There you are, baking. Batter’s in your stand mixer, and the recipe says “mix on medium.” What do you do?
Medium on Your Stand Mixer Doesn’t (Necessarily) Mean 5
If you’re like most people, you’ll look at the available settings on the machine. If there are 10 speeds, you set it to 5. Right?
Not exactly, according to two of our most experienced test cooks, Andrea Geary, deputy food editor, and Lan Lam, senior editor, both of Cook’s Illustrated. Between them, they’ve developed dozens of our most popular baking recipes, from Challah to Chocolate-Espresso Dacquoise.
Here’s their advice on this and other common stand-mixer conundrums.
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1. Don’t Go Straight to Medium: Start Low and Slow
The key, if the instructions say “mix on medium speed,” is don’t start the mixer on the medium setting. Instead, “always start low and crank up gradually,” says Lam. Depending on the model you have, the speeds could vary greatly.
You may even want to turn the mixer on at its very lowest speed for a few seconds and switch it off again, repeating a few times, mimicking the “pulse” button on a food processor, Geary suggests: “Sometimes when the bowl is really full, as when making a large batch of bread dough, I’ll pulse the mixture—turning the machine briefly on and off—until enough of the flour is moistened that it won’t go flying out of the bowl,” she says.
Mixers often include a “splash guard,” a C-shaped plastic shield designed to prevent splatters, but neither cook likes to use it. “I wish they wouldn’t include that piece of plastic nonsense,” Geary says.
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2. Watch the Bowl, Not the Clock
It’s important not to “set and forget” your stand mixer. Stay nearby—because mixers are powerful and more efficient than you expect, our test cooks advise.
“Watch what’s happening in the bowl; don’t watch the clock,” Geary says. “The timing in the recipe is just a guideline—the visual cue is the most important, which is why we always list it before the time cue in recipes.”
“I think most people assume the stand mixer they’re using is the same one that the recipe developer used, and they follow the time and speed cues too religiously,” Lam agrees. “Keep an eye out for visual cues.”
3. Beware of Over-Mixing
What happens if you mix too long? “It really depends on what you’re making,” Lam says. “You might see anything from overdeveloping gluten to causing cream to turn into butter to introducing too much air, which might lead to a cake falling when it bakes.”
“Over-kneading bread dough by hand is unlikely because people will get pooped or bored before they reach that point,” Geary says. “But you can over-knead in a mixer. Gluten development is sort of a bell curve: A dough gains strength as it’s kneaded, but only up to a fairly advanced point, after which it will start to go slack because the gluten begins to break down.”
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4. You’ll Almost Never Need High Speed
“Offhand, I can’t think of an ATK recipe that requires going up to [the highest speed],” Lam says. “I use the speed that works for the amount of food and the amount of resistance that food offers. When you have a lot of food in the mixer, or food that is more resistant (think low-hydration doughs), they require more power from the motor.” That’s when you may need to raise the speed a bit, she says.
KitchenAid mixer manuals advise using the highest speed only for light tasks such as whipping cream and egg whites and warn never to knead dough higher than Speed 2, which is quite low. In our recent testing of stand mixers, we compared kneading on the highest speed to sticking to Speed 2. While it did take a few minutes longer, we still achieved very good, smooth, elastic bread dough with low-speed mixing.
Bottom line? Even if the recipe calls for high-speed mixing, you can dial it back.
“If you use high speed, stay vigilant, because things like cream and egg whites can overwhip in the blink of an eye,” Geary says. “I will admit that I sometimes mix a really soft dough (like my recipe for Fluffy Dinner Rolls) at higher-than-advised speeds for very short periods of time because it seems like the momentum helps the dough reach the clean-up stage (where it clears the sides of the bowl) more efficiently.”