillings: perfect for making pumpkin pie, cheesecake, mousse, etc.
  • Frosting: the paddle attachment is the perfect tool.
  • Whipped cream: the whisk attachment makes quick work of incorporating air into the cream.
  • Meringue: another perfect use for the whisk attachment.
  • Dough: heavy dough will cause the machine to skid or bounce around, so be careful.

What it's NOT good for:
  • Mashed potatoes: the whisk attachment turns potatoes into glue and paddle fails to remove the lumps.
  • Mayonnaise: drizzling oil into a spinning whisk is a recipe for oil EVERYWHERE

One more thing
Have you picked up a food processor yet? If not, save your pennies and don't buy a stand mixer until you own a food processor.

Personally, I find the food processor to be far more versatile and essential to my kitchen - although I wouldn't want to be without either. But if you have to pick one, I'd really recommend leaving the stand mixer on the shelf and grabbing the food processor instead. Read my prior post about food processors for more reasons

Cubed Butter Added to Flour

Final Thoughts
  • No one needs a stand mixer
  • Since you're going to buy one anyway, make sure it has a paddle attachment
  • Clean the stand mixer's little rubber feet - you don't want your mixer traveling off the counter
  • Don't use the stand mixer for mashed potatoes. Or mayonnaise.
  • Bigger is not always better


3 comments:

  1. I want one of these kitchen aid always I find amazing ad a Ice cream machine !!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I love my KA!~ One of the best purchases I made :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. I love using my Kitchen Aid mixer for mashed potatoes!

    ReplyDelete