The 34 stand mixers we have in our test kitchen are our not-so-little helpers. Our test cooks use them daily to effortlessly mix, whip, and knead, and we’ve even found some unexpected uses, such as shredding pulled pork and mashing potatoes. Our favorite high-end full-size stand mixer—the KitchenAid Pro Line Series 7 Quart Bowl-Lift Stand Mixer—and our favorite inexpensive stand mixer, the KitchenAid Classic Plus Series 4.5 Quart Tilt-Head Stand Mixer, which is slightly smaller—are powerful, but their heft makes them cumbersome to lift and store. This isn’t a problem for home cooks who have big kitchens, but a full-size stand mixer can take up valuable kitchen real estate in smaller spaces. Recently we’ve seen mini stand mixers on the market that bill themselves as 25 percent lighter and 20 percent smaller than full-size versions but still powerful enough to tackle most recipes. KitchenAid, the maker of our two favorites, released its Artisan Mini 3.5 Quart Tilt-Head Stand Mixer, which promised to save counter space but still offer the same power as its full-size siblings. To find out if these claims were true, we tested it and two other mini stand mixers, all with bowl capacities of 3.5 quarts or less and priced from about $40 to about $250. We used each model to mix cookie dough and cake batter, make frosting, knead bread dough, whip heavy cream, and whip egg whites for meringue.
The mini stand mixers we tested operate in two different ways. One design features two stationary beaters that spin in place in the mixing bowl. The second design offers what industry experts refer to as “planetary action,” a term used to describe how a single beater that spins on an axis circles the mixing bowl in the opposite direction (much like the way the earth revolves around the sun). Our lineup included one stationary and two planetary-action mixers.
The two designs performed very differently. The mixer with the two stationary beaters stirred only what was directly underneath the beaters, so we had to finish mixing every food by hand. This mixer also struggled through our most basic tests; it was unable to thoroughly whip cream, beat egg whites to soft peaks, or produce a glossy half-batch of meringue. To see if the stationary movement of the beaters was to blame, we added yogurt to the mixing bowl along with some blue and yellow food dye and timed how long it took for the yogurt to turn green. Even after 5 minutes of mixing, the yogurt remained white with blue and yellow streaks—a confirmation that the stationary beaters weren’t efficiently mixing the dyes into the yogurt.
This mixer also featured a rotating disk beneath the bowl as well as a lever at the base that would allow the user to shift the bowl horizontally. We guessed these features were meant to help the beaters more effectively mix ingredients, but the yogurt remained streaked even after we manually turned and shifted the bowl.
The two mixers that aced all our tests operated via planetary action. Their spinning beaters efficiently circled the bowl, ensuring that there was no unmixed flour in cake batter and that chocolate chips were evenly distributed in cookie dough. When we tried the yogurt dye test with these mixers, both turned the yogurt green within 90 seconds.
In previous stand mixer testings, we found that if a machine was too light it would “walk” itself off the counter. Two of the mixers, whose bodies were made of plastic and weighed 8.6 and 3.65 pounds, compensated for their weight with suction cups secured to the their bases. While the suction cups did keep the stand mixers in place while we used them, they proved frustrating: To lift one of these mixers from the counter, we had to wrap our arms around its entire base and yank with full force. We preferred the mixer with a little more heft and no suction cups. Our favorite small stand mixer, which weighed about 16 pounds, was heavy enough that it didn’t jump around during testing but still light enough to carry without difficulty. Though 16 pounds may seem heavy compared to the 3.65 pounds of the lightest mixer, it’s still much lighter than our favorite full-size mixers, which weigh 26.6 pounds and 21.25 pounds.
Weight also played another role: It determined how loud the mixer was. While we expect a stand mixer to make some noise, testers were startled by how loud the two lighter mixers were. In comparison, the heavier mixer was relatively quiet, enough so that we could hold a conversation without shouting while the mixer was running at top speed.
