Friday, April 27, 2007

Road Test: Sunbeam Mixmaster v Kenwood Patissier

Back in 2003 when I began my most recent baking odyssey, I acquired a Sunbeam Mixmaster – the remake of the classic retro mixer from the fifties. My mother had a Mixmaster which she bought in the seventies, and which I did most of my cake baking with as a teenager (when the obsession truly took hold). She still has that Mixmaster today, although it is significantly worse for wear – the plastic cover over the light is broken and they haven’t made the bulbs for years, so there’s a “live” cavity where the light bulb should be. I can vouch for that because I stuck my finger in there accidentally last year and got a nice shock from it.

I paid quite a lot of money for my Mixmaster and it held pride of place on my kitchen bench for three years. That is until I had it running one Sunday and one of the motors blew up! I discovered that the twin motor “600 watt” power it claimed worked in two ways: 1. to run the beaters; 2. to turn the turntable the bowl sits on. After seeing flames shooting from its rear I carted my not so trusty steed off to the repair shop and was shocked to discover that it would cost half of the original price to get the blasted thing fixed.

So I resorted to using my Sanyo hand mixer for whipping up butter cakes, and made no commitments to greater creations for one or two months.

But my cupcake business stepped up a notch and I found I needed to do a lot of mixing in one day and I didn’t want to be chained to the bench by a machine that needed to be held. I had seen a Red enamel Kitchen Aid rip off at Kmart for $179. I thought I could justify spending that amount of money to stop the gap, so I went trotting up to Kmart only to find that the mixer in question was entirely sold out. I wrestled with the idea of buying a Kitchen Aid, which is what I should have bought instead of the Mixmaster three years ago anyway. But I’m a cheapskate and I find it really hard to fork over $700 for a kitchen appliance.

Finally I decided to buy another Mixmaster, this time in Cobalt Blue, which I would have bought in the first place had I known the choice existed (my original Mixmaster is metallic silver). Staring at the variety of bench top mixers in David Jones I was immediately attracted to the Artic White Kenwood Patissier – also an attempt to copy the classic Kitchen Aid bench top mixer. Priced at $269, I thought it was a steal. At the check out to price came down to $256, and then with a $30 cash back offer, I decided I’d gotten myself a serious deal.

So... I now own two bench top mixers: a Sunbeam Mixmaster (silver) and a Kenwood Patissier (artic white), and as such I’m in a position to extol the virtues of each, and I will do so with the hope of giving you some genuine insight, should you ever be in the market for a bench top mixer too.

Sunbeam Mixmaster - $399 (or thereabouts)

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As I stated earlier, this mixer has twin motors, totalling 600 watts of power. But that’s nothing when you know that one motor runs the beaters and the other runs the turntable. The unit comes with rotary beaters, a set of whisk beaters and a set of dough hooks (I have used these to turn cake batter through kilos of dried fruit for a Christmas cake). It also comes with two stainless steel bowls – a 4L bowl and a 2L bowl. The beauty of this is that you can cream butter and sugar or whisk egg whites in the small bowl and then transfer them to the large bowl (if you need to). The smaller bowl means the ingredients are aerated faster and more effectively. I also like the fact that the bowl turns – the beaters sit to the left in the bowl which allows room on the right for adding ingredients while the motor is running. You can scrape down the sides of the bowl while the motor is running, which I think is very handy.

The flaw in the Sunbeam Mixmaster is the location of the motor vent. It’s right on the face of the machine over the top of the bowl. Quite often when mixing dry ingredients, flour or icing sugar is kicked up from the bowl and it invariably gets caught around the motor vent. Many’s a time I have found myself cleaning dust out of the vent with a cotton ear bud, just for the sake of seeing the machine properly cleaned.

The other drawback is the grooves in the turntable, and the fact that the turntable is attached to the bottom of the stand. If you spill any liquid on the stand, it’s very hard to get the turntable clean. You quite often have to remove it altogether to cleanup anything caught underneath.

