Tips on Purchasing a Stand Mixer

Purchasing a stand mixer

Earlier this summer, something I have been hoping to happen for a long time finally became a reality. I got a Kitchen Aid stand mixer! For the past 6 years I have been making all my cakes (including wedding cakes!) with my little $15 Black & Decker hand mixer and a variety of large bowls!

Old Faithful

Although this mixer served me well, when it came to large orders, I would inevitable suffer upper arm and neck cramps for several days, and almost always find a spot of frosting splattered up under cabinets or off in the far corners of the kitchen even after extensive cleaning!

Choosing a stand mixer was actually a lot more stressful than I was expecting mostly because I approached this like a lifetime purchase. It has taken me a long time to be able to save up/afford/justify spending the money on a stand mixer and I didn’t want to buy the ‘wrong’ one. So,  I did a lot of research and thought it might be helpful to share what I have discovered for those of you thinking of making such a purchase. Here are the main things you need to decide before you begin:

What do I need it for? yes I know mixing, but mixing what? cakes/cupcakes, cookies, bread, mashed veg? everything? And how much do you want to mix at a time? 1 loaf of bread, 5 batches of cookies, batter for 20 inch cakes? It really makes a difference for the kind of machine you need to focus on. 

How much am I willing/able to spend? yes we would all like to buy the most super-duper machine like the ones in industrial bakeries but how much can you realistically spend for the size of your kitchen in relation to your needs.

On what am I willing to compromise? Just like anything, there is no perfect machine out there so decide what your absolutes are and what you are willing to live without. Have realistic expectations. If you are wishing to start a bread making company, there may not realistically be a home kitchen style mixer that exists to meet your needs.

thinking

These seem like obvious questions but there is so much information out there on mixers that it’s important to be firm on your answers before you begin the process. It can be quite confusing if you don’t have some safe fixed perimeters

Brand names: There are other mixers not just Kitchen Aid and some of them even have slightly cooler features but if you know WHAT you need it for, then you can eliminate some of these options right off the bat. I found some really helpful Youtube video reviews were people did a side by side comparison with kitchen aids and other brands.  This also shed light on some of the  lofty product descriptions that don’t seem to really live up to their promises. Again, those answers will help you get to the right conclusion about which brand- i.e. if your budget is more limited and you just want a mixer for the occasional box cake packet, there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t consider a less expensive smaller machine as long as it is good quality.

Which size: There is not a great deal of size variety of other brands so this section really only applies to those who are trying to chose a Kitchen Aid. (Cuisinart have two sizes – big and super large!- so some of this might apply but it’s a much easier choice than the Kitchen Aid machines). So how do you pick between the Classic, Artisan and the  Pro? There are some great YouTube videos and online reviews that helped me figure out which would best suit my needs. (I just searched for Kitchen Aid Mixer comparisons.) For me it came down to the Artisan and the Pro. Again, this goes back to the original questions I had established before researching. For the most part my little hand mixer has been fine for a small mix but what I needed most from a new mixer was the ability to knock out an order of 175 cupcakes for a wedding, or a large batch of royal icing or buttercream. Here are the major features outlined for each kitchen aid mixer size according to what I found:

Classic: Smallest bowl (4.5 qt), no handle on the bowl and doesn’t come with a pouring shield. However, it’s the cheapest at around $230-250 and again if you are only looking for basic mixing capability for single batch recipes, this is a great option. (I actually borrowed my friends Classic for making a large amount of royal icing a few months ago and was really happy with the results- it just wasn’t big enough for my ongoing needs)

Artsian: 5 qt bowl with handle and a pouring shield. Comes in a larger range of colours but is around $100 more than the classic. This seems to be the best kitchen aid deal between the two extremes of the Classic and the Pro. As it’s the most popular, many companies offer special deals at certain times of year.

Pro: 6 qt bowl with much more powerful motor. As a result it does not have a tilting head but a crank shaft handle to lift and lower the bowl itself. This also means it is quite a bit taller than the other two machines and does not fit under all kitchen cabinets. However, if you are into making several bathes of a recipe at one time, or larger tiered cakes, this does seems to be the most ideal machine. The colour options are constantly getting better but can drastically change the price so depending on which one you chose, there may not be as big of a difference with the Artisan. There is a lot of discussion however about how the flat beater doesn’t really scrape the bowl well. There is an additional flat beater you can purchase with little ‘wings’ that seems to solve this problem but it is extra and the reviews were very mixed.

