A recent article on The Telegraph posits that there has been a renewed interest in home baking in recent years. It says that retailers report a significant increase in the sale of baking tools.
There may be several reasons to the uptick in home baking, but the smell of fresh bread or a nearly done cake is one of those things that scream “HOME”, and home is where we can relax and find comfort. A big part of the joy of baking lies in being able to create and share your creation to your family, friends and others.
Baking is fun and a bit of automation helps. I wouldn’t even think of whipping egg whites with a fork or using a hand beater with a crank that I have to turn. Electric mixers upped the fun in baking because they allow us to create more. The hand held type is still very helpful, but stand mixers are more powerful, convenient and faster.
But as with most tools, no one size fits all. Inevitably, most of us find ourselves asking: which one should I get?
Three factors will determine which stand mixer matches your home baking. Other features will be secondary. These are your requirements, your budget and the mixer’s capacity.
What Type of Baker Are You?
You first have to identify what level of baking you do or intend to do in order to determine your requirements. This is very important because baking is a choice. You are not forced by any circumstance to make your own bread or pies or pizzas. Therefore, it’s very individual.
I have an aunt who bakes, but she does it only during special occasions and parties…birthdays and Christmas. And, she does not bake a whole lot on those occasions. I do it at least once or twice a week, but I don’t make much bread. But, bread is an everyday baked product, and freshly baked bread is simply superb. Therefore, a lot of folks are making their own bread regularly.
From my experience, from online discussions and from tales from family, friends and acquaintances, I can classify those who bake into the following levels:
- Level 1 – The first category is the occasional baker who does it on special events. They don’t prepare large volumes like my aunt, perhaps just a centerpiece cake, a few pies and muffins. They don’t make bread because, hey, bread is for ordinary days. Those who dabble and bake once a month belong here.
- Level 2 – In this group are those who work with light to medium mixtures…cakes, pies, muffins… almost daily or once or twice a week.
- Level 3 – People in this level bakes occasionally, but makes large batches of cookies and other medium to heavy batters.
- Level 4 – In this group are those who make cookies a few times a week and prepare bread once in a while like once or twice a week.
- Level 5 – In the last group are those who prepare bread almost daily.
The groupings are not absolute. You may find yourself between any two groups or in two groups. Some people own two classes of stand mixers: one for lighter uses and one for heavy-duty large volume use.
How Much Can You Spend on a Stand Mixer?
There’s no denying that oftentimes budget is the only determining factor. So, perhaps, it would be better to start here. What if you’ve determined that you need a stand mixer for medium use but can only afford one for light use, what then? You can postpone buying until you’ve saved enough or you can get what you can afford just to make mixing a bit easier not really expecting it to meet your needs.
You also have to ask whether in the future you will need a heavier duty stand mixer. Will you upgrade later or will you get it now if you have the money?
What About Power?
A stand mixer’s declared wattage does not mean all that power is available for mixing or kneading. The mixer itself uses power to operate and some units consume more, that is why wattage is not a good indicator of a mixer’s output power.
It is better to base your decision on capacity or how many cups of flour a mixer can handle. However, this tends to be higher than what is best for proper mixing. So, use a lower maximum volume than what is declared.
Secondary factors do not mean they are not important. It’s just better to start narrowing your choices with the most essential features. From there you move on to other features to pinpoint your selection.
You should opt for a stand mixer with a planetary mixing action if you will use your stand mixer almost daily or a few times a week, even for light to medium batters. Mixing is more thorough because the beater moves around the bowl. Although scraping may not be totally eliminated, it is reduced significantly.
In a two-beater stand mixer the mixing action is only in the middle. You need to scrape the contents often or move the bowl so the beaters can reach the side. That means you’d have to keep watching. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to do that if I’m baking frequently.
You should also look at speed settings. Most mixers come with enough speed variations. The more speed choices the finer the adjustments.
The tilt-head or bowl lift feature is for accessing the beaters and bowl when you need to scrape, add ingredients or change attachments.
Picking the Best Stand Mixer For You
It’s time to pick your stand mixer. We can classify stand mixers into four categories based on their build, capacities and overall power.
- 1 – Those with two beaters and stationary mixing action. The beater, whip and hook are smaller. They are the cheapest and require the most manual intervention. The Hamilton Beach 64650 and the Sunbeam FBsbhs-030 belong here.
- 2 – The cheapest planetary mixers are in this group. Construction is not as sturdy as the KitchenAid stand mixers. But, it can work on the occasional bread. An example is the KitchenAid Classic.
- 3 – The KitchenAid Classic Plus and the popular Artisan series are in this group. Accessories are bigger and stronger, body is solid and all-metal. These have bigger capacities.
- 4 – These are powerful models that can be used for heavy mixing more often. The KitchenAid Pro 600 series is an example.
Let’s assume that you have the budget for the stand mixer that matches your requirements, this is what I recommend:
- If you are a Level 1 baker, Category 1 stand mixers can do the job for you.
- If you are in Level 2, you can start with Category 2 models.
- Level 3 and Level 4 bakers should consider Category 3 stand mixers.
- If bread is often in your baking schedule, then go for Category 4 stand mixers.
Some folks own both a smaller, less powerful mixer and a more powerful model for their various mixing needs. You can also use smaller bowls (3 and 4.5 quarts) with the KitchenAid Artisan.
Whatever your requirement there is a stand mixer that can make baking more convenient. Take note though that cheap models will have more limitations and aren’t likely to last long.