Sunday, November 11, 2012

'Tis the Season for Mixers & Food Processors

For an avid baker the two most expensive and necessary tools are a stand mixer and a food processor, making them the second and third 'expensive' priority after buying good knives. If you use the tips and guidelines in the October post in Tools, combined they will most likely cost more than the basic knives.

The stand mixer is invaluable for achieving breads and cakes with the desired crumb, texture, moisture level...that difficult alchemy without gluten’s elasticity. Creaming fat and sugar to ribbons or fluffy clouds. Turning egg whites into meringue without arms cramping up, and in no time flat. There is a reason many Americans grew up with their mother's beastly heavy, decades sturdy, white Kitchenaid workhorse holding pride of place in a counter corner…they perform and are hard to kill!

The food processor makes chopping nuts into meal/flour possible, and cheaper than store-bought nut flours. Smooth, flawless ganache a simple matter of pulsing a button. Ice creams, purees for fruit sorbets, all faster and less mess than any other preparation method. Cuisinart is currently doing a model change, with the 'old' styles at 50-66% of the usual retail price...

Each of these is a couple hundred dollars, or more, and worth every penny. Here are ways to find them at the best price possible.

Bowl-Lift 6 quart Mixer

Costco and Sam's both carry Kitchenaid mixers and Cuisinart food processors in sizes that will accommodate almost every recipe found in baking books, for significantly less than mainstream, big box retailers or department stores. They tend to have better prices, plus sales and rebates, before major food-centric holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter) and Mother's Day…which means right Now! As in an 11 cup processor for $149 or less.

Since the late 90s Kitchenaid has aggressively pursued becoming the most desired mixer in the US with a plethora of designer colors, three different sizes of bowls, two styles of mixer (beater-lift or bowl-lift). This increased production means they have an online outlet for factory refurbished units. Ones returned & repaired (rare), others that didn't pass the initial QC to leave the factory & had to be tweaked to be saleable, and are warrantied.

There are also authorized refurb retailers online and in most outlet malls (Kitchen Collection to name one) who will have a different selection of colors & sizes. The online factory outlet is how I acquired my 6qt empire red mixer…partially funded by selling my decade old 5qt white mixer to a girlfriend wanting her first Kitchenaid on a budget. Another friend acquired hers via Craigslist at a divorce sale. Another has her grandma's hand-me down Kitchenaid; her only expense was having a repair shop oil & tune it up. A friend who is Thrift Queen found one for her daughter at a thrift store.

I'm comfortable advocating buying used or refurbished Kitchenaids & Cuisinarts because they are difficult to kill, easy to check before buying, and are often sold/discarded for reasons that have nothing to do with their functionality. Some people don't use them, received them as an unwanted gift, or like me upgrade to a large mixer or want a different color.
Testing a used unit before buying: plug it in, go thru the levels of speed, listen to it for clicks or grinds. Look at the bowl for dings indicating the beater needs adjusting. Or if a dime placed in the bowl doesn’t move when the mixer is turned on the beater needs adjusting down. To see how easy it is to adjust the beater, watch this video from KitchenaidTV:

When Cuisinarts die usually the motor goes in a hot, smoking death, never to turn again. Easy to spot and simple to plug in to check. Does it turn on, without excess heat, smoke, or weird noises? Time to bargain!

Beater-Lift 5 quart Mixer

A second stand mixer bowl is almost as valuable as the mixer itself. My second bowl is pretty much a dedicated egg white/meringue/whipped cream bowl. It saves precious time in recipes like the Regina de Notte Torte. For additional bowls, beaters, blades etc nothing beats the internet sources of Amazon and eBay. To spot over pricing on used opportunities, spend a bit of time rummaging the internet to be familiar with current prices.

Mixer and Processor acquired? Fantastic! You're ready for decades of seriously delicious baking...German chocolate cake & filling? Apricot brandy pound cake? Lavender chocolate truffles? Kona Inn banana bread? Shortbread? Fig Newtons? Pop over to recipes and get mixing!

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