ColoursColour: one of the key appeals for the kitchen aid mixers is the variety of colours and decorative options. Of course, which colour to purchase is entirely up to taste etc but I do have some words of advice- 1: Make sure you see a real life sample of the colour because they don’t all look exactly as they appear on-line. 2: The less obscure, the cheaper. My white pro was $50 cheaper than even the chrome and $100 less than some of the really snazzy ones. (Again this is where those key questions I mentioned at the beginning will be a great help.) 3: If money is an issue, think longevity- yes bright purpley-orange is lovely right now but will you love it for the next 10-15 years, and will it look good in another kitchen if you move?

Refurbished or New?: Refurbished Kitchen Aids are available everywhere and are typically a much cheaper option (up to $100 less) than a new one (although sometimes, you can catch a really good sale that can dramatically reduce the difference). There are a lot of mixed experiences and reviews of refurbished machines so it’s hard to say if this is a better option. Many people seem to have had great success with their’s whereas others have received a machine that is practically broken or unusable. Here is my one piece of advice on choosing to go the refurbished route- go with a reputable seller so if there are any problems you can get a refund easily. It seems that almost unanimously when people followed this guideline, even if their machine was no good, they raved about the customer service. How do you pick a reputable seller?-read lots of reviews!

MoneyWhere to Purchase? This will largely depend on the size, brand etc, there are so many options. Target, Bed Bath & Beyond seem to offer sales, coupons and rebates on Kitchen Aids at certain times of the year but nothing too amazing. (but still a sale is a sale!) Also, these offers tend to be tied mainly to the classic and the artisan. I couldn’t not find anything better than Amazon’s prices for the Pro, plus the seller offered a rebate for a free pasta roller and cutter at that particular time of year. However, with on-line offers, be sure to read exactly what the machine comes with and be careful to notice if the machine is new or refurbished. Sometimes, a particular colour does not come with a specific attachment or pouring shield. Bottom line- it’s not going to be cheap so do a little research but don’t expect to find massive differences between sellers especially with the higher end machines. If you are looking to get this as cheap as possible, be open about the colour- it is the one aspect that makes the biggest difference in price that I could see.

Bread: it seems that almost all the negative reviews I read for every machine was connected to their inability to mix bread either well or without burning out the motor. If you are looking for a machine to make multiple batches of bread, you may have to accept that without an industrial strength machine, this might not be possible. The occasional loaf seems to be fine as long as it’s kept at a lower speed and you are willing to be patient with stopping to scrape the bottom of the bowl.

Take Time and Plan Ahead. I first decided I wanted a mixer over a year ago and was finally willing to take the plunge. I excitedly searched kitchen aid mixer in my browser expecting to click ‘purchase’ within an hour. I was wrong! Like I said, there are so many machines to chose from you need to allow time to research properly and look for the best option and deal. I don’t recommend deciding on a whim or taking on a specific project with the view to have your machine beforehand unless there is plenty of time ahead. I abandoned my first attempts because we found out we were moving to Texas and needed all the extra cash we could find but I began again in April. It took me about a month of casually browsing, researching and window shopping before finally making a purchase and I could not be happier about my machine. It was completely the right one for me and my baking life has become so much easier (and cleaner!).  I mean… just look at how lovely it is sitting there all pretty on my kitchen counter!

My Beautiful Mixer

Good luck and please feel free to ask me any questions or share your stand mixer love below!

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How to Succeed at Baking Projects

Top tips to confidently tackle any baking project

Recently I had the pleasure of designing a cupcake tower for the wedding of a sweet young couple here in Waco. We looked over some ideas that the bride had highlighted and I gathered other pertinent information like wedding invites, colours etc until we came up with the perfect design.

