Against obnoxious Recipes

by Ben Miller

There’s nothing I hate more than seeing a recipe I’m really interested in making, scrolling down to the directions and seeing this in the first line:

“In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with XXX.”

I get that stand mixers are powerful. I get that they can make dough, whip things, probably even do my taxes if I ask them really nicely. But I’m 24 and not married.  I don’t own one. In fact, I’d hazard a guess that most of America doesn’t own one. Nor do I plan to plunk down $400 anytime soon to get one. So why the insistence on relying so heavily on them when writing recipes? Humans made dough for centuries without owning electric stand mixers, so clearly it can be done.

I also understand that almost always either a food processor or your own hands can accomplish the same thing with just a little bit of extra work. But if that’s the case, why not say that? Why not offer alternatives?

I’m looking at you Cook’s Illustrated with your recipe for bagels that begins like this:

“Because bagel dough is much drier and stiffer than bread dough, it takes longer for the ingredients to cohere during mixing. For this same reason, we recommend that you neither double the recipe nor try to knead the dough by hand.”

So let me get this straight. In order to make a bagel, something I could purchase for about $0.80 if Washington, D.C., had ever heard of what a semi-normal bagel looked like (don’t get me started on those Cosi abominations I’ll leave that to Adler) I can’t make at home because I don’t own a $400 machine?

Food elitism doesn’t begin with politics, it trickles down even into the recipes we use.

69 responses to “Against obnoxious Recipes

  1. Before I had a stand mixer, I just used my hand held model. No biggie. No reason not to make something. I just knew I’d burn through them about once a year, but they were $25 at Target, so it was no loss. (No. I never wanted to buy a $50 hand mixer.)

    So just adapt and plan on standing around and holding a mixer for awhile rather than scrubbing out your sink while the dough mixes.

    It’s really no big deal.

  2. I have the exact same irritation. I particularly hate when a recipe not only recommends the stand mixer but tells me not to attempt without it. Come on…

  3. BRIGHT SIDE OF THINGS: At least you have to do some research and gain knowledge about just how to do things you want to do without the pricey tools. Having things handed to your lap is a poor way to feed your mouth.

  4. RoboticGhost

    I don’t think its much of a stretch to expect someone who bought a cookbook with bread recipes to own a stand mixer. Granted, I didn’t own one at 24, so I didn’t make many cookies and otherwise got by just fine cooking from other recipes or subbing in some oomph for the mechanical shortcut. But if making food is something you enjoy and anticipate doing for many years, a stand mixer is a wise investment. My life became 7.4% better when I got the pasta machine attachment alone.

  5. I would argue the stand mixer is pretty damn necessary if the recipe is for kneaded dough unless you want to work your fingers off into early carpal tunnel. Dough really needs to be worked HARD. I used to make pizza dough by hand but when I switched to the stand mixer my pizza dough really did improve considerably. Alton Brown talks about why in his recent pizza episode (something about how the proteins and gluten need to really be worked in with the yeast in order to create that ideal chewy texture you would want with pizza, and, I assume, bagels), he recommends kneading pizza dough for *10 minutes* using the stand mixer. How exactly would I replicate that kind of power with my hands? Of course the results are going to be different.

    On that note, I think of a recipe as the “optimum products” list. I mean, how many recipes say “in a dutch oven” or “in a cast iron pan” have I ignored in the past and had perfectly acceptable results with my make-shift alternative? No one is stopping you from attempting those bagels by hand, it’s just going to require some work. Isn’t that what homemade food -and, ostensibly, this website- is about anyway?

  6. First of all, you would really have to go out of your way to spend $400 on a stand mixer. They typically retail for half that.

    Secondly, the title of this post led me to expect a rant about recipes that are legitimately obnoxious, and not just out of reach to the under-equipped. I’m thinking of a particularly precious school of recipe writers who think it’s charming to give directions that involve soupçons of this and flurries of that, all whirled and whizzbanged–never blended–in a food processor.

    I understand that it’s frustrating when no alternative methods are given, but sometimes those alternative methods ask even more of the cook than a stand mixer. If you don’t have the stand mixer required to, say, beat a dozen eggs into a stiff meringue, it’s just as unlikely that you’ll have the basin-sized non-reactive mixing bowl, the biceps, or the patience to beat by hand.

