Time to take a stand
Stand mixers are the golden boys of the kitchen tech world. With the recent, reasonably inexplicable, explosion in the popularity of baking, many people are even buying them and ACTUALLY USING THEM, rather than having them serve their traditional purpose: looking nice and impressing visitors to your kitchen, who went away thinking you were baking all the time, even though you actually were not.
These industrial-strength ingredient wranglers are expensive beasts, but a good one should last many years, and they do make the creation of breads and cakes considerably more painless, as well as being able to whip up cream, meringues and the like with their whisk attachments.
Oh, and if you want to get into advanced studies, the Kenwoods and Kitchenaids of this world also take attachments that do everything from mincing meat to spiralising veg to making pasta. Ridiculous, frankly, but somebody out there must be buying them…
Stand mixers are serious bits of kit, and can be a serious investment. That's why our man Derek and his good lady wife have spent the last six months trying the following eight stand mixers, in order to rank them from first to last. The first four options are all extremely strong and none of them are bad. Here's our verdict, then…
Sage The Scrape Mixer Pro
As is the case with most Sage kitchen products, chief endorsee Heston Blumenthal has been at least nominally involved in the design of this heavyweight stand mixer. And not coincidentally, it's a stonker.
Like most quality stand mixers – and indeed all commercial models – its 1,000-watt variable-speed motor uses a 'planetry mixing action' to ensure all ingredients are well and truly merged. However, this model goes a step further by dint of a windscreen beater attachment that scrapes any stray ingredients from the side of the bowl… so you don't have to. According to the blurb, 'it works up to three times faster than ordinary beaters so it traps in more air, making lighter fluffier cakes.' We don't know about that, but results were undeniably impressive.
For those who are never really sure what mixing speed to select for any given task, the Sage also features an illuminated gauge on the side and clearly legible settings for whipping and aerating, creaming and beating, light mixing and folding. And should your hands be busy doing other things or you just need a break, set the countdown timer and the process will stop when the clock hits zero.
The Scraper Mixer Pro comes with the usual choice of accessories including a 4.7-litre stainless steel bowl, a splash guard with a huge portal for adding ingredients, a wire whisk and the obligatory dough hook. Sage products rarely fail to impress and this one is no exception. It's only available in grey, but it's the most masculine looking and far and away the most technologically equipped.
Decently quiet too, it's a very smart choice.
T3 verdict5/5, supremely easy to use, yet powerful
Price £270, Sage Appliances
KitchenAid 4.8L Artisan
The brand of mixer that sets the standard KitchenAid's stand mixers are the mainstay of many a TV cookery show – including, until recently, the Great British Bake Off.
KitchenAid's 'K' model mixer was originally designed in the 1930s and not much has changed since then. It still has the same, pleasingly old fashioned 10-speed lever with nice big lettering and a similar lever on the back to lift up the heavy-duty arm. Aside from a sloot for adding pasta-cum-meat grinder type attachments on the front, that's about it.
The 300-watt Artisan is available in 26 tantalising colours and comes with a 4.8-litre stainless steel bowl, a balloon whisk, dough hook and flat beater for heavier mixes. It couldn't be easier to use. Simply throw in the ingredients, lower the arm and slide the speed controller a few notches to the right. The motor fires up and much mixing is done.
A clear, removable plastic lid protects against splash back and features a large portal for the addition of extra ingredients during the mixing process. Few modern mixers match this handsome retro beauty for style or blending efficiency.
Granted, the KitchenAid Artisan costs more than its competitors but you'll reap the benefits in reliability, durability, efficiency and, above all, ease of use. Whether you prefer it or the Sage largely comes down to whether you prefer a modern or classic look.
T3 Verdict 5/5, best for demanding traditionalists
Price From £359, John Lewis
Smeg SMF01 Stand Mixer
UPDATED: The SMF01 is striking showpiece of cod 1950s splendour. Visitors will probably ignore your greetings and head straight towards the counter top for a quick stroke of its smooth, glossy die-cast aluminium head - reminiscent of a Boeing 737 engine - and beautifully machined base.
Then they'll ask you to bake a cake.
The Smeg has a 10-speed, soft-start 800-watt motor - 500 more watts than the KitchenAid, although we actually question the usefulness of that - which makes light work of anything you throw into its equally gorgeous 4.8-litre polished steel bowl. One area where it arguably surpasses the Kitchenaid is that adding and removing tools is easier.
Given that the Smeg is now a tad chaper than the KitchenAid, it's a genuine toss up between the two. In many respects the Smeg seems the better buy as it's equally well built and it comes in a similar range of striking colours. However, one can't discount the renowned reliability of the KitchenAid motor and other moving parts.
We also don't like the look of this one as much, and feel it's also less likely to fit into most kitchens. That's just us, though. And, of course, if you've already filled your kitchenette with other bits from Smeg's art deco-influenced design roster, dive right in. It's a cracking cake companion.
T3 Verdict 5/5, a very strong, more affordable alternative to the KitchenAid, if you don't mind the pastel-toned faux deco look.
Price From £300, Smeg UK
There's been a bit of a kerfuffle in the land of the Great British Bake Off. Almost even before the closing credits of the first show of the last series had ceased, the Twittersphere lit up with a bombardment of angry tweets from viewers who had seen something they did not like. No, not Paul Hollywood's shiny hairdo but the sight of a new stand mixer in place of the loyal KitchenAid model spied in so many previous series.