Finally, I’ve found that the quality of the spring on the mixer tilt release isn’t consistent. Mine is very hard to push in to tilt the mixer up. My mother’s (she bought a sunshine yellow new model 18months ago) is easy to push, but the spring is short so the beaters don’t actually touch the bottom of the bowl in the down position (whereas mine do) so you quite often get a reservoir of unmixed cake batter which won’t cook properly if you put it in the cake pan and bake it.

Overall, I do love my Mixmaster. But I’m incredibly cheesed off that the motor blew up after three years.

UPDATE: Having put the Mixmaster in for repairs four weeks ago I am sad to report that it is still in the workshop. The parts have been particularly hard to find, with some having to be ordered from overseas. I'm told it will be a further two to three weeks before the repairs can be completed. This is very disappointing.

Kenwood 270W Patissier - $269 (or thereabouts)

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The Kenwood has a motor with 300 watts power, which is quite acceptable since the Mixmaster basically has the same. The body of the machine is quite sleek and without grooves so it’s very easy to clean. It has a speed control lever on the side instead of the twist speed control at the back (which the Mixmaster has). I asked the salesman if he’d heard of the lever breaking off and he said no. But I don’t think he’d admit to that even if they did, right?

The key difference with the Patissier is that the bowl is stationary. The beater – which is paddle shaped – works with “planetary” action (I prefer the term orbital myself, but the manufacturer calls it planetary so lets stick to that). It works by moving around and across the bowl – at no great speed I might add – combining ingredients and gently whipping the mixture.

The motor vent on the Kenwood is on the top of the machine, so there’s absolutely no chance of getting flour or anything stuck in it. The face of the machine is round and featureless, which makes cleaning a real breeze. There is no handle on the top of the unit (the Sunbeam has a rubber coated high handle) so when you tilt it up or down, you just push on its bulk head.

The Patissier comes with the paddle beater, a balloon whisk and a dough hook (which I haven’t used yet). It also has a 4L stainless steel bowl, which fits into a crevice in the base, and has a handle, which makes pouring cake mix into pan extra easy. The bowl crevice is lined with stainless steel, so if you do happen to spill something in it, it’s easy to wipe out.

The drawback with the Patissier is that it can’t whisk a single egg white (whereas this is a no brainer for the Mixmaster). It can’t do it with the paddle beater and it can’t do it with the balloon whisk either (so what’s the point in having one). I began mixing butter cake batter with the paddle beater, and was getting a relatively good result. But it wasn’t as light and fluffy as what I produced on the Mixmaster. So I switched to the balloon whisk, and the result was so gelatinous and fluffy, I really have nothing to compare it with. I can’t help wonder if this was exacerbated by the poor quality butter I used, but I can’t be certain – I will have to try it with different butter to see what happens.

The Patissier DOES excel at whipping icing. I use a lot of butter cream frosting, and I prefer the quick mix approach (everything in the bowl at once, then fire the machine up). The Patissier does a great job at this with the paddle beater. I like this machine a lot, and I’m glad I have it.

UPDATE: I've been using the Patissier consistently for the past four weeks and I'm alarmed to report one of the wires on the whisk attachement has snapped. While it should be easily fixed, the fact that it has broken after only a month of use is a major issue. I'm only mixing cake batter and icing with this attachment - so it's very disappointing so see just how poor a quality the parts are.

Further Update: Kenwood (DeLonghi) sent me a replacement whisk attachment, which was very nice, since it's under warranty. Unfortunately it broke within four days of receiving it!

Final Update: I took the Kenwood Patissier back to David Jones last night, and after some negotiation, they gave me a refund. So that is the end of the Patissier.

But which is best? My final verdict is avoid the Patissier if you are a high-end user of benchtop mixers. It simply can't handle the workload. The Mixmaster is still at the repair shop, but it did a mighty three years of work for me before breaking down, and that says a lot for Sunbeam. I will use the Sunbeam for lighter work when I get it back. I'm going to return the Kenwood Patissier and ask for a refund on the grounds that the attachments are poorly made. The authorised repair dealer (a very unhappy individual, I might say) has advised that the whisk beater costs $55 to replace. And quite frankly, I could go through one of these a week at the rate they keep breaking. If I had to choose between the two, I’d say just get a Kitchen Aid. Every salesperson has told me a Kitchenaid will last for 30 years. So my expectation is high. I'll let you know what happens when I make the purchase!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Banana Cornbread

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The first cat I ever knew was Bill. Sir William Sneddon, to be precise, but Bill to everybody who loved him.