  7. I think, however, that there is a difference between reasonable equipment and non-reasonable. A hand mixer retails for about $20 or so. A blender not much more than that (obviously nicer ones cost more, but you can at least have something in that realm for that amount of money). The fact is, you can’t buy a $20 stand mixer.

    And for the record, I’m completely ok kneading things by hand. In fact, I probably prefer it for most things so I can feel the dough’s consistency change. Pasta dough takes a ton of kneading, and it sucks, but the product is worth it. The difference here is a barrier to entry in some respects that is much higher than others that may require a cast iron pan or dutch oven (I bought one for $60 that I like a lot).

  8. I’m with you. I have neither a stand mixer nor a food processor and am single in a small apartment kitchen. I’ve already got part of my future wedding gift registry planned.

    That said, my hands are my favourite tool for mixing stiff dough for baked goods such as cookies and crusts. I use my Magic Bullet where I can but tend to puree when I intend to chop.

    @Michele: I don’t know how much Ben would be paying but at my local (Canadian) discount housewares superstore Kitchen Aid stand mixers run from $200-$500. The suggested retail is $450-$700.

    I’m not sure any of this fits into “food elitism” but it is a mentality.

  9. Amen! That really bugs me too. When I post recipes that I adapt for my blog I try to stay away from such specific language, or acknowledge that there isn’t one path to success. In most cases a hand mixer works just as well and by hand is fine.

    I’ve made dough for bread and for pizza many, many times and it has come out perfectly without the aid of a stand mixer. Someday (oh yes, mark my words) I will own a KitchenAid 5 Quart stand mixer. Not in the near future.

  10. When I got my stand mixer for Christmas, my grandmother declared, “Now you don’t have to get married! You have nothing left to register for!”

  11. @Ben:

    I think Elizabeth David (1983) captures and improves your point thusly:

    “It is obvious that few of us posses, are in the position to acquire, or even necessarily need such things as a poissonniere or bain-marie…But knowing what *should* be used to produce the best results makes it very much easier to find or to improve the substitute.”

  12. You can have my stand mixer when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.

    Got it as a gift when I was 25 (now 47) and use it several times a week.

    Thats it: Find someone who loves you immensely to give you one. Then love them in return by baking things for them.

  13. I would have agreed with you last week before I bought my stand mixer.

  14. I’m with Miller. The question is not whether it would be nice to have a stand mixer. Sure it would! The question is whether a stand mixer should be presented as the only road through the recipe. I run a food blog. I know I can knead pizza dough by hand. But someone who knows less and picks up Cook’s Illustrated and sees that a stand mixer is required might well put the thing down again. Nothing — or very little — “requires” a stand mixer. And if the $200-$400 tool is optional, it should say so.

  15. Stand mixer – local thrift store or auction house. $10. Not just cheaper than new, but often sturdier if you get the older model, and faboo retro design.

  16. Oh, bull. Bagels are white bread, and they are a joy to knead by hand, like all white breads. The important part isn’t how you knead it, but how you boil it. That’s what makes it a bagel instead of a round piece of bread.

  17. The reason you can’t get decent bagels in DC is the same as the reason you’re a lot better off using the stand mixer. It’s a specific bread that requires developing the gluten far more than you need to for baguette, pizza dough, homemade pasta, or cookies.

    So yeah, while it’s obnoxious to be all, “use a stand mixer,” for that one specific recipe, it makes sense. You will get much better results, and not exhaust your hands. It doesn’t excuse the widespread instruction to use a stand mixer – for that, a better convention is, “using …… or a stand mixer fitted with ….,” or just a symbol indicating the attachment to use near the recipe.

  18. It’s very simple. It is stupid to try to make a bagel without a stand mixer *because* it is impossible to make them better than the 80 cent variety without one.

    This is not elitism. It’s common sense.

    I learned this when I first attempted to grow vegetables. It turned out that in my climate, it is very hard to grow lettuce in your back yard that tastes good. Sure, you can spend a lot of effort trying to do it, but it’s better to just go to a store and buy it.

    Save your energy and creativity for things that will actually taste good when made by hand.

