Product Focus

This month I expose some of today's most popular hand and stand mixers. What to shop for based on needs, what is available in your price range, and a dandy recipe to tie it all together.

To begin with, it's always smart to first establish a need before going out and shopping for, let alone, purchasing any new piece of kitchen equipment. Follow me on my journey as we do exactly that.

Like many of the other products written about this year, I remind you that retailers differentiate their product by two things: price and looks. With that in hand, you need only choose a small variety of stores at which you would normally shop. Assuming we have a fairly open checkbook and we haven't established our exact needs yet, we will shop first at a lower-cost retailer, move to an average department store retailer, and finish with upper-ended retailers. You should be familiar with what stores you have in your area. Of course, if you're reading this you may already be well aware of the shopping potential you have at the click of your mouse. On-line retailers are selling new and refurbished appliances; search by particular vendor, general internet "malls," or specific manufacturers.

Hand Mixers
Our two criteria -- price and looks -- are almost irrelevant when looking for hand mixers. Most manufacturer's products you will find have similar options and price. The first thing I look for is available Wattage. All mixers use Universal or AC motors. For the most part, they provide the most power on each revolution and basically that means that the more power (or Wattage) the more powerful overall the mixer will be.

Secondly, I look for available tools or attachments that come with product. Since I do a variety of baking, I opted for a hand-mixer that came with as many different attachments. A wire whisk, dough hook, metal beaters, and heavy paddles.

Finally, speeds. Again, because of my variety of baking, I opted for a mixer that had as many speed settings as possible. In addition, some hand-mixers you might find have a "Turbo" button; a feature which surges extra power to the mixer. While this add-on isn't necessary I personally have found it useful, especially when getting batter off of the beaters.

Other than styling (which plays a very important role in ergonomics; if it doesn't feel comfortable, do not buy it), the prices for these mixers range from 20$ - 60$US. Speeds range from 3 - 10 units. Some come with two, three, or four (or more) different types of attachments. If your needs are basic and counter space is limited, I see no need to invest in anything more than a simple five-speed hand mixer that comes with a small assortment of attachments.

As you shop, you may see that as price goes up at the varying stores, features and brand-names change ever-so-slightly. It's up to you to decide whether or not you purchase from one retailer or another. And this is your "purchasing philosophy." Included in it is your previous experience with the retailer and with other products from the different manufacturers whose product you might wish to buy. It is not uncommon today to find almost every offering in a particular product category available from one retailer, whether it is a lower-cost retailer or a high-end specialty store.

Stand Mixers:
Stand mixers -- while they share characteristics with their smaller brothers and sisters, the hand mixers -- offer much more. First, they're capable of doing larger volumes of mixing and for longer running times. Their larger motor means they provide more torque and the capability to do thicker, heavier doughs and batters. And, depending on what model and manufacturer, an even larger assortment of attachments may be available. Stand mixers, however, also take up MORE counter-space; available space may be the ultimate deciding factor for you.

Like the hand mixers, stand mixer's Wattage is a key factor to its over-all operating potential. Other options are paddles and beaters, whisks and dough hooks, grinders, mills, and sausage stuffers. One feature that stands out to me is that most every mixer today comes with either a glass or stainless steel mixing bowl. I like this because it's one less item I need to purchase and it stores well with the mixer.

Stand mixers come also in two varieties. Those that hinge at a mid-joint and those whose bowl either slides away or the mixer is retractable. From experience you may prefer one over the other- I'm particularly fond of the retractable mixers as any droppings that may fall off of the attachments drip directly downward, but also directly back into the bowl. The attachments are also easier to remove while in this vertical position.

Stand mixers are sold by capable volume and by speed. Your needs that apply to a hand mixer can likewise apply to a stand mixer. The more speeds, the greater refinement of resolution you have when mixing. A greater resolution could mean the difference between keeping batter moving while adding flour and displacing flour in a multitude of directions expect for the direction that leads to the bowl.

Price varies for features, power, speed, and design. Generally, your range starts at around 50$US and might end up at 400$US. And that's at all three levels of retailers. But shop around. You may find yourself a deal and walk away with a better machine than what you originally had intended on purchasing. Name-brands, too, are prevalent at all levels of retailers. The final decision rests in your hands. Personal preference for me has yielded the following criteria: speed control on the side, not rear of the product; retractable mixer head, not hinged; a solid, all-metal housing AND stand; and the ability to purchase add-on features later. One final note, manufacturer's warranties differ. Choose the one you feel the most comfortable with.

Mixers have been around for a long time this century. They are very well known to the average kitchen-goer and don't present too terrible a shopping experience. Buy within your budget but buy what you will be happy with. If the product doesn't perform to your expectations or liking, return it. Use purchasing power now to ensure a better investment in the future. You wouldn't want to be caught in the middle of a soufflé with a dead mixer.

And now....

Dark Chocolate Torte

  • 2 8oz. bricks semi-sweet chocolate; chop coarsely
  • 1/2 cp. unsalted butter
  • 5 large eggs, separated
  • 1 Tbs. vanilla
  • 1/4 cp. confectioner's sugar

Pre-heat your oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.

Grease a 9 inch spring form pan, dust with cocoa, and layer the bottom with a sheet of parchment.

In a heavy, 2 quart sauce pan, gently melt butter and chocolate. In a separate bowl, mix together egg yolks and vanilla.

Quickly stir in very small spoonfuls of the chocolate butter mixture into the yolks, one spoonful at a time. Be careful to not heat the yolks too much to the point of scrambling.

With a mixer on the lowest setting, using metal beaters, add the remaining chocolate butter into the yolks.

In yet another bowl (preferably glass), with mixer on high, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks begin to form. With a lower speed, gradually add the confectioner's sugar. Continue whipping until thicker, harder peaks form.

With a spatula, gently fold in egg meringue into the chocolate mixture using 1/3 scoops at a time.

Pour and spread evenly into the spring form pan.

Bake for 1 hour or until a cake tester comes out nearly clean. Cool in the pan and then transfer to a flat plate. Garnish with confectioner's sugar, cocoa, pureed raspberries, or fresh spearmint leaves. Or....

Chocolate Ganache:
    In a heavy sauce pan, scald 1/2 cup whipping cream and simmer for a couple of minutes. Do not over-boil the cream.

    Finely chop 4 ounces of dark, semi-sweet baker's chocolate.

    In a glass mixing bowl, add hot cream and chocolate. Stir with a spoon and finish with mixer on low. Let sit until it is warm to the touch. Glaze the torte'. Wow your family and guests. Get people to tell you how wonderful you are and how you should be married because you'd make such a great husband due to your wonderful baking skills. Grin. Get depressed and have a slice of torte', served chilled!