Bill was a completely black cat with yellow jewel-facetted eyes. He arrived in our family when I was about four or five years old, and became a constant source of enjoyment to my sister and I. He was an incredibly tolerant cat - allowing us to mess with him in a way most young cats would never allow.

My sister and I particularly enjoyed dressing Bill up in dolls clothes. We'd put a frock on him, complete with a lacey bonnet, then put him to bed in my sister's dolls craddle. Mostly he'd stay there for a second or two, then bolt, sending my sister and I into peals of laughter as he tried to walk away without tripping on the skirt of the frock, his dignity only just in tact. But there was one occassion when Bill actually thought the craddle was a good option - we have pictures of him occupying that little bed for a nice afternoon kip, blanket and all!

Our back yard was a veritable heaven for a cat. To the left was a lush, thick growth of bamboo, which was home to many a green frog (oh the miserable stories I could tell about those frogs). We also had one or two banana trees, which were perfect for any tree climbing cat. The suculent nature of a banana tree trunk was perfect for digging in cat claws while scrambling halfway up then diving back down to the dirt for a second ascent. Banana trees are generally ratty looking anyway, but with ours shredded by Bill on a daily basis (and later Spider, the stray kitten we adopted), they never failed to look spectacularly cruddy!

I never really appreciated Bill until I was a teenager - right when he was entering his dotage. I would crouch down and lean against the kitchen cupboards and Bill would come and sit on my lap to give me a good smooch. Other times I'd get him going in a never-ending round of loud, expressive MEOWs! He had a voice like no other cat.

Sadly, Bill checked out on us one morning with absolutely no warning. As my dad put it, he simply turned his toes up. We were lucky that Angus had already joined our family, who was really a person in cat form. But Bill was the original number one cat. What a top cat!

1 cup finely ground polenta (yellow corn meal)
1 cup self raising flour
1 tsp bi-carbonate of soda
¼ cup honey
1 egg
1 cup milk
¾ cup soy milk
2-3 very ripe bananas, mashed

1. Combine all the dry ingredients in a bowl. Make sure you mix everything together well – the bi-card soda will leave brown marks throughout the bread if you don’t!
2. Add honey, egg, both milks and stir with a metal spoon until all the ingredients are combined. Don’t over mix! Just make sure all dry ingredients get wet.
3. Add the mashed bananas and mix until lightly combined.
4. Pour batter into a loaf tin lined with baking paper.
5. Cook in a moderate over for 40 minutes or until a skewer pierced through the middle comes out clean.
6. Allow to cool on a wire rack. Serve with genuine maple syrup or for something a little more naughty – go for the Cajun-style cornbread, dipped in hot chocolate fudge sauce!

Note: This batter can be divided into single size muffins - fill the muffin holes to two thirds full for a good sized muffin. Reduce cooking time by about 15 minutes, but again use the skewer to test if muffins are cooked. Also, you can use coarse polenta, but the bread will come out a lot more grainy. I’ve found the finely ground polenta creates a gorgeous, moist loaf which can be sliced up and frozen. Just microwave for 20 seconds then toss in the toaster for a breakfast with a difference.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Glazed Orange Rosettes

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A few years back I took a stab at starting a cake design business. I lay in bed at night thinking about the kind of cakes I would really enjoy eating, whether I bought them from a cake shop, or whether they were sold in a chi-chi city cafe. I settled on three different creations, each one individual sized, and proceeded to work out the recipes for the cakes of my dreams. I invited six of my close friends over for an afternoon tea (a tradition that is seriously underrated, let me tell you!) and greeted them with a table covered in cakes - a pink one, a chocolate one, and an orange one. I watched pure excitement creep over their faces as I gave them free license to try ALL THREE of the cakes. They sat down, plates in hand, and began to sample my work.