  19. East of Weston

    Old enough to know that non-professionals did not have stand mixers until Martha Stewart started pushing them in the late 80s – early 90s, and they became popular wedding presents. They are also a reason for the huge-ening of the modern kitchen. Mine was built in the 30s and families of up to seven were fed out of it. There is not counter space for leave-out machines.

    They aren’t necessary for any baking that was done in homes before 1990 or so. What they have done is expand the types of things that can be made in home kitchens, like pretzels, bagels, and ciabatta (I’m going to trust Cook’s Illustrated on that.) I’m not going to slag them for including recipes that need them, because lots of people do have them. But it would be nice if they pointed you to a similar, alternate recipe. The America’s Test Kitchen Baking book has food processor alternatives for just about everything, and I’m not sweating giving up the others.

    One thing that they do for cookbook writers is allow for uniformity of recipes. They all run at the same speed, so a simple time count can be given for making cookies, cakes, etc.

    I’m know among my friends as the go-to hotshot baker. As my mother is in her crowd. And neither of us has ever owned a stand mixer. Just think of it as not letting yourself get lazy.

  20. I don’t have any problem kneading bread or pizza dough by hand. I find that using a mixer makes the dough absorb too much air and the resulting bread is puffy rather than chewy. If you are willing to let the dough rest for a few minutes and then start working it again, it is much easier than having at it all in one go, and you get a much better texture.

    I remember making bagels years ago as a kid, and mixing the dough wasn’t a problem. My mother hated to cook. I’m not even sure we had a mixing bowl. We used a big pot. The boiling step was the trick, as noted above. That is what makes a bagel. Of course, I was making real New York City bagels as I lived in NYC at the time, not those air puff substitutes that are basically round loaves of Wonder Bread.

    I cook all sorts of things, and I have to tell you that you don’t need a special purpose machine for each recipe. That is just cargo cult fetishism. You’d be amazed at how simple cooking can be when you don’t have a dozen knives (We have two, one for each of us.) and every gadget under the sun. My Weber grill works very nicely as a smoker, thank you very much. An awful lot of food “fact” is actually mere fiction, amplified by authority and respected out of tradition. The French government is actually studying all of the conflicting advice, and debunking most of it. Just make the dough by hand. Stop when you get tired and rest. Then go back at it. Knead until it gets springy. Don’t rely on a timer. This isn’t the Jane Fonda work out.

    Finally, someone mentioned Cooks Illustrated. I love their empirical approach, but I loathe their aesthetic. They make lunchroom food, horribly homogeneous and generally insipid. They have articles on how to make lumpless mashed potatoes, smooth flavorless biscuits, bland beef tenderloins and so on. If you pay attention to their articles, you can figure out the right way to do things, but after an issue or two it was “oh my gawd, is someone going to eat that?”

  21. Cardinal Fang

    Smooth flavorless biscuits? Have you actually tasted Cook’s Illustrated’s Drop Biscuits from Nov/Dec 2007? Incredibly delicious, and they take about four minutes to make. Good thing you just reminded me. I’ll get some buttermilk and make them tomorrow.

  22. I’ve paged through thousands of recipes in hundreds of cookbooks over the years, and when I see one that requires equipment I don’t have or an ingredient I don’t have or don’t care for, I flip to the next one. It just never occurred to me to get angry about it. A character flaw of mine I guess.

  23. Non-professionals didn’t use stand mixers until Martha Stwewart…

    ?!?!? Wow, that’s news to me, but perhaps this is true for the US. I’m 48 and my gramma & my mom have always used a stand mixer almost every day of our lives, as far as I can remember… They didn’t have a $250 fancy KitchenAid, though… Then again, I wasn’t raised here in the US.

    I got my beaten up one, which is at least 25 years old, for $50 at Craigslist… and hopefully it will last a decade at least. And it works like a horse, never lets me down. My arms can get really tired if I had to do everything by hand in the kitchen…

    It’s funny how the conversation goes from “Martha Stewart and the whole commercial & foodies fad” to “I-only-need-2-knives-to cook” crowd… most of the world’s regular folks stand somewhere in the middle, uninterested in one-task gadgets, but also appreciative when technology makes saves their time to feed their families.

    just my 2 cents

  24. You can find Christopher Kimball on Twitter (cpkimball) – send him a tweet.

  25. My mom got her stand mixer in the 1970’s and I used it when she gave it to me until it started arcing while making bagels. They are normal and an expected part of cooking. If you can’t afford a new one, there are lots of used ones. As for cast iron, just buy some at goodwill, you will love it.

