One of the most useful countertop appliances currently available, a simple kitchen mixer is an excellent option for anyone who cooks or bakes regularly. It can take a lot of effort to mix batters and knead dough, which is why kitchen mixers are an important addition to any kitchen. They take most of the hard work out of cooking, which leave the user with more time to focus on other parts of the recipe. Having a high-quality mixer in your kitchen is like having a second person working on the meal with you.
The added convenience of working with a kitchen mixer has made it an essential part of every kitchen. Whether it’s a freestanding countertop mixer, or a simple handheld design, kitchen mixers can help with a variety of tasks that would normally require the user’s full attention. For example, a mixer can be used to quickly whip up cookie dough, cake batter, bread dough, sauces, and marinades without making the chef do everything by hand.
The Different Parts of a Kitchen Mixer
When shopping for a kitchen mixer, it’s important to be well versed in the different features. There are a wide variety of materials that mixers are constructed from and each type of material has its own strengths and weaknesses.
- Plastic – When the chef wants to quickly combine materials in a bowl, but doesn’t want to whisk them by hand, they usually use an automated plastic mixer. Plastic mixers are usually pretty small and work well with small amounts of ingredients. They’re usually handheld and offer the user superior control over the ingredients and the mixing process.
- Basic Metal – If you’re planning on cooking often, a freestanding, basic metal mixer is an excellent choice. Typically constructed from heavy-duty, appliance-grade metal, basic mixers stand on their own and come with a variety of mixing options and addition presets. The bowl that’s included with a basic metal mixer usually isn’t made form the same materials as the mixer itself. Usually, the bowl is made from glass, plastic, or a lighter metal to cut down on weight issues and the overall cost.
- All-Metal Die-Cast Mixer – Primarily used by professional chefs, all-metal mixers are much larger and more powerful than the standard plastic or metal designs. Even novice cooks have use for the mixer’s heavy-duty functions and much prefer using an all-metal mixer to a basic plastic model. The all-metal die-cast mixers are made from high-quality materials and will last much longer than a typical kitchen mixer.
Most freestanding mixers have similar design schemes, but each make and model comes with a variety features and components. Many mixers come with a large mixing base that will increase the stability of the mixer when it’s in use. Mixers have a tendency to move around when they’re turned on, so a large platform helps prevent the mixer from falling over and spilling its contents. Some high-end mixers come with clamps that let you affix the mixer to the worktable, so you don’t have to worry about it moving around or falling over.
The Head Section and Beaters
The mixer’s head section houses a small, electric motor, which connects directly to the mixing attachments. A typical kitchen mixer has one or two beater heads, but some top-of-the-line mixers come with three beater heads or more. Another popular mixer design has two mixer heads pointing in different directions, so you can mix two bowls at once. The beaters are usually dough hooks or wire whisks, but there are many different types of aftermarket beaters that can be purchased to make specialty dishes. Many mixers come with selectable speed setting, ranging from slow to fast, and can be used in conjunction with what the recipe to evenly mix different types of ingredients. The average kitchen mixer should follow a few basic guidelines for each speed setting:
- Slow – When making a light batter or adding dry ingredients to a watery mixture, a slower speed setting is preferred. The initial stages of making a batter, marinade, or light sauce all require a slow mix speed so the ingredients don’t fly out of the bowl
- Medium – After every ingredient is added and the mixture beings to coagulate, a faster setting is required. When set to a medium speed, the ingredients will mix thoroughly and start become thicker
- Fast – Any recipe that uses whipped cream, meringue, or a thick batter should be mixed at the highest speed. When set to high, the mixer will use its power to mix all the heavy ingredients into a thick batter
Many modern mixers also come with a tip-back mode, so the user can access the bowl without having to remove the beater. Usually there’s a lever on the mid-section that tilts the mixer into a leaned back position and allows the use to remove the bowl. While the mixer is in a leaned-back position it’s easy for the chef to scrape excess batter and dough off the beater and consolidate the mixture in the bowl.
Some Things to Keep in Mind
While a standard mixer can be used to whip egg whites, mix butter and sugar, and beat together ingredients, it’s important to be aware of every mixer’s limitations. A low-end mixer will have difficulty mixing large amounts of batter and dough, so have an idea of what you’ll be using your mixer for when you purchase an appliance. Whipping, mixing, beating, and kneading are the four primary functions of a kitchen mixer. If a device can’t accomplish any of these four tasks it might not be the right choice.
Some of the best modern mixers operate with what’s referred to as planetary action, meaning that it rotates on its own axis and orbits around the bowl like a planet orbiting around the sun. Planetary action produces greater contact between the beater and the ingredients, which makes mixing easier and quicker. The orbiting action also creates greater contact between the mixer and the bowl, which means that you’ll have to scrape less batter off the sides and the beater because the batter is deposited in the middle of the mixer with each orbit.
A kitchen mixer should be heavy enough to stand on its own while running, without moving around the table or spilling any ingredients. Heavy-duty, standalone mixers are usually too heavy to easily be moved after they’ve been fully assembled, so they become a permanent fixture in the kitchen. Unless you only want to use the mixer on light sauces and small amounts of batter it’s better to purchase a large, heavy mixer.
One of the most important aspects of a mixer is its bowl capacity because it determines how powerful the mixer is and how many ingredients you can mix at once. A mixer that’s too small will require the user to work in multiple batches, which can be frustrating and time consuming. The bowl should hold at least four and a half quarts (conversion site here), which is large enough to handle a medium sized batch of bread dough or enough cake batter for a three-layer cake. The beaters should reach the bottom of the bowl and then lift up to provide adequate clearance when the bowl needs to be removed. Here’s a basic sizing guide for kitchen mixer bowls:
- 4.5-Quart Bowl – When the cook doesn’t require a mixer very often, but still wants to have a fully functional piece of equipment that can handle most medium sized recipes, then a 4.5 quart bowl is preferred. If you don’t want to cut recipes in half or make multiple batches then it’s recommended that you purchase a mixer with a capacity of 4.5 or higher
- 5 to 6-Quart Bowl – Perfect for anyone who cooks for large amounts of people, a five to six quart bowl is powerful enough to take on almost any recipe. The medium sized bowl design can handle everyday cooking, and special occasions without any issues.
- 7-Quart Bowl – With many recipes, a large capacity bowl will get rid of the inconvenience of having to cut a recipe in half to accommodate the large amount of ingredients. A large mixer saves time, money, and aggravation by letting you mix more materials, faster.
Differing from other types of kitchen appliances, a high wattage doesn’t necessarily mean that the mixer is more powerful. A better indication of the mixer’s power is how many cups of flower or pounds of dough it can handle at once. The mixer’s overall design can also help boost the motor’s power and mixing ability. A mixer with a planetary action will be more powerful than a standard mixer, even if they both operate at the same wattage.
A completely different design than the standard countertop mixer, hand mixers are usually made out of lightweight plastic, and are used for smaller applications. When a chef needs to mix a small amount of ingredients quickly and doesn’t want to set up a full-sized mixer, a hand mixer is their first choice. Hand mixers usually include two rotating metal beaters that interlock with each rotation and are operated by a spinning handle.