Saturday, May 24, 2008

Ask Breadchick: Purchasing the Mixer of Your Dreams

It is funny how sometimes I can tell the time of year from the types of questions and requests my readers email me. For example, around fall I start getting requests for recipes one should use to make hearty breads to hold up the soups, stews and crock pot meals that the change from summer to fall always brings. During Christmas, invariably there will be a question about kuchen and stollen. And what does the approach of June bring? Well questions about Kitchen Aid mixers of course!

Did you know that the number one item requested in kitchen wares on the bridal registry at Crate and Barrel, Williams-Sonama, and Macy's is the Kitchen Aid stand mixer? Did you also know that one of the most returned items from a wedding is duplicate Kitchen Aid stand mixer? I didn't until I started doing a bit of informal research a few weeks ago when I received a letter from two readers begging me to settle a disagreement that had arisen over their bridal registry in regards to a KA mixer. It seems that the future groom thought they should register for the "Big Boy", the Professional 600 while the future bride was thinking more modestly with the Artisan.

This query got me to thinking about my own decision making process when I adopted Isabelle last December.

How did I arrive to the conclusion that the Pro Five Plus was the right mixer for me? Also, what accessories did I get with Isabelle and why?

The first thing I recommend is really and truly think about your baking habits. Are you someone who is baking every day or do you really only bake once or twice a year during the holidays? Do you only bake from mixes or do you bake from scratch? Do you bake only sweets or do you venture into the realm of yeast breads? Do you bake only for you and your family or do you often find yourself baking large batches of cookies for the kid's school bake sales? Finally ask yourself what type of baker do you aspire to be. Maybe now you only bake with mixes but dream of baking a wedding cake from scratch or finally getting that perfectly crunchy crust on a French baguette.

If you only bake occasionally, and then it is normally cookies or some type of batter for muffins or mixes are really more your style, all you need to own is either the Artisan or even the Classic. Both these mixers would more than meet your needs as they are both powerful enough to mix up batches of cookies and make short work of cake mixes. The Artisan is a bit more powerful at at 325W versus 250W but as America's Test Kitchen proved a few years ago when several high powered mixers failed with bread dough while several lessor powered mixers performed well, it isn't always about the wattage but rather the torque that counts. The Artisan can handle up to 9 cups of flour in it's 5 quart bowl and the Classic can handle 8 cups of flour in it's 4.5 quart bowl. Both are tilt head mixers, meaning the whole head rotates up and away from the bowl. Both mixers come with the paddle, whisk and dough hook. The Classic retails for around $250.00 while the Artisan retails for $350.00. The only thing, other than price, that may tip the hand in favor of the Artisan is it comes in all those nifty colors to match any kitchen decor or baker's personality while the Classic comes only in white.

If you are making yeast breads or large amounts of dough or aspire to do either of these things, then you will want to look at a mixer with larger capacity and a bit more power and torque in either the Pro Five Plus or the Pro 600. Both these mixers are bowl lift style, meaning the bowl attaches to an arm lift that then raises the bowl to meet the mixer's head. The Pro Five can handle up to 12 cups of flour in it's 5 quart bowl while the 600 can handle up to 14 in it's 6 quart bowl. Both mixers come with the standard paddle and whisk attachments but have upgraded dough hooks that really duplicate the hand kneading process quite well. Both come in plenty of colors, even if not as many as the Artisan, and both are the same size and weight. The Pro Five Plus retails for around $450.00 while the Pro 600 retails for around $525.00. Kitchen Aid offers a version of the Pro Five Plus that is rated for Commercial use as well, which basically means you won't get in trouble with the health inspector if you run a food business from your home. The Commercial only comes in white and retails for $550.00.

Now that you have figured out which Kitchen Aid mixer to purchase, what accessories should you get?

If you are a frequent baker, on my short list are an extra bowl, an extra paddle and bowl covers. I am so glad I have an extra bowl and paddle because when I'm in the middle of a complex Daring Bakers challenge or have two different loaves of bread going, I don't have to stop and wash my mixer's bowl and paddle. And if you make yeast breads, the bowl cover turns the bowl into the perfect proofing container.

A "nice to have" but not necessary accessory if you bake a lot is the pour shield. I have one but I don't use it as much as thought I would, except when I need to drizzle liquids while the mixer is going. (Note: It appears that Kitchen Aid has discontinued this accessory as I can't find it on their website and no longer see mention of it in the mixer descriptions except for the Artisan and Pro 600, which appear to now come packaged with the pour shield)

After that, you should again consider what you like to cook and how often you would use the attachments in regards to deciding about adding the pasta maker, ice cream maker, sausage stuffer, juicer, grain mill or any of a number of other gadgets you can attach to your stand mixer.

I have the pasta maker and the ice cream maker and neither of them have been out of their packaging yet. Not because I don't plan to use them, mind you, but rather six months into Isabelle's arrival, I have yet to find the time to play with either of them. Rest assured, you will be the first to know when I do!

Finally, comes the question do you purchase brand new or refurbished? This is a matter of personal taste. Obviously, if you are registering for the stand mixer as gift, chances are it will be brand new. But if you are purchasing for yourself and are looking for a bargain, go check out the online Kitchen Aid Outlet, where you will find both close outs and refurbished stand mixers. Most of the refurbished mixers are not mixers that were returned for service and damaged or were completely rebuilt but rather are returns that Kitchen Aid can't sell by law as new or got a ding or scratch during manufacturing. The refurbished mixers come with a full refundable or replacement six month warranty and the same great Kitchen Aid customer service as the new ones. Isabelle is a refurb and she hasn't given me an ounce of trouble and believe me, if she was going to, she would have by now because I use her often and with some pretty stiff doughs.

There you have it in a nut shell, a quick guide to purchasing the Kitchen Aid stand mixer of your dreams.

So which mixer did my two readers end up putting on their bridal registry? They went with the Pro Five Plus in black because both said while now they were happy to bake simple white bread and brownies, they had plans to invest in tiles for their oven and start baking the big country style boules and baguettes they have read about here as soon as they were finished remodeling the house they just purchased. They also registered for an extra bowl, extra paddle, bowl covers and the ice cream maker.

I'm thinking there are some bowl covers from Breadchick in their future...