  26. You DO need a few non-negotiable appliances, vessels and utensils in the kitchen, the ones that will pay you back every day. Learning to use one large, excellent knife for almost everything that needs chopping is paramount, for instance. But the must-have list is very short. And finding reasons why making bread of any kind should be a pricey and effortless enterprise is just plain sad.

  27. East of Weston said:

    “Old enough to know that non-professionals did not have stand mixers until Martha Stewart started pushing them in the late 80s – early 90s, and they became popular wedding presents.”

    And I’m old enough to know that you’re wrong. My mother, who barely considered herself a cook, let alone a professional, had a stand mixer in the 50s and so did everyone we knew.

    Stand mixers were supplanted by hand mixers for a while, but then they came back. But to claim that they were solely the province of professional cooks is just wrong.

    Martha Stewart also pushed jadite glass, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t exist pre-Martha – she just brought back into popularity a common kitchen accessory from the 1930s and 1940s.

  28. Ben Miller said: “So let me get this straight. In order to make a bagel, something I could purchase for about $0.80 if Washington, D.C., … I can’t make at home because I don’t own a $400 machine?”

    You have got to be kidding. You’re talking about a Cooks Illustrated. If they say, “we recommend that you neither double the recipe nor try to knead the dough by hand”, it’s because they tried to double the recipe and knead the dough by hand, and it didn’t work!

    It’s not “food elitism”, it’s damned common sense.

  29. pseudonymous in nc

    Dough really needs to be worked HARD.

    Nonono. Grab Richard Bertinet’s Dough — ideally the UK-published version, because there are some real messups in the translation to US weights and measures. Comes with a DVD on French kneading techniques that’s a revelation.

    Anyway, my grandma made divine bread her entire life (into her 80s) kneading by hand. I trust that over Bowtie O’Vermont.

    (If you really want bagels, pay the money to go to NYC or London or Montréal, depending on what’s closest.)

  30. I gotta say, I’ve made bagels before stand mixer and after, and they came out a lot better after.

    (I got a vintage one for 20 bucks at a garage sale! Ha!)

  31. But seriously, my garage sale luck isn’t necessary here. There are plenty of perfectly functional stand mixers for under $100 dollars. Don’t succumb to kitchenaid propaganda.

  32. Cook’s Illustrated said the same thing about pretzels, which I’ve made twice now kneading the dough by hand. And they were perfect.

    “It’s very simple. It is stupid to try to make a bagel without a stand mixer *because* it is impossible to make them better than the 80 cent variety without one.”

    Nonsense. Harder is not the same as impossible.

    I bake quite often and I’ve never owned a stand mixer. I’m not saying I wouldn’t like to own a stand-mixer. But I can’t afford one right now and that’s not going to stop me from making what I want to make. I do wish more cookbooks didn’t assume that there aren’t people out there with more ambition.

    “Finally, someone mentioned Cooks Illustrated. I love their empirical approach, but I loathe their aesthetic. They make lunchroom food, horribly homogeneous and generally insipid. They have articles on how to make lumpless mashed potatoes, smooth flavorless biscuits, bland beef tenderloins and so on.”

    I do have to disagree with this. I’ve made a lot of really good food using Cook’s Illustrated (see pretzels above). Which is not to say I don’t adjust their recipes from time to time, but then there aren’t any cookbooks where I don’t adjust their recipes from time-to-time.

    “You’re talking about a Cooks Illustrated. If they say, ‘we recommend that you neither double the recipe nor try to knead the dough by hand’, it’s because they tried to double the recipe and knead the dough by hand, and it didn’t work!”

    Again, nonsense. When they say “we recommend that you don’t try doing it by hand” it’s because they think that most people will think it’s too hard to do by hand – and the truth is, most people probably would think that, and there’s nothing wrong that. But because they make that assumption they treat it as though doing it by hand is impossible *which it is not.* And that’s the point. The point is, it would be nice if more cookbooks realized that there are people out there who have enough ambition to do what most people would think was too hard.
    (And btw, Cook’s Illustrated is not the Bible. You don’t have to take everything they say as gospel truth.)

