As someone who makes bread and pastries using industrial-grade equipment for a living, people often assume I’m a snob when it comes to baking tools. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Not only do I not own a “real” rolling pin (why bother when a wine bottle gets the job done?), but the piece of equipment I reach for most often when baking at home is my trusty electric hand mixer.
Stand mixers may be all the rage, and it’s true that they can perform a huge variety of tasks, making it easier to make bread, cakes, and even pasta. The snazzy colors and matte finish options that beg to be prominently displayed in one’s kitchen are another selling point. But, when it comes to home baking, a good, old fashioned hand mixer like the one my grandma used to use is my tool of choice.
Unlike stand mixers, hand mixers are generally lightweight so that they can be easily maneuvered around mixing bowls by hand. They come with two metal beater attachments that act like whisks, though thanks to a range of speed settings, they’re far more powerful. And while a stand mixer might appeal to the set-it-and-forget-it type, for a quasi-control freak like myself, it’s extremely satisfying to see ingredients come together from the combined forces of muscle and mechanics.
Hand mixers are considerably less expensive than their stationary cousins, yet they can accomplish almost as many tasks. I use mine for everything from mixing cake batter and cookie dough, to whipping cream and beating egg whites for meringues. Sure, you can’t use a hand mixer to knead bread dough or shape pasta, but for that, I can use my hands. Hand mixers are also super easy to clean, and because they’re not tethered to one large unit, you can use whatever sized mixing bowl you need, helpful for when you want to scale up a recipe.
I often do a lot of prep on my dining table, and the idea of schlepping a heavy stand mixer over from my kitchen is enough to get me to abandon my baking plans altogether, but you can use hand mixers practically anywhere. I’m partial to KitchenAid’s cordless 7-speed hand mixer which, unlike the brand’s stand mixer, doesn’t even require you to be near an outlet. Plus, hand mixers take up much less space than stand mixers. As someone with a tiny kitchen (many people who live in cities can probably relate), I simply can’t let a big, bulky mixer occupy precious countertop real estate. (I need that counter space to roll out dough with my wine bottles.)
Since the pandemic began, I’ve turned to baking at home for a calming way to unwind, and even as I make birthday cakes layered with buttercream and huge batches of cookies to give to loved ones and charitable bake sales, I find my trusty hand mixer always gets the job done.
I should admit that I do own a stand mixer: It was a Cyber Monday impulse purchase that I made over a year ago, but I haven’t taken it out of the box since it was delivered. Maybe, if I find myself with more counter space one day, I’ll unbox it and use it on the rare occasion that I need to cream sugar and butter at the same time I’m blow-drying my hair. Until then, I’ll stick with (sort of) mixing everything by hand.
Brittany Ross is a New York/Philly-based writer, performer, and baker.