Using an Electric Mixer: Do I Really Have to Do That?

There are certain labor-intensive recipe phrases that can make the most diligent cook roll her eyes. "Do I really have to do that?" we wonder. Leave your Do I Really Have To Do That? questions in the comments and they shall be answered, saving us all a lot of needless trouble.

One of my friends is, as she admits herself, not much of a baker. So when on a whim recently she decided to bake a citrus pound cake but found herself without an electric mixer, she opted to squish together her butter and sugar with her hands. It wasn't a proud (or pretty) moment, but it did the trick, and her cake turned out just fine. But it made me wonder (surely, you see where this is going): do we really have to use an electric mixer at all?

Our detail-oriented friends at America's Test Kitchen said, yes, yes we did. And it all comes down to one of our favorite foods: Butter.

Creaming room temperature butter –– the kind that yields completely to pressure –– makes a flat cake. (OK, now that you mention it, my friend's pound cake did look a little squat.) For perfectly creamed butter and a sloping, domed cake, you need cool butter. It will yield lightly to pressure and will crack when pressed. Creaming cool butter with sugar is the kind of work for a piece of heavy-duty machinery.

Now I'll admit: I kind of hate when recipes call for "a stand mixer with a paddle attachment," however delicious the finished results might be. If a hand mixer was good enough for a pioneer lady, isn't it good enough for me? We leave the nitty-gritty detail work to America's Test Kitchen who put hand mixers and stand mixers head to head in a battle royale –– and the stand mixer noses ahead in every time. It's got the extra power to yield extra-lofty beaten eggs and just-right creamed cool butter.

But man, at more than $200, a Kitchen-Aid stand mixer is a serious investment. (Raise your hand if yours didn't come from a wedding registry.) We needed the penny-pincher's perspective. Enter Gabi Moskowitz, creator of the site BrokeAss Gourmet and The Broke Ass Gourmet Cookbook.

"Here's the thing about saving money in the kitchen: if you're willing to work a little extra harder, you can do more for a lot less." Preach!

"Stand mixers with paddle attachments and electric mixers exist purely for convenience, since they make the job faster and easier for the cook," Gabi told us. "There is nothing that can be made using one of them, but not by hand. Plus, when it comes to kneaded doughs, there's really nothing as satisfying as kneading dough by hand, and feeling it elasticize further with every punch and press."

But what if you don't want to do everything the old-fashioned way? "If you want an appliance that can expedite the cooking process, but won't cost you an arm and a leg, invest in an immersion blender (usually about $40). It takes up very little space, and can be used as a chopper, blender, egg whisk and mixer, for processing biscuit dough and pie crust. I've even used mine to aerate cheap wine (it made it taste noticeably better)."

So what's our final verdict this week? It depends on how much money you have laying around and what your attitude about baking is:

Flush perfectionist? Use a stand mixer
Love to bake and hate to multi-task? Use a hand mixer
Have a small kitchen and want a multi-tasking appliance? Use an immersion blender
Believe in penny-pinching and old fashioned elbow grease? Do it by hand

Wondering what steps you can skip in the kitchen? Tweet @YahooShine with #doireallyhavetodothat

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