Home bakers have turned out cakes for centuries with no equipment more elaborate than a bowl and a wooden spoon, but -- like many other tasks -- it's easier with an appropriate power tool. For bakers, the ultimate kitchen appliance is a powerful stand mixer, with its large bowl and heavy-duty motor. For each recipe or boxed mix, preparation is a simple matter of choosing between attachments such as the beater paddle or whisk and then letting the machine do the work.
Most stand mixers come with a small handful of standard attachments, suitable for most of a home baker's needs. The dough hook kneads stiff doughs, pressing and turning them against the mixing bowl's sides. The flat beater paddle is the general-purpose workhorse attachment, suitable for mixing almost any batter or soft dough. The wire whip is best for beating air into egg whites or cream, and can be used for thin batters. Most stand mixers include a splatter shield as well, which keeps droplets from escaping the mixing bowl and protects careless fingers from the mixer mechanism.
Choosing the Paddle
The flat beater paddle is an appropriate choice for any boxed cake mix. It quickly incorporates the eggs, water and oil into the dry powder of the mix, bringing the ingredients together into a smooth batter. It's sturdy enough to work well even with mixes that make a stiff batter, such as brownie or coffee cake mix, and it's the best choice when you have time to prepare your cakes from scratch.
Choosing the Whip
The stand mixer's wire whip attachment is too lightweight for scratch-made cakes or stiff mixes, but it's suitable for use with some boxed mixes. Any mix that creates a light, thin batter can be mixed with the whip. This includes most sponge cake mixes, angel food cake mixes, and any similarly light and airy cakes.
A Few Pointers
If you make heavy use of your stand mixer, it can be a convenience to use your whip for cake mixes and keep the beater clean for preparing the icing. That's especially so if you purchase a second bowl for the mixer, enabling you to use the bowls and attachments separately for multiple preparations without washing them in between. Occasionally, you might find that your mixer discolors the ingredients. That means the whip and paddle are brushing against the sides. You can fix that by locating the mixer's adjustment screw and turning it slightly until the problem goes away.
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Fred Decker is a trained chef and prolific freelance writer. In previous careers, he sold insurance and mutual funds, and was a longtime retailer. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. His articles have appeared on numerous home and garden sites including GoneOutdoors, TheNest and eHow.