The holiday cookie crush is precisely when you'd like to have an extra hand in the kitchen, and a stand mixer can be that. But are they worth the cost? We asked the experts.
Indulging in cookies, cakes, and pies over the holiday season is a much-loved tradition, for people celebrating Hanukkah, Kwanza, or Christmas. Whether you're making mincemeat tarts with a buttery, flaky shortcrust or boozy, tender Christmas Fruitcake, this time of the year, we all aim to get things just right.
Many bakers swear by their stand mixer, a traditionally expensive kitchen tool with a relatively large countertop footprint, to make sure these treats turn out perfectly. But do you really need to shell out for a stand mixer to get the job done, or can other, less expensive and more versatile tools handle the task just as well?
When Is a Stand Mixer Necessary?
Before we dive into answering whether or not you should splurge on a shiny stand mixer, perhaps it's best to cover where this machine excels.
Bread, fluffy marshmallows, sky-high egg whites for meringues, luscious ice cream, and toothsome pasta are some fancy treats that would otherwise require hours of training, extra tools and physical labor. But a stand mixer handles kneading, creaming, whisking, mixing and folding effortlessly.
As professional pastry chef Reiko Stewart notes, "They are a workhorse so you don't have to be. Big time savers, allowing you to multitask and do all the muscle work." Ideal also for those who have mobility issues, lack hand or arm strength, these tools can help tackle the most laborious parts of baking to achieve a consistent result.
One important point to note if you are in the market for one, Stewart advises searching out a lever stand mixer rather than the tilt head one. This style is optimal for scraping the bowl and pouring. She adds, "You don't need to scrape down the bowl, and I feel it actually cuts down mixing time."
Newbie and experienced bakers alike can benefit from achieving uniform doughs with the machine, as well as nailing key steps like creaming butter and sugar until "light and fluffy" or whipping egg whites "to stiff peaks."
Though, by the same token, as stand mixers are hands-off, distracted bakers can easily overmix with the machine, overworking doughs or batters if they aren't careful.
Owner of The Modern Pantry in North Vancouver BC, Kendall Gustavson, elaborated, "I feel strongly that no equipment is 'necessary' for great baking. There were many years when I baked with a wooden spoon and rolled cookies out with a wine bottle. That being said, it's a heck of a lot easier to get a good quality product with a stand mixer."
Alternatives to the Stand Mixer
As a regular home baker myself, I get by quite well without a stand mixer, making brownies and pies and cookies (though to what quality, who can say). Sometimes I use the food processor (admittedly, the food processor has many of the same issues as a stand mixer), and sometimes, I reach for a big bowl and a spatula or a wooden spoon.
Our pastry chefs disagreed on whether alts could take on the task the same way a stand mixer does. Scrivens and Gustavson agreed that with enough patience and arm power, a whisk, a spatula, and a bowl could be great affordable and low-footprint options for bakers.
A good "hold-over," Stewart says, is the hand mixer, a more affordable option. Still, with less power than a traditional stand mixer, our pastry chefs complained that it doesn't quite meet the mark, especially when trying to achieve particular desserts like mousses or meringues.
Nevertheless, a hand mixer could be an adequate option for those who find they don't have the hand strength to whisk and beat for several minutes or find it challenging to achieve results on their own.
So, Do You Need a Stand Mixer?
According to our pastry chefs, the occasional baker can make do without a stand mixer, despite their many benefits. These small appliances have many admirable attributes but are costly and take up a large amount of counter space (and cupboard space for storage), especially for individuals with smaller kitchens.
The highly-valorized KitchenAid can cost between $300 and $600, placing them in a similar category to more expensive, luxury products like Vitamix blenders or Nespresso espresso makers.
A high-quality stand mixer is also heavy, deterring bakers from lugging it out of drawers and cupboards, and perhaps pushing you to use your tried and true hand mixer or a wooden spoon and spatula instead.
As with any big kitchen purchase, it's best to consider how often you'll be using the product. If you bake cinnamon buns every week, host a family dinner and love to finish it with a pie, or are just an avid baker, then a stand mixer may be a huge time-saver and the means to level up your baking game. To bake a few rounds of cookies this holiday season and then stash it away only for the next year, you can probably pass.