Cupcake Tower

Despite remaining calm and cool, I have to admit I was a little nervous at first simply because up until that point, I hadn’t actually experimented much with cupcakes let alone made 175 cupcakes at one time. However, I am always surprised how my confidence suddenly kicks in when it comes to being in the kitchen. I am not an overly confident person at other times, and in fact, there were things I did not attempt in life because I let my fears or worries overshadow those moments of adventure. But, when I am faced with anything in my kitchen, I believe in myself wholeheartedly. (This doesn’t mean I haven’t made any mistakes- I have had some major disasters!- but I learnt to think quickly on my feet to correct or try again.) When I first started taking risks that paid off in the kitchen, I  found that this confidence began to trickle into other areas of my life. I started to see that I can accomplish things that seemed really daunting at first and the same skill set I used in the kitchen was still with me when faced with other projects.

Although some intuition is involved, this success is not completely by chance and so today I want to share the tips I have developed from tackling projects like my recent wedding cupcake tower. I believe these tips are applicable to any new baking venture, big or small.

Practice and research in advance. I had never really tried my hand at cupcakes before this order. Yes, I had made them and they were good but I knew they could be better so I researched recipes until I knew what would work best and then tried a few different things before finding the perfect cupcake. I did this a week before my tasting with the bride and groom so I had time to keep working if it wasn’t up to par. My first crucial piece of advice is to research and test first! It is also imperative that you test out the recipe in your particular kitchen, with your appliances and your oven. For example, I preferred hand mixing several parts of the batter and adjusted cooking temperatures a couple of times until I was really happy. This isn’t just true of making a wedding cake order but of any new baking venture- I don’t recommend presenting your first try on unsuspecting friends unless you are experienced with the process involved. It’s not like cooking where you can add or easily recreate at the last minute. For the sake of being completely vulnerable, I do not follow this advice all the time but I have certainly been more successful when I spend time at least researching even if I can’t actually practice.

Blue flower cupcakes

Organize your research: Although there are so many wonderful people out there sharing advice and tips, you need a place to keep all this info for the right time. I have a secret board on Pinterest where I pin my on-line research such as great tutorials, tips etc so I can refer back to them during the project. (I keep the board secret in case I am planning a surprise for a friend.) Because of all the variables that can throw you off during practice, (or on the day) it’s so helpful to have those websites on hand  to refer to them in a flash.  Create a system that works best for you.

Plan supplies and ingredients ahead of time. This may sound obvious but taking time to think through every aspect of the project is crucial. Sometimes you might need a particular item that is only available on line and needs to be shipped. Practicing helps to think through all the logistics and ingredients needed. If you are making something for an event you will also need to consider how to store, transport and display your baked goods. Don’t leave anything to the last minute! It’s the worst feeling of panic when you realize you forgot something crucial or worse, you have run out of time.

Plan time going backwards. It is imperative that you plan your time meticulously so that everything is completed and you can remain calm. The best advice is starting backwards. Let’s say for example your baked items need to be ready for 5pm, you should plan your time beginning at 5pm i.e.

cupcake planning

You will note how I calculate the time needed for each step and also allow time for any mishaps or issues at each point where possible. I used to have a terrible habit of calculating time in my head and finding I was completely off in practice so after several panic moments, I learnt to use this method and it has been extremely helpful.

Stay calm, don’t give up, and always have extra. I can’t stress enough how helpful it has been to follow this step. You never know what might happen in the baking process so make sure you have some ingredients to start over if needed. In some cases it’s also best to just make an extra batch. When you have extra on hand, not only do you get to bestow leftovers upon other loved ones, you have a back up plan in case disaster strikes. On one order recently, I had everything ready to go and at the last minute, I dropped a whole box of cupcakes upside down. Although the box was closed and none hit the floor, when I opened the box, they were one messed up clump of cake and frosting! Fortunately, my husband was with me and reading the look of horror on my face, helped me remain calm and think through my options. I had an extra batch set aside and extra frosting in the fridge so all I had to do was prepare another box and off the order went with no further drama. 