I viewed the table with an overly critical eye - one is always more critical of one's own creations than is necessarily within reason, don't you think? Never the less, I announced that I felt the orange cake was incomplete. My friends immediately put one on their plates, sank their splades into the moist orangey-brown cake and deposited bite sized pieces into their mouths. "Oh no!" they proclaimed. "This one is the best!" Stunned, I listened to why - it was simple, flavourful, uncomplicated. It looked appetising, but not overly indulgent. It was a guilt free cake they'd buy without thinking twice. Amazed, I changed my opinion of the orange rosette, declaring it complete!

I've churned this cake out many times ever since, and it never fails to please. Sometimes it's the simple approach that is best!

1 whole navel orange
125g butter
1 cup castor sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 eggs
2 cup self raising flour
1 cup milk
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp mixed spice

1 cup icing sugar
1 tblsp hot water
extra grated orange zest

1. Place navel orange in saucepan and cover with water. Boil (whole!) for one hour, checking frequently to ensure water level is maintained and turning ocassionally to ensure orange does not burn on one side. Add extra boiling water when necessary.

2. Remove cooked orange from saucepan, slice in half and allow to cool. Process to a paste with stick blender or in a food processor and set aside.

3. Place butter, sugar, vanilla, eggs, flour, milk, cinnamon and mixed spice in large bowl of electric mixer. Beat on low speed until all ingredients are combined, then increase speed to high to cream mixture for seven minutes. Mixture should become pale, creamy and shiny.

4. Reduce mixer speed to low and add orange paste. Mix until combined.

5. Drop tablespoonfuls of mixture into greased six hole rosette tins (Baker's secret make an excellent six hole tray or individual moulds). Ensure holes are filled to just over half full.

6. Bake in preheated oven at 180 degrees Celcius for 35 minutes or until cooked (skewer comes out clean when inserted into middle of cake). Turn out onto wire racks and flip so that rosette sides are facing up. Allow to cool completely.

7. To make glaze, combine icing sugar mixture in a bowl with zest of half a fresh orange. Add one tablespoon of hot water and mix to combine. Glaze should be thin but not too runny. Add a little extra water if necessary to achieve correct consistency.

8. Drop teaspoons of glaze in centre of top of orange rosettes, then push over sides of cakes to create a drip effect. Decorate with extra grated orange zest and allow glaze to set.

Note: this recipe should produce 12 orange rosettes. They are excellent eaten cold, but can also be warmed in the microwave oven for 20 seconds and served as a pudding with King Island Cream (clotted cream) or custard. They will keep in an airtight container for four days.

Wedding Cake

I used the recipe for Traditional Christmas Cake as my wedding cake []! I had to cook three large round fruit cakes to produce my wedding cake, which was a three level high column cake. I actually ended up making six cakes - three that were the right size, and three smaller ones with all the cake mix I had left over.

I aged the cakes for six to eight weeks, and found they were still quite moist regardless. I consultated a lot of cake experts, and despite the cake decorating instructions saying otherwise, I did a few things to the cake which in the end caused more problems than improvements. Namely, I sandwiched the cakes together with marzipan which eventually liquified thanks to the weight and moist of the fruit cake. I also stuck wooden skewers through the cakes to provide them with more stability. The skewers ended up poking through the fondant, which luckily was covered by the flowers all over the top.

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I wanted to use crispy white egg white icing on the exterior of the cake, which was supposed to only be good for two days. So I assembled the cake two days before my wedding, covered it in fondant, which was to provide the base, then I proceeded to cover the fondant with crispy white icing. When I did the practice cake I forgot the vegetable oil, so this time I made sure to put it in, and I was deeply sorry for that. It made the icing off white and also stopped it from drying. It was 38 degrees celcius that day, and I stood and watched the stinking icing run down the sides of the cake and gather in a big lump at the bottom on the cake board.

After complaining to my mother, I decided to take a big chance - I grabbed my spatchula and scraped the failed layer of icing off the cake. Then I put the monstrosity away out of sight.