Bridget Smyser, mechanical engineer and associate professor at Northeastern University, explained that as mixer attachments rotate, they vibrate. Lighter machines will rattle and vibrate more than heavier machines will, and will therefore make more noise.
The two stand mixers that operated via planetary action easily mixed cookie dough and cake batter; kneaded bread dough; whipped meringue to stiff, glossy peaks; and whipped cream. However, one of the mixers did so faster, more thoroughly, and with greater efficiency. To understand why, we looked at the mixers’ power.
All three mixers had from 250 to 300 watts of power, but our favorite mixer, which aced all the tests, was on the low end of that spectrum, with just 250 watts. Smyser explained that the true measurement of a mixer’s power comes down to torque, not wattage.
Torque is the rotational force of the mixer—how efficiently it can push the mixing attachment through the batter or dough. Take an electric handheld mixer, for example: The beaters rotate quickly, but they don’t pull a lot of the batter with them because the mixer lacks torque. Consequently, a handheld mixer takes longer to mix batter, and it doesn’t work with really stiff bread dough or pizza dough. A good stand mixer not only has attachments that rotate quickly, Smyser said, but also puts a lot of force (in the form of torque) behind each revolution.
We also consulted Duncan Freake, a mechanical engineer with Continuum, a global innovation design firm in Boston, Massachusetts. Both Freake and Smyser said it is difficult to measure torque. Instead, Freake suggested examining the inner workings of the stand mixers. Unsurprisingly, once we took the top off each mixer, we found that our favorite was comprised mostly of metal parts, whereas the parts of the two lower-ranking mixers were made primarily of plastic. Freake explained that plastic gears are cheaper and lighter but are also less efficient, durable, and powerful than metal gears.
Ultimately, we named the KitchenAid Artisan Mini 3.5 Quart Tilt-Head Stand Mixer our favorite mini stand mixer. It weighed 6 pounds less than the KitchenAid Classic Plus Series 4.5 Quart Tilt-Head Stand Mixer and 9 pounds less than the KitchenAid Pro Line Series 7 Quart Bowl-Lift Stand Mixer. Despite the mini mixer being just a couple of inches smaller in height and width than the other KitchenAid models, testers quickly noticed the size and weight difference, finding the 16-pound Artisan Mini much easier to lift and maneuver than its 22- and 25-pound siblings.
But can it do everything the big stand mixers can? In a final experiment, we tested the limits of the mini KitchenAid model with three stiff high-gluten, high-hydration doughs that other stand mixers have traditionally struggled with in our kitchens: stand-mixer pizza dough, sticky high-hydration pizza dough, and ultrastiff bagel dough. In each case, we compared the results to those of the KitchenAid Classic Plus Series 4.5 Quart Tilt-Head Stand Mixer. In both the stand-mixer pizza dough and bagel dough tests, the mini mixer performed identically to the Classic Plus: The doughs came together within the recipe times and the mixers worked steadily without jumping around too much. However, the mini mixer struggled with the sticky, high-hydration pizza dough, and ultimately, the dough never fully came together. And while we don’t often make double batches of any of these doughs, the full-size mixers can do so if needed, but the mini could not.
If you’re a serious baker who frequently relies on your stand mixer to power through tough recipes or big batches and you have the kitchen space, we recommend our two full-size favorites. Both can handle wet, sticky doughs and double batches.
But for those who find storage space and/or mixer weight to be a concern, we recommend the KitchenAid Artisan Mini 3.5 Quart Tilt-Head Stand Mixer. Granted, this mixer costs more than the KitchenAid Classic Plus stand mixer, but our take is that you get what you pay for. This mini mixer was as easy to use as it was powerful. It also comes in 18 fun colors (the Classic Plus comes in two and the Pro Line six). We found only one recipe where it truly struggled—the sticky, high-hydration pizza dough—but it made another pizza dough with ease. If you’re a casual baker and like to have a mixer on hand for occasional projects but don’t want to devote serious kitchen space to this appliance or find the larger KitchenAid stand mixers too heavy, the KitchenAid Artisan Mini is a great choice.