I hope you find these tips helpful and it provides you with some motivation to tackle a new baking venture with increased confidence. After all….you could end up creating something you’re mighty darned proud of!

ready for eating

Going to the chapel…

A new dear friend got married this past year and as many of you know, it is an expensive gig! It doesn’t matter how well you save, plan and budget, there are so many things that happen (especially at the last minute) which no one can foresee and that usually involves extra money. One of the things I love about being able to bake and decorate cakes is that I see it as a gift to be shared with others. Perhaps in my wildest dreams, I think about owning a bakery, or being a store front cake designer (and one day maybe that will be feasible) but overall it is something I do for fun and as a blessing to others. As mentioned in an earlier post, my mother and aunt were talented birthday cake extraordinaires and our lavish birthday cakes were the highlight of the party. I think it’s wonderful if someone can afford to go to a cake designer and have the wedding cake of their dreams, or order that perfect immortalized comic book character cake for their family member’s birthday. But, that’s not where many people are at, especially in this economy. My family didn’t have a great deal of expendable cash every month, Mum often went without much needed new clothing items for months so my brother and I could have what we required for school etc. I value these memories of her, and I especially appreciated that she used her artistic talents to make our birthdays (and others’) so very special despite the difficult times. This inspires me especially when making wedding cakes, (and in fact all cakes).  I still have much to learn in the world of cake decorating but what I do know, I want to use to replicate that same experience we had as kids for others.

So, my new friend was getting married and my gift was the time devoted to baking and decorating her wedding cake.   We figured out a minimum budget for cost and had so much fun looking through hundreds of pictures for ideas. Finally, the pencil scrawling on a piece of paper shaped its way onto a humble cake board and into the design you see below.

She and her (now) husband have always been incredible people who give so much of themselves to others so it was not surprising when all their friends and family wanted to rally round to make their special day everything they deserved. I made this cake during an extremely busy work week and was so grateful for the three friends who came over to help shape pearls out of fondant and give me an extra pair of hands with the assembly – without them I would have been up for several nights and exhausted for work the next day.

We rolled and painted each of these fondant pearls by hand.

This continual community effort throughout the wedding celebrations symbolized not just the beauty of marriage and the coming together of two people in perfect union, but also the important part played by the community in supporting that couple in their successful lives. The cake was a microcosm of this spirit and it was truly a blessing to have been part of something that, on closer reflection, revealed great truths about marriage, love and friendship.

Photos taken by the very talented Jennifer James of JJMediaOnline.com http://www.facebook.com/jjmedia Or you can see more photos from the Knapp wedding here:  http://jjmediaonline.com/2012/06/knapp2/

Blood is Thicker Than Water

Being raised as a Greek-Cypriot, even in London, you know and have met almost everyone you are even remotely related to on both sides of your family. Every Uncle and Aunt, your parents’ Uncles and Aunts, all your 1st, 2nd and 3rd cousins and even some fellow villagers of your grandparents who are related to you from 8 generations ago, are a familiar part of every day conversation in your home! Family is important to us Greeks. It is our identity in the community, (you are ‘so and so’s relative’). And it’s not just part of your history but also your present as you soon learn when going to weddings and christenings every weekend as a child and have a hard time remembering these people’s names, their relation to you, and why they all seem to instantly know who you are and want to tell you how much you’ve grown while violently pulling at your cheeks! Every family vacation doesn’t involve some glamorous trip to the south of France, or a cultural exploration of the ancient Roman ruins in Italy. Instead you will go to Cyprus and spend two weeks travelling from town to town, seeing every relative in every corner of the island, being ‘cheek-pulled’ and force-fed copious amounts of grilled lamb and pork.

As a result, relatives come to mean something more to you than what most Westernized families experience. My 1st cousins, for example, are like my brothers and sisters. Not in the way that just means, oh I kind of like them and they’re cool. They are a part of my soul. The meaning ‘blood is thicker than water’ perfectly describes my deep, deep love for them to the point where it seems as though they form a part of my actual physical being.