The next day, my mother arrived and we discussed the situation at length. We mixed up another batch of the crispy white icing, this time leaving the oil out. The result was a pure gleaming white icing, as thick as plaster! We used the first batch on the top of a big slab of sponge, which was to be served as dessert. Once Mum saw how the icing behaved, we mixed up a second batch and got the wedding cake out to start all over again.

I began scraping columns of the icing up the side of the cake while Mum followed behind wipe up drips and tidying up the bottom edge. Within five minutes the job was done and the result was fantastic! I raced to get the silk flowers and quickly arranged them on the top of the cake to produce what I think is one of the most stunning wedding cakes I've ever seen. Even since I made it myself!

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Vanilla Cupcakes

My sister was in the Brownies when she was a kid. She put on her uniform every week and went off somewhere mysterious to me, taking pledges, doing things to win badges... she even went off on a camp (which made me interminably envious because it required she be bought a pair of bedsocks). She made Brownies look like it was fun. As soon as I was old enough, I begged my mother to let me join.

The problem was, my sister's Brownie pack was too big. So they formed a new pack which it was determined would meet in the new hall. Now the new hall wasn't like the old hall - it had been brought to town on the back of a truck and had been plonked down next to the old hall on ugly, exposed brick stilts. It had none of the dignity of the old hall - it was garish and offensive.

To make matters worse, the new pack would have a new Brown Owl. She took forever to turn up, and when she did, she didn't seem to know what she was doing. Her tongue was sharp, her tone snappish; she seemed more than a bit nasty to me. The new pack also had new uniforms - not the delicious chocolate brown like my sister's uniform - the new unforms were baby-poo brown. Combined with the bright yellow tie fixed about the next with a brass pin, I felt our uniforms were more than a little garish - they were downright shameful.

From the get go, my Brownie pack didn't seem to be anything like the romantic vision I had of my sister's pack. I took the initiation ceremony, then wasted no time asking when I could try for my first badge. The Brown Owl was in no hurry to help - or at least, help ME. I was keen on the cooking badge, since I'd started helping Mum at home with baking cakes and cookies and so on. I can't remember how it worked - whether you cooked your cupcakes at the Brownie Hall, or whether you cooked them at home and brought the results in. My Brown Owl let other girls do their badges, but not me. It was a clear cut case of discrimination, as far as I was concerned, and I was not impressed.

I complained to my mother several times about the situation - I don't know if Mum ever spoke to Brown Owl about it, but it didn't take me long to jack up about Brownies. The bodgie hall, the bossy Brown Owl, the dorky uniform, and the distinct sense of being supressed... if I couldn't do my cooking badge, I told my mother, I wanted out. And that, as they say, was the end of Brownies.

125g salt reduced butter
1 cup caster sugar
1 tblsp vanilla
3 large eggs
1.5 cups self raising flour
2/3 cup buttermilk

1. Place the softened butter and sugar in the small bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on low speed to combine then increase speed to just over half way (sixth gear on a Kitchenaid mixer) and continue to beat until butter and sugar becomes pale and creamy.

2. Add the vanilla, eggs, flour and buttermilk. Continue to beat until all ingredients are well combined.

3. Increase mixer speed to high, and beat for three minutes. Mixture will turn from looking quite curdled to very creamy.

4. Scoop icecream scoopfuls of mixture into cupcake papers arranged in cupcake pans. Be careful not to overfill the papers to no more than two thirds full.

5. Cook in a moderate oven (180 degrees celcius) for 20 minutes, or until lightly golden brown on top. Turn out onto wire rack and allow to cool completely before icing. Makes about 16 cupcakes.

Note: A word on cup cake pans - there are now four different types on the Australian market. There's mini, patty (the kind I grew up with), muffin and Texas muffin size. They each have their own size patty paper to line the pans. be sure you use the right size with the right pan. I quite prefer the original patty pan size, but the muffin pans can produce a really nice sized cupcake (approximately 60g). In the end, I think it's a personal choice.