  33. It is sometimes the case that recipes work better with specialized equipment. You may not like it, but too bad. If you only have a toaster oven then you’ll find baking a good deal more difficult, and it isn’t elitist to tell you that you have to spring a few hundred bucks for an oven.

    My mother had a stand mixer in the 1960s, as did plenty of her friends, and we got ours when we got married more than 25 years ago. It makes a world of difference if you intend to bake; things which are extremely laborious and time intensive become doable. That seems to me to be the definition of something that a cookbook should tell you about.

  34. Ok, I cook all the time, three meals a day, from scratch, as much as I can (I do buy flour, not mill my own). I live at 10,000 feet elevation, and have no electrical appliances. I’m no “foodie,” just a girl trying to feed her boys. Take a look at my recipes, and tell me if they are simple enough, please. I try to keep them simple, because I promise they all are, but I don’t know if I am wording them in a way that folks can really understand and relate to. No sense in sharing recipes if they don’t work.
    Thanks,
    gg

  35. Well, I’d like to eat at the Inn at Little Washington on a weekly basis, but can’t afford that. Damn elitist restaurant!

    Seriously, you’re talking about Cook’s Illustrated. I’m not sure they wouldn’t find a charge of “food elitism” to be a compliment. As Jer says, they are all about testing recipes, ingredients, and tools to figure out what works best, since that’s what their brand is about.

  36. To answer your last question, yes – I’m not sure if it’s elitist to admit this, but stand mixers are absolutely necessary for making bagels. The bagel shop where I worked in college tried a hand-kneaded variety once, but the result was little more than a pitiful homage to the hockey puck.

    I concede that in many ways it’s not fair that recipes call for machines. Is this not perhaps the price we pay for progress?

    Years ago, people would complain about things over coffee, in bars, or in sewing circles. Now, we have the internet… and it’s no secret that in the kvetch department, we’ve raised the bar beyond our grandparents’ wildest dreams.

    Still I must admit I feel your pain, or rather, I did feel it until a few years ago. I found a Kitchenaid on craigslist for $100, gave it to myself as a gift for my 26th birthday, and have used it at least once a week ever since.

    Why should we have to wait until we’re old and/or married before we can make this kind of investment?

  37. My mother-in-law bought a great big KitchenAid mixer with lots of attachments shortly after she was married in 1948. Stand mixer postdate fire, but predate Martha Stewart.

  38. Heaven forbid we “exhaust” our hands and arms! That would be just awful. Too bad all those people in the world where electricity is unavailable or undependable can’t eat bread…

    According to Wikipedia, bagels were invented in or before the 16th century. Perhaps they used animal labor to knead the dough. Or maybe they just made terrible bagels for centuries.

    We are so effing spoiled. And my guess is we’ll suffer it if we don’t do some adapting. My suggestions…

    Adaptation One: relinquish your myths about “can’t” and the hyberbolic language designed to legitimize your preference for the convenience. It is a preference, not a need. If you define it as a need you indicate to the rest of us that you are also lying to yourself about more important things.

    Adaptation Two: be versatile. Enjoy your stand mixer if you’ve got one but try hand-kneading once in awhile too. Research has proven that it’s good for your brain.

    I’m with Miller.

  39. I got the KitchenAid stand mixer in the divorce. It’s a wonderful tool, but it’s not as essential as all these recipe-writers would have you believe. You CAN bake without one.

    My mom did all her baking and mixing with a Sunbeam hand mixer..and I still prefer using a hand mixer if possible. I can’t stand lugging the KitchenAid out of the pantry and onto the kitchen counter. That thing weighs a ton!

  40. I totally agree with your comments. Personally, while I could go out and buy a $400 mixer, I choose not to.

    Cooking is something I love to do and I find the “practice” of kitchen alchemy is much more enjoyable when one makes it as manual a process as possible.

    And while I have used a very small $20 Betty Crocker food processer for things like chopping nuts and creaming butter, I find that every recipe I have made has turned out fine (cookies, bread, cakes, canneloni stuffing, etc., etc.) without the assistance of an expensive culinary pulverizer.

    Three cheers for those who choose to go it alone in the mixing department.

