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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Triumph from disaster- the invention of the casserole cake!

Earlier this fall, two of our friends got engaged and asked me to make a dessert for their celebration. They both love peanut butter and chocolate so I decided to just make a cake with their favourite flavours. As with most things in life, the weekend of their party, I had three other projects I was helping out with so it was going to be busy. I planned and organized my time pretty well to manage everything successfully but there wasn’t much room for error.

I arrived home a few hours before the engagement party and began baking. I don’t generally use cake mixes but under the circumstances and the time crunch, it was the best option. I have found that you can really play with these pre-made mixes to enrich the flavours and make them your own so I added some Hershey’s special dark chocolate chips for great texture and extra chocolatelyness! One thing I don’t compromise on is frosting. I always use homemade because the store-bought kind is made with Crisco and I find the texture and aftertaste an unpleasant one. While the cakes were baking I mixed up a batch of my rich chocolate-peanut buttercream.

In the midst of all the rushing around, I didn’t line my cake tins with parchment paper and so when it came to turning them out, they of course stuck and fell out in pieces. For a moment, I was mortified – with only a couple of hours left, there was no time to make them again so the casserole cake was born! I quickly forked out the first layer into a Pyrex dish and then poured over the buttercream filling, crumbled the second layer of cake, covered with the remaining frosting and topped with crushed Reece’s cups. I happened to have some candy melting chips on hand, so I made some medium-sized chocolate hearts as a topper using a heart mold.

It was delicious and the couple were really happy. I have made it a few time since (on purpose) and have loads of compliments and requests for recipes. It’s a super quick dessert full of rich flavour and this basic technique can be used with any cake and frosting variation.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Casserole Cake:

Cake base:

Use your favourite chocolate cake mix (the fudgy-er the better) and follow the instructions.  Reserve about 1/4 cup of the cake mix before adding wet ingredients and mix in about 1/2 cup of chocolate chips. This helps coat the chips so they stick in the batter and won’t sink to the bottom while in the oven. Add the powedered chips into the cake mix and then separate the mixture evenly into two 9 inch cake pans. Once baked according to the box instructions, let them cool completely.

Peanut Butter buttercream:

1 stick of butter at room temperature and cut into small cubes

2/3 of a pound of sifted confectioners sugar

1/2 cup of sifted  Hershey’s special dark cocoa powder (you can use other dutch processed cocoa powder but I highly recommend this one for the very rich flavour)

1/2 cup of peanut butter (smooth)

2-3 tbsp of boiling water to help everything mix well and be smooth

Mix all the dry ingredients first until combined then make a well in the center for the butter, peanut butter  and hot water. Using a fork, mix together by working in from around the well until all the dry ingredients are just about absorbed. Then use a hand-held (or standing mixer) until the frosting is very smooth (about 7 minutes). If you feel that there is not enough moisture and the buttercream is too stiff, add some milk or more hot water; likewise if it’s too thin, just add more sugar or cocoa powder. You can also add a drop of lemon juice to help cut through the sweetness – you won’t taste it but it helps take the edge off the sugar. Feel free to put in more cocoa powder or peanut butter according to your flavour preferences. The consistency should be just a tiny bit thinner than the store-bought frosting so it will spread easily without sticking to the cake crumbs.

Method:

  •  Fork out one of the cooled cake layers into a large Pyrex dish making sure to remove any lumps. Gently flatten all the crumbs (either by hand or with a spatula) so that it forms an even layer without being too squashed.
  •  Empty half of the buttercream into the middle on top of the cake crumbs. Starting at the center, slowly and patiently work the large mass outwards with a cake spatula until you have reached the edges of the Pyrex dish. This takes a little time but it ensures that you won’t be picking up cake crumbs and getting them mixed into your buttercream.
  •  Repeat A and B for the second layer of cake and the rest of the buttercream.
  •  Put about 8 regular sized Reece’s Cups in a food processor and pulse a few times until they are broken down. If you pulse them too many times, they begin to bind together and become one big lump instead of the crumble texture which  we are going for.
  • Top the Pyrex cake with the broken up Reece’s Cup pieces.

 You can either serve immediately or place in the fridge until needed. I think this would also be amazing just slightly warmed through accompanied with your favourite ice-cream. It makes about twelve decent sized servings.