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How to make the most of your stand mixer

A stand mixer can make a big difference in baking.  (Scott Suchman/For The Washington Post)
A stand mixer can make a big difference in baking. (Scott Suchman/For The Washington Post)
By Becky Krystal The Washington Post

If you’re anything like me, your stand mixer is one of your most prized kitchen possessions. It can do so much, but are you using it right? Whether you’ve just been gifted one for the holidays or are a practiced hand, here are some tips to help you maximize your stand mixer’s potential and avert disaster.

Get an extra bowl

I know, I know, you (or the person who gave you the mixer) probably forked over a significant amount of cash. Still, if you bake a lot and intend to take on more involved recipes, having an extra bowl is worth it. It will help you move seamlessly between recipes on big-batch baking days during the holiday season. It’s especially handy for recipes with multiple components, such as cake batters and frostings, or doughs that are separated for different flavors or colors. Because the mixer bowls are so large, I often find myself pulling them out for other tasks, including straining vegetable broth and whisking waffle batter.

Gradually increase the speed

Don’t be in a rush to crank up the speed of your mixer. Often, it’s best to gradually increase it. Sudden changes can cause ingredients to fly out of the bowl, whether it’s flour or a hot sugar syrup. Been there.

Stick to lower speeds with bread dough

Kneading bread dough is one of the best things to do with a stand mixer. But there are limits. Using too high a speed while kneading can overtax, even damage, your machine. Manufacturers typically recommend going no higher than low or medium-low (Speed 2 or 3, depending on the model) with yeast doughs. With softer bread dough, say, something like challah, I’m OK with pushing closer to medium if I’m really trying to bring the ingredients together. You can even briefly increase the speed to medium and drop it back down once things are better incorporated. Remember that beyond the risk to your machine, you can overknead the dough. If your dough is especially stiff, as with bagels, stick with the lower end of the spectrum.

Keep utensils out of the mixer while it’s running

I’ll admit to giving in to the temptation to try to shove in a spatula or spoon to nudge in a wayward ingredient or push something off the attachment while the mixer is running. Just don’t. If you catch it wrong, it’s bad for the motor and, of course, you can hurt yourself or break your utensil. Take the extra second to turn off the mixer, during which you can …

Scrape down the bowl

A stand mixer is a wonderful machine, but it’s not perfect. Ingredients can be left on the sides and bottom of the bowl, as well as the beater. Butter is a prime culprit. So once or twice during mixing, turn off the mixer and scrape everything down with a flexible spatula. I tend to do this between major additions – after I have creamed butter and sugar and before the eggs go in, before I add the dry ingredients, etc. It’s also OK to stop using the mixer just before everything is incorporated and finish the job with a quick stir or two by hand to avoid overmixing, lest you end up with tough cookies or cake.

Stay nearby

You wouldn’t walk away from something in the skillet, would you? Same logic here. Especially if you’re mixing something particularly dense or stiff, the mixer can begin to hop around the counter, and you don’t want to disappear the second it goes off the edge. Also, it’s important to be engaged with what’s happening in the bowl. Is the mixer starting to sound or smell off? Are your ingredients threatening to fly out of the bowl? Is the mixer changing speeds on its own? (True story!) Do you need to mix for less or more time than the recipe says? All of these are good reasons to stay within arm’s reach.

Know when to skip it

The stand mixer does a lot of things well. It’s not for everything, however. If you’re beating a small amount of cream, or one or two egg whites, the attachment can struggle to make contact with the ingredients and whip them sufficiently. Sometimes it’s best to just pull out your hand mixer or even a whisk.

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