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The mixer, all revved up

June 22, 2005|Judy Yao | Times Staff Writer

In the home baker's kitchen, the stand mixer is the undisputed workhorse, whipping egg whites to perfect peaks, kneading bread effortlessly and turning out cookie dough in a pinch.

But even then, it has its limits. Its motor can burn hot with too stiff a dough. Or its bowl might be too small. Froth up too many egg whites and they can get perilously close to the rim. And want to make a triple batch of cookies all at once? Forget it.

Until recently, short of buying an expensive and gargantuan commercial model, home bakers didn't have much choice but to work around such shortcomings.

But the latest generation of stand mixers is changing that. Imagine a home machine that can knead 7 pounds of flour for 10 loaves of bread, or whip up 20 egg whites or make 13 dozen cookies. With bowls that hold 6 to 8 quarts (compared with the standard 4 1/2 ), these mixers also have horsepower to spare.

We selected six high-capacity mixers to test, considering power, functionality, design and price. They ranged from $350 for the KitchenAid Professional 6 to a $770 for the Matfer Bourgeat Alphamix. The other four cost between $400 and $500. We included the Bosch and Electrolux, two mixers that are popular in Europe and radically different in design from Kitchen Aid-type mixers.

Most stand mixers come with three attachments -- a whisk, a paddle and a dough hook. Which to use when?

In general, the whisk, often the shape of a wire balloon, is designed to incorporate air into whatever you're beating. So it's especially good for meringues, whipped cream and sponge cakes. The flat paddle is perfect for creaming butter and works well for cookies and frostings. And the dough hook is the most specialized of the three; it's made for kneading yeast breads.

Whichever attachment you use, keep an eye on your bowl no matter what a recipe says. You need to watch against overworking the contents, especially with one of these powerful mixers.

Speeds for the stand mixers we tested varied widely. What would be considered a medium setting for the Bosch (which has four speed settings) would be a 6 on the 12-speed Viking. A good rule: Always start at the lowest setting and adjust accordingly. If flour is flying everywhere, decrease the speed. When in doubt, check the manual; many have recommended settings.

Four of the mixers (the KitchenAid, DeLonghi, Bosch and Matfer Bourgeat) have automatic shut-off protection, which prevents motor burnout. It's also worth noting that the mixers aren't limited to making doubled recipes but can handle smaller quantities equally as well. Just as their manuals promise, both the Viking and KitchenAid (with some height adjustment) can whip a single egg white.

To test the mixers, we gave each attachment a task: For the whisk, we tested how long it took to whip four egg whites to a stiff peak at the highest speed setting. For the paddle, we gave it a creaming challenge: a 4-ounce cube of cold butter, cut into four equal pieces. To test the dough hook, we made a rustic hearth bread, enough for two loaves.

All the mixers passed the whipping and kneading tests. But it was the creaming test that separated those that could from those that could not.

Our least favorite was the Electrolux Assistent DLX 2000. Despite some nice features, the assembly and disassembly of the various components took some getting used to, and it failed the creaming test.

The clear winner was the DeLonghi DSM7, which performed each of the tests brilliantly and was a joy to use. The more powerful (and more pricey) Viking came in a close second.

It's gratifying to see the stand mixer catching up with the rest of the kitchen. Recently, when I made a three-tiered anniversary cake for some friends -- enough for 70 guests -- it quickly became apparent that although my large oven could easily handle the cake pans, my mixer was woefully inadequate. I had to make several batches of batter and buttercream, which took a lot longer than I would have liked.

Next time, it'll be a breeze. I'll be ready -- and so will my new mixer.

*

Savory hearth bread

Total time: 1 hour, 25 minutes plus about 5 hours rising time

Servings: 16 to 20 ( makes 2 loaves)

Note: Adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum's "The Bread Bible." Serrano ham is available at Trader Joe's markets, Bristol Farms markets and at La Espanola Market in Harbor City; you can use prosciutto instead.

Dough starter (sponge)

2 cups bread flour

1/2 cup whole-wheat flour

3/4 teaspoon dry yeast

2 1/2 teaspoons honey

About 2 2/3 cups water (70 to 90 degrees)

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the bread flour, whole-wheat flour and yeast. Stir together the honey and water and add to the flour mixture. Whisk until very smooth, about 2 minutes, until the sponge is the consistency of a thick batter. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Set aside, covered with plastic wrap.

Bread

3 3/4 cups bread flour

1 teaspoon dry yeast

2 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 cup finely chopped Serrano ham

1 cup grated Dry Jack cheese, such as Vella

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