True story: A long time ago, as a lowly magazine assistant with the ink still drying on my grad school degree, I dreamed of a promotion beyond my usual duties of grabbing lunch for my bosses and answering reader mail. When the day finally came and I got my own cubicle, a new title on my business card, and a RAISE, I didn't splurge on Louboutins or a Louis Vuitton tote. (Those came later.) Instead, I marched myself over to Williams-Sonoma and got myself a tangerine stand mixer.
More than a decade later, the stand mixer is still one of my best friends in the kitchen, taking pride of place on the counter and outlasting the fancy bags and shoes collecting dust in my closet. If you want a splurge that actually pays off, a stand mixer is your best bet.
If you're mentally picturing a stand mixer, chances are what you're thinking of is the KitchenAid version — like Kleenex and Q-Tips, the brand name has become the industry standard descriptor, likely much to the chagrin of Breville, Cuisinart, et al. As of 2014, KitchenAid was selling more than 2.5 million stand mixers annually, so for all intents and purposes, that's probably the only brand you've encountered. A stand mixer combines heavy duty steel construction and a powerful motor to make it an indispensable tool for both bakers and cooks alike.
Essentially, a stand mixer is an extra pair of big, beefy arms in your kitchen. Use it wherever you could use a helper to do a mixing task while you busy yourself with another part of the recipe at hand. It's more efficient and better at evenly combining ingredients than a human could ever be; it cuts down on your prep time; and it's built to last. (Yes, as a professional cook, I actually own two stand mixers: the everyday 5-quart KitchenAid Artisan, and the big, badass 7-quart Pro Line version with 1.3 horsepower under the hood.)
What's a stand mixer good for?
A basic stand mixer comes with three blade attachments: a beater, a whisk and a dough hook. Which one you want to use depends on your desired outcome:
• Use the flat beater for most tasks, including mixing cookie and cake batters and frostings; for shredding pulled pork or chicken; for mixing meatloaf or meatballs if you don't want to touch it with your hands; and for blending both sweet and savory ingredients, such as incorporating butter into warm citrus curd or mashing boiled potatoes with butter and milk for a creamy comfort meal.