Well here's the culprit that's had the KitchenAid cognoscenti up in arms. The Kenwood kMix has many modern design flourishes, including a varispeed 500 watt motor, a huge 5-litre mixing bowl and a big control knob that includes a reverse gear no less. But is it any better than the KitchenAid?
The kMix stands taller than the KitchenAid and is just as sturdy. This particular variant comes with a choice of either a glass or stainless steel bowl. We'd opt for the stainless steel version which is much lighter in the hand, prettier to look at and it won't smash into a million shards if dropped.
Where the KitchenAid's clear plastic lid can be added and removed with the mixing arm down, this one's cover is clipped into the mixer head and fits flush with the bowl when the arm is lowered. It's a neat concept in theory but in practice it means having to add extra ingredients mid-mix through a small portal with an annoying flap. The big control knob can be considered a wonderfully tactile thing but its dial is far too hard to read in low light.
On the plus side, the kMix's 500-watt motor is fairly quiet and we like the way it slowly accelerates instead of starting off at full pelt. The unit also comes with the full gamut of accessories: a huge balloon whisk for creams and cakes, a K-beater for dry ingredients, a dough hook and a creaming beater that scrapes the side of the bowl like a spatula. The kMix looks grand in any modern kitchen and does the job well. It's cheaper than the KitchenAid and similarly well built, but the KitchenAid stills wins for effortless operation and simplicity.
T3 Verdict 4/5, the lower price makes this one highly tempting…
Price From £260| Kenwood
Tefal Kitchen Machine
You get a bit more for your money with this mixer. A 1.5-litre blender attachment for smoothie making and a shredder-cum-slicer for knocking up a quick salad.
For a mid-priced machine, the planetary-action equipped Tefal performs exceedingly well. It comes with a hefty 900-watt motor, a 4.6-litre stainless steel mixing bowl, six speed settings and the usual trio of mixing tools.
True, some ingredients tended to stick to the side of the bowl during our sponge test but that's the case with most mixers bar those fitted with spatula-based beaters.
The addition of a blender attachment can be considered a major bonus, especially for those who haven't already got one. It's easy to fit – simply pull off the rotor housing on top and attach – and works surprisingly well. The veggie slicer, though, is a bit of a faff to fit and probably the one item in this package that will rapidly be consigned to the back of the cupboard.
The Kitchen Machine – clearly the boardroom bods at Tefal gave up finding a sexy name for it – isn't the most attractive machine on the worktop but it does the job well enough for its price.
T3 verdict 3/5, best for the casual dough men, not master bakers
Price £200 | Tefal
AEG UltraMix KM4000
This monumental 1,000-watter has the most powerful motor in the roundup, and could feasibly mix concrete. However, you may wish to wear ear muffs when firing it up because it makes a bit of a racket.
That aside, the ultraMix has two main USPs: it comes with a pair stainless steel bowls (one large, one small) and an LED that bathes the contents of the bowl in a cool blue hue. No question, the AEG is an extremely attractive hunk and being of Teutonic/Swedish origin, you can be sure it's superbly built too.
Design wise it looks somewhere between the KitchenAid's unabashed retroness and the post modern clout of the Kenwood kMix. The AEG comes with the usual range of accessories (spiral dough hook, whisk and flat beater) and a large, well-lit, 10-speed knob on the side. It handled a banana cake mix with aplomb, its whisky thing making light, airy work of the ingredients. In the pantheon of smart stand mixers, the AEG does the deed well but the jury's out on the noise it makes in the process.
T3 verdict 3/5, another very credible candidate, if overly noisy
Morphy Richards Folding Stand Mixer
Here's a neat angle – a folding mixer for those with worktop space restraints.
The MR is ideal for the casual cook who bakes once in a while and isn't remotely interested in having a status symbol on the kitchen worktop. Build quality and efficiency can't compete with the prestigious players – this one's all plastic and the twin whisk attachment is titchy by comparison – but it will muster up a huddle of decent cupcakes and the odd loaf.
The folding mechanism, however, is a stroke of genius. After a clean up, both the arm and the vertical column fold down into a neat package for storing in the nearest cupboard. But you will need to find somewhere to stash the bowl. And speaking of bowls, this one actually spins while the whisk (or dough hook) does its stuff. We're pretty sure that's not a good sign, in terms of potential longevity or efficient mixing. The kids will certainly enjoy it, though.
T3 verdict 3/5, best for those with a lack of space.
Price £100, Morphy Richards
Breville Pick & Mix Stand and Hand Mixer
The trend for '50s style retro-designed mixers continues with this budget two-in-one model from the house of Breville. The 380 watt Pick & Mix has two motors which independently drive both the beater and the 3.2-litre stainless steel bowl for a thoroughly decent mix of tougher ingredients like pizza, bread and cake dough.
The Pick & Mix offers ten beater speeds – a very good thing – and two for the bowl itself. Unusually for a stand mixer, this one also offers the wherewithal to remove the top half and use it by hand; great for off-the-cuff cream whipping and the beating of much sauce.
Sure there's a lot of plastic used in its construction, and we wouldn't have this in our home, but it behaves well enough, comes in three slightly insipid pastel colours (vanilla cream, strawberry cream and pistachio green) and, most importantly, is VERY keenly priced.
Our verdict 3/5, best for beginners
Price £47 |Breville