One such member of my 1st cousin clan is Lizzi. Being 2 years older than her, I was the big ‘sister’. In all fairness, I was not a very nice one which is heartbreaking to think about now because she looked up to me at the time and I didn’t realize that it was a privilege and honour. She would follow me around and always want to copy whatever I did, and whatever I wore, and whatever I played with so I would get all diva-esque and annoyed! Despite these moments I in our very early years, there are many more great fun memories like jumping from couch to couch trying not to fall into the ‘Sea of Carpet’ and reveal our true identities as mermaids (yes we were obsessed with the movie Splash!), or we were damsels in distress needing saving (being the bossy older child, I was usually the one being rescued while Lizzi and her brother had to climb ‘Mount Staircase Banister’ to save me from the ‘Landing of Terror’!). We wrote and made up ‘plays’ every weekend much to the dismay of our parents who would have to sit through every living room performance acting enthused as if we were budding Shakespeareans in the Globe Theatre at the pinnacle of our career! We only lived in London together until I was 8 at which point they moved to another town and then later we moved countries and were miles apart from my Aunt’s family. However, this did not affect our deepening love for each other and by our teens, Lizzi and I  were the bestest of friends, talking for hours about every worry, adventure and little secret plan of mischief behind our parents’ backs. To this day, from across the pond, we will talk about everything we can in the space we are allotted  Planning a phone conversation is nearly impossible, not only because of the 6 hour time difference, but because we usually have 4 hour conversations and only just begin to scratch the surface of what we want to share.

When she got married in 2011, I had the honour of decorating her wedding cake. Someone else had prepared the layers, Liz had her design and accessories in hand, and it was my task to bring it all together once I arrived from the States. Of course what made this even more special was that I had my mum as an assistant and for those of you who have read why I began decorating cakes, you will understand the significance of sharing this experience with her. Although this cake was not the usual hours of work other wedding cakes have been, it was definitely a labour of love for my little sister, Lizzi, on her special day.

Truckin’ 4 Jesus

I once heard that you should always be pouring into someone younger than you, and have someone older pouring into you. These words have become invaluable to me throughout my life and travels. Every city and/or country I have lived in, without really intentionally meaning to,  this dynamic has always seemed to be true. I can’t help but want to invest in the lives of younger women and I always seem to find myself delighting in the wisdom and advice of women who are further along in the journey of life. Of course inevitably, my ‘mentees’ have ended up shaping my life as much as I have shaped theirs, and I can only hope that I have done some good in the life of those who have invested in mine. There have been so many precious people at either end of this mentoring cycle and I would absolutely not be the person I am today if not for our meaningful connections.

Recently, one such lovely lady helped support me through a difficult period. She provided lots of hugs and encouraging words as well as cups of coffee and hope. During our journey together, she also hired me to make a few cakes for various family occasions and I have chosen to feature the one for her father’s 70th birthday. This story really is more hers than mine in some ways as the cake I made was in honour of a long-standing family truth/joke about their father. She gave me a picture of a Green 1970’s Chevy Truck that was the exact truck her father had owned for 20 years throughout their childhood (and early adult lives). He apparently dearly loved and cared for this truck and it was quite the event when he finally parted ways with it. I studied the picture and tried to cover every possible detail to make it as true to life as possible. My friend grew up in Georgia and in true 1970s/80s Christian fashion, this vehicle bore the mark of faith in the form of a unique license plate at the front. It read in big letters ‘TRUCKIN 4 JESUS’! Being such an important feature of the truck, we were sure to include it in the design of the cake. It did take a long time to get right but the look on her face when she came to collect the cake, and knowing that in some small way she allowed me to contribute to their celebration of his life, was more than worth it! Hearing how moved he was by the reunion with his beloved truck, and finding out that he didn’t let anyone cut it for ages, was probably one of the most satisfying moments in my cake career! Perhaps, I can’t be a mentor for my friend in the way she has been for me, or repay her the encouragement, empathy and hope she gave me during a difficult time but I was pleased to bring more joy to a meaningful event in her life.

For now…

Did I mention how much I love baking?

I find myself in an unusual place in life. I lived in a small community in Tennessee for 5 years and was building a good clientele for cake orders. Unfortunately, I was so busy with my 24/7 job the last few years that I didn’t have the time to fill all the orders I was receiving. When we found out we were moving to Texas earlier this year, I was so excited to get a normal 8-5 job and have all these free evenings and weekends to explore my baking passion. Of course, as with most things, now that we are here the reality isn’t quite living up to my idealistic imagination. Baking is expensive, especially when you’re on a tight budget (even more so after exorbitant moving expenses).  Usually, I do my cakes at cost to help the client, to cover any expenses we simply can’t afford on our budget, and because I want an excuse to make things without having the temptation to eat them all! Building a new clientele here is really challenging. I don’t have the same broad circles of interaction as I did in Tennessee and it is proving difficult to find an opportunity to showcase my work.

