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Hand and stand mixers
Choose machines that excel at the tasks you do most. Hand mixers are best for light chores and powerful stand mixers are ideal for cooks who make food from scratch.

Which food-prep appliance best suits your style and the foods you prepare? Hand mixers can handle light chores such as whipping cream or mixing cake batter. And powerful stand mixers are ideal for cooks who make bread and cookies from scratch.

WHAT'S AVAILABLE

The big push in mixers is for more power, which is useful for handling heavy dough. You'll find everything from heavy-duty models offering the most power and the largest mixing bowls to light-service machines that are essentially detachable hand mixers resting on a stand. Models vary in power from about 200 to 700 watts. Sales of light-duty, convenient hand mixers have held their own in recent years.

KitchenAid owns about half the stand-mixer market; Hamilton Beach and Sunbeam are the next best-selling brands. Price range: $40 to $400.

Black & Decker, Hamilton Beach, and Sunbeam are the dominant brands among hand mixers. Price range: $10 to $75.

IMPORTANT FEATURES

Stand mixers generally come with one bowl, a beater or two, and a dough hook. Some mixers offer options such as splash guards to prevent flour from spewing out of the bowl, plus attachments to make pasta, grind meat, and stuff sausage. Stand mixers generally have 5 to 16 speeds; we think three well-differentiated settings is enough. You should be able to lock a mixer's power head in the Up position so it won't crash into the bowl when the beaters are weighed down with dough. Conversely, it should lock in the Down position to keep the beaters from kicking back when tackling stiff dough.

Just about any hand mixer is good for nontaxing jobs such as beating egg whites, mashing potatoes, or whipping cream. The slow-start feature on some mixers prevents ingredients from spattering when you start up, but you can achieve the same result by manually stepping through three or so speeds. An indentation on the underside of the motor housing allows the mixer to sit on the edge of a bowl without taking the beaters out of the batter.

HOW TO CHOOSE

Decide how much mixer you need. Just about any stand or hand mixer will do for all those simple mixing and whipping chores. But if you're a dedicated baker, you'll probably want to invest in a heavy, powerful stand mixer, because it can knead even two loaves' worth of bread dough with ease.

Downplay wattage and number of speed settings. Manufacturers stress wattage and number of speeds, but neither figure necessarily translates into better performance. For example, some stand mixers have as many as 16 speeds; some hand mixers have 9. We think three well-differentiated speeds are sufficient. The slower the lowest speed, the better; slow speeds prevent spattering.

Speeds should be clearly indicated. With some of the inexpensive hand mixers we tested, the switch you use to select speeds didn't line up well with the speed markings.

Consider size and weight. Hand mixers should feel well balanced and comfortable to hold; most that we tested did. Size and weight can be a concern with stand mixers--some weigh more than 20 pounds--but their heft gives them the stability to handle tough jobs.

All the stand mixers that we tested have heads that tilt up. Make sure that you will have enough clearance if you plan to keep the mixer on a counter below a cupboard.

Consider beater style and motion. Most of the top-performing hand mixers have wire beaters without the thick center post found on traditional-style beaters. The wire beaters performed well and were easier to clean.

Light-duty stand mixers typically have stationary beaters and a bowl that sits on a revolving turntable. The bowl sometimes needs a push to keep spinning.

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