Published December 1, 2009. From Cook's Country.
Do new, more powerful models make these the equal of stand mixers?
When it comes to heavy-duty baking, we favor stand mixers over hand mixers every time. Even the best hand mixers fail miserably at kneading bread dough, a task any decent stand mixer can handle while freeing the cook to do other things. But if you don’t make bread (or if you knead it by hand), bake only on occasion, or have a small kitchen or budget, a hand mixer is a good alternative. It’s compact, simple to clean, and compared to stand mixers, which cost upward of $250, it’s cheap. Moreover, a hand mixer is good for lighter jobs such as beating egg whites, making whipped cream, and whisking ingredients that are warming over a double boiler (try that with a stand mixer!). It’s also good for small jobs—whipping one egg white or ½ cup cream. But it’s important to invest in a good one. In the past, we’ve found too many hand mixers with lousy designs and weak motors. We gathered seven, priced from $15.99 to $79.99, to see if any could meet our standards.
We beat egg whites to stiff peaks, creamed butter and sugar, whipped cream, and mixed flour and peanuts into thick peanut butter cookie dough. To gauge mixing efficiency, we put cooked potatoes in a bowl with yellow and blue food coloring and used the mixers to mash the potatoes, timing how long it took to turn them bright green. (Don’t do this at home: It results in gluey potatoes.)
None could match the speed and convenience of a stand mixer. Still, all produced satisfactory results for light whipping tasks. It was our mashed potato test, the heavy mixing category, that separated the men from the boys. While two models performed adequately, most struggled. Two models strained their motors and emitted burning smells. Because this task took up to five minutes to complete, we began to appreciate mixers that weighed less. The heaviest in our group of seven weighed 3 pounds and made our arms tired.
Most mixers had little variation between low and high speeds, a flaw that became apparent when we beat thick, heavy peanut butter cookie dough. Two mixers were powerful enough to whip cream almost as quickly as our stand mixer, but they didn’t know the meaning of “low,” spraying flour and ground peanuts all over the counter. We did, however, find exceptions: two mixers offered genuinely “low” speeds that let us gently incorporate ingredients without making a mess.
Beater style made a difference. Traditional hand-mixer beaters are flat, ribbon-shaped strips of metal around a center post. The trouble is, this style traps clumps of batter. We much preferred simple, slim wire beaters that lacked that central post and whipped with great efficiency. Some brands gave us both wire and flat beaters, plus extras: whisks, dough hooks, and even disks for making milkshakes. Simple wire beaters could handle everything we wanted to mix.
A few mixers featured a “bowl rest” (a lip for resting the machine on the bowl rim). Good idea, bad execution: The feature prevented the beaters from reaching the batter in the bottom of the bowl. Quiet mixers won points—some models were deafening. We preferred digital displays to manual dials (which didn’t always match speeds). Separate buttons to eject beaters were safer than models that had you press the speed dial for release; with the latter, it was too easy to switch the mixer on by accident.
One mixer aced every test: it offered excellent control with gentle low speeds and powerful high speeds that nearly matched those of a stand mixer. We liked its digital display and quiet motor. At $49.95, it’s a fraction of the cost of a stand mixer.