To the ovens! with, or without a mixer.

The fall baking books are trickling in, and a curious phenomenon seems to be cropping up:  baking without a mixer

 Yvonne Ruperti's One Bowl Baking is an example.  Its promise of simplicity is somewhat disingenuous- one bowl, yes, but the equipment glossary (p. 14 - 17) calls out everything from pastry blender to a cake wheel.  Still, Ruperti pulls off an impressive array of sweets - not just the bars and cookies and muffins you'd expect, but full-size cakes and frostings.

Sure, you may say, but how about bread?  How about pastry?  Surely you gotta break out the mixer for those.  Think again, says Baking By Hand, by Andy & Jackie King.  The book doesn't make much of an argument for ease - if you're attempting croissants, ease probably isn't your top priority anyway. What the Kings point out is what all baking students know - most breads and pastries have long been made without mixers, and you can't simplify the recipes that much by plugging in anyway.

But then there's this statement, found in the gorgeous new Model Bakery Cookbook out of Napa: "We don't know of any professional baker or serious home baker who doesn't own a heavy-duty stand mixer...In short, if you love baking, get a stand mixer.  We have supplied instructions for making the recipes with a spoon or hand mixer whenever possible,but once you experience the efficiency of a stand mixer, you will never go back."  

Oho! What we have here is a philosophical difference.  There is, on the one hand, the dream of artisanal cooking, where each dish is made by hand, with attention, meaning, and love, and you can bake even complex, showy confections without mechanization.  There is, on the other hand, the reality of life, in which a stand mixer makes the difference between bakinganything and baking nothing at all.

And I think you won't have to look far to find similar dichotomies played out in other cookbooks and - dare I say it - in most if not all other realms of life.

Postscript.   Oh - and by the way, I finally made those rice crackers from the "Rainy Day" recipe post, and alas, they did not work out -  they fell apart and had a gritty, not crunchy texture.  I don't  know whether it was my rice flour, or my rolling technique, or some mysterious X factor.  Off I went  to the store for a pack of Ka-Me wakame-flavored rice crackers...  

11 Comments

  • ellabee  on  10/1/2013 at 12:17 PM

    Really appreciate the update on the rice crackers; was already turning away from that book because the EYB indexing shows how few actual cracker recipes it has. Is there anything helpful in it on techniques (for rolling and/or mixing)? I recognize in myself and try to tame urges to acquire new cooking equipment. But if I am ever to bake bread and flatbreads, there are a few genuine holes in my cookware set-up: a baking stone or steel, a container for ABin5 refrigerated dough, a bench scraper, and a supply of half-sheet parchment paper. Am about to treat myself to them as a very early Christmas present...

  • PatriciaAnn  on  10/1/2013 at 12:20 PM

    I've always made scones and quick breads by hand, but with joint pain on the increase, my kitchen-aid is getting more and more use. And now, with the clear glass bowl plus a new paddle with a scraper that I recently acquired, I love mixing in it even more.

  • Christine  on  10/1/2013 at 3:17 PM

    I consider myself a (semi-)serious home-baker and a stand mixer is the one kitchen gadget I've never been tempted to buy. A friend of mine even asked me specifically why I didn't put one on my wedding registry and my answer was, "because I don't want one." I honestly feel like it takes up so much darn room for a gadget I don't feel I really need. I have a $25 hand mixer that takes up a fraction of the space and has served me well whenever a mixing bowl and wooden spoon or whisk won't quite do it. I know a stand-mixer can do all sorts of other things, but I prefer to knead dough by hand and I probably wouldn't use half the other attachments out there. Call me nostalgic or old-fashioned, but I don't think baking would be as enjoyable for me if I added ingredients to a bowl, pressed a button, and let the machine do half the work -- but to each her own! I would rather use a stand-mixer than not be able to bake at all, but while I have the ability to work by hand, that's my method of choice. And I have to say, it truly baffles me when I find a simple recipe that only gives stand-mixer instructions. I feel that kind of thing can sometime intimidate first-timers -- imagine feeling like you can't even attempt a basic recipe without a $300 machine because you don't have a reference point of how the the "old-fashioned" way works? I'm sure that isn't the intention, but it does make me wonder when exactly this shift happened, as it seems to have crept up on me!

  • veronicafrance  on  10/1/2013 at 4:29 PM

    I like Christine's comment! I like baking but I don't have a stand mixer either. I'd love one (getting mixer envy from watching the Great Britih Bake Off), but a) they are very expensive b) I only have a small kitchen, and c) they don't do anything I can't do by hand or with a small handheld whisk. Like Christine I'm surprised by recipes for cakes and bread that assume you must use a stand mixer; it must put beginners off what are really very simple processes. People managed for centuries without mixers. Then again, if I had one I would probably bake even more, which wouldn't be good for my waistline :)

  • Susan_F  on  10/1/2013 at 5:11 PM

    Last year I would have agreed with Christine and Veronica's comments - then I was given a beautiful red KitchenAid in the summer. It is the most fabulous piece of kit in my kitchen and I just love it. It's used almost daily from shredding chicken to making meringues and so many, many other tasks. It's a joy to work with and so easy to wash afterwards (unlike my food processor which I only use if I really have to). It's just one of these things that, until you've got one you can do without it, but once you've got it you'll never let it go!

  • tsusan  on  10/2/2013 at 5:08 AM

    Fascinating to hear the different perspectives on this subject! I feel both impulses too - I love baking by hand, but in reality the mixer is a huge help and lets me bake on days I wouldn't even attempt it. ellabee, there were 2 things I liked about the rice cracker recipe: 1) I liked the technique of rolling them layered in an opened Ziploc bag - that worked quite well, though I did 4 at a time instead of 1, which would have taken me - well, 4 times as long; and 2) the mirin-soy glaze! I liked learning the secret of that addictive rice-cracker taste - may apply it elsewhere if I think of it.

  • veronicafrance  on  10/2/2013 at 2:38 PM

    I hear what you're saying Susan_F. I suspect if someone gave me one I would love it, and find space for it somehow. I'm hankering after a Kenwood ... And like yours, my food processor (a present) stays in the cupboard most of the time -- too much of a nuisance.

  • Avocet  on  10/2/2013 at 7:29 PM

    I have the Kitchenaid I bought in 1965, and I use it at least once a week. My kitchen is small, but it sits in a corner of the counter, so it's out of the way. It's great for making cookies and cakes with children. Holding and manipulating a hand mixer is intimidating and tiring for kids, so the stand mixer gets them to get into the fun of baking easily, and baking is a great gateway into the joy of cooking. The grinder attachment gets a lot of use. It's so easy to make a small amount of sausage, for instance. That's another fun project to do with kids.

  • boardingace  on  10/4/2013 at 10:52 PM

    While I wouldn't want to change Christine's perspective for the world, I love my stand mixer and don't consider it to be a detriment to the true love and experience of cooking in any way. Because my mother and grandmother had their Kitchenaid mixers and used the same one for their entire baking lives, I find that it also has quite a bit of nostalgia itself. It's also very practical for meringues and the like. Therefore, these books have no appeal to me.

  • boardingace  on  10/6/2013 at 11:01 AM

    I just thought of The Mixer Bible cookbook, which I love - obviously the opposite concept ;)

  • PatriciaScarpin  on  10/30/2013 at 11:08 AM

    I can't live without my stand mixer - it saves me so much time! I can do so much while it works for me.

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