My life is calmer and quieter than it has been in a few years and I am loving the low stress levels. However, when you have free time, your first instinct is to fill it with all the things you love to do and so I find my desire to bake and decorate  so overwhelming, it’s almost like a physical urge. At work, when things are very quiet in the office (which is often), I have been watching videos about cake decorating and scouring through Pinterest for inspiration. This weekend I finally broke down (almost in floods of tears to be perfectly honest) because of the frustration of not being able to unleash all the creative energy that’s been building up over the last couple of months. Through my budgeting and planning savvy, I was able to save some extra money on groceries and immediately knew how I wanted to spend the money. Cookies and Royal Icing are fairly inexpensive, plus they are easy to give away! In my decorating frenzied research, I became obsessed with cookie decorating and decided that this weekend I would begin a new avenue in my beloved baking hobby. Apart from the odd childish endeavor  I have never actually tried this before, so I found a reliable recipe from one of my books (which I, of course, adapted…hey come on it’s me….when do I ever just follow a recipe?!) and then watched a couple of tutorials from a decorating master, Amber Spiegel, from SweetAmbs.com ( if you haven’t heard of her, you need to check out her blog She is incredible! )

And these are the results:

This brush embroidery is my favourite design (on cakes and cookies alike) and it was my first attempt. (next time I need to use a darker base colour to highlight the brush work and slightly thicker icing to really show the brush effect.)

This was my third attempt! I would have shown you the progression but the hubby wanted some tasters and I only let him eat the mistakes from this cookie batch!!

This was just my experimentation with swirls.

Overall I was very pleased with my first attempt and can’t wait to try them again soon now that I know what I am doing and can rectify some of my novice errors! These were fairly simple to make and I managed to get out all my creative energy… for now!

Old Timey Radio

My relationships with my grandparents were not what you would call traditional. My paternal ones lived in Cyprus while I was growing up in England and my grandfather passed away when I was only about a year old. Although my grandmother visited on occassion, she developed some form of dementia and wasn’t very coherent by the time I had learnt enough Greek to communicate with her. She passed away when I was 18. My maternal grandparents lived in London but my grandfather also passed away when I was in my early teens. Although I have memories with him, he was not the fluffy/cudly kind of man who enjoyed tender moments with people. My grandmother however, is still alive and one of the people I love most in the world. She and my grandfather emigrated back to Cyprus shortly before he passed away.  It was there, a few years later that my grandmother and I would become much closer. I moved to Limassol (Cyprus) when I was 15 and lived with her for 2 months before my parents were able to join me. As I became more fluent in Greek, we were able to communicate more clearly and she would sit and tell me stories about her childhood growing up in the village and how she met my grandfather. Her life was an extremely difficult one but she has never lost her spunk and savvy cheek! How many can say their grandmother crashes weddings with her friend for fun! I still enjoy my time with her and the older she gets the more precious those moments become, especially as I now live in the States and don’t get to see her often. Giagia (grandma in Greek) is definitely one of the strongest women I have ever known. I will probably refer to her at other times throughout these pages as she has most certainly been influential in my culinary journey, among others.

I write all this to say that now I get to have a whole new set of grandparent experiences through my husband’s family. Although his maternal grandfather passed away before I arrived on the scene, John has been deeply blessed to have enjoyed these special relationships with his grandparents for a lot longer than most. They are definitely the warm, tender, doting kind of grandparents you see in movies and read about in books.  I love hearing stories about their youth or tales of their younger days when my husband and his sister were children. They are each very dear to my heart and over the last six years they have welcomed me as their granddaughter and shown me so much love and acceptance. When Pawpaw celebrated his 80th birthday it seemed only fiting that I make a cake dedicated to his years of experience in the radio world. We searched hundreds of pictures online to find the perfect radio, and with approval from my father-in-law on the design, I made the cake below and surprised him on his birthday. This was very early on in my cake career but it is a wonderful memory where I got to give back to these people who had so generously welcomed me and allowed me to co-opt their history with my husband.