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  42. First let me note that bagels are one of the easiest breads to make, and the results you can achieve at home are better than most bagel stores outside of New York (I am speaking of yeast bagels; sourdough bagels such as Panara’s plain are a different story).

    Here’s a recipe and a good discussion:

    http://www.thefreshloaf.com/recipes/bagels

    With that in mind, 99.9% of the stand mixers in home kitchens are utterly incapable of kneading even a half recipe of bagel dough: try it and you will either burn out the motor or break the geartrain (*). The only way you can make any reasonable quantity of bagel dough at home is by hand (people with small shoulders might need the assistance of a tall teenager for the final few minutes of kneading).

    sPh

    (*) An older KitchenAid from the Hobart era (say pre-1980) might be able to do a half recipe of bagel dough if you have a good understanding of how it works and its limitations.

  43. > I would argue the stand mixer is pretty damn
    > necessary if the recipe is for kneaded dough
    > unless you want to work your fingers off into
    > early carpal tunnel. Dough really needs to be
    > worked HARD.

    Absolutely not. Many Americans use bread recipes from the 1970s which call for vastly excessive amounts of kneading. Time, yeast, and gentle folding (“French fold method”) {*} develop the necessary gluten for you and result in far better tasting bread than kneading it (and yourself) to death.

    However, I will point out that a stand mixer can allow people with arthritis or work-related RSI to make bread when they cannot knead but hand at all.

    sPh

    {*} The Jim Lahey no-knead method (now known as “New York Times No-Knead Bread”, and the similar Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day method, are extreme examples of this.

  44. Bring out the Whaaaaambulance! No one is forcing you to use a stand mixer, it’s just a recommendation to use a piece of “modern” equipment to make the cooking process easier and quicker and, often, better. What’s next on the bitch list, forks are too pointy?

  45. Yes, contrary to popular belief basic kneading is easy, and better *not* done on a machine because you are less likely to overstretch dough. Plus as SPh says, if you’re patient you don’t even have to do a lot of it. I also grew up on 1970s-era recipes and then, via Carol Field and Bernard Clayton, discovered a whole world of long-rising, relatively liquid doughs that are more fun to make and taste infinitely better. (You can also get rid of your loaf pans.) That’s what I use the Kitchenaid for these days — prolonged slow stirring of liquid doughs, just to save myself the ennui. But of course you can do that by hand and feel virtuous at the same time…

    My experience is that dense, fine-textured doughs, like bagels, are harder to get right by hand. It’s simple to make bagel-shaped bread, but getting the texture dense and chewy enough isn’t. There’s an argument for a powerful mixer there. I fail to see what the 80 cents has to do with it — lots of cheap mass-produced things are made with expensive machines.

    You can have the same conversation about cake. Egg-based cake (beat yolks with sugar, add other liquids, fold in beaten eggwhites and dry ingredients) is quick and easy by hand. Cakes based on creamed butter and sugar are harder by hand, but possible.

  46. Jessica: “Again, nonsense. When they say “we recommend that you don’t try doing it by hand” it’s because they think that most people will think it’s too hard to do by hand – and the truth is, most people probably would think that, and there’s nothing wrong that. But because they make that assumption they treat it as though doing it by hand is impossible *which it is not.* And that’s the point.”

    Gee, maybe that’s why they said “we don’t recommend kneading by hand” instead of “kneading by hand is impossible.” It’s almost as if you’re deliberately misconstruing the recipe. No, wait, you are deliberately misconstruing the recipe.

    So let’s repeat: Most people will think kneading by hand is too hard. The recipe thus recommends using a stand mixer. What exactly is your problem?

  47. Cardinal Fang

    Cooks Illustrated has recipe testers. They write the recipe, then send it out to the testers to test. Afterwards, they ask the testers how it turned out, and whether the tester used exactly the equipment the recipe called for or different equipment.

    So when they say to use a stand mixer, most likely it’s empirical: the testers who didn’t use a stand mixer reported that the recipe didn’t work for them. The testers are like their readers, so if it doesn’t work for the testers, it won’t work for the other readers either. Cooks Illustrated is in the business of writing recipes that work for most cooks, not recipes that work fine if you happen to have bulging biceps but not so well if you don’t.

  48. If you suffered with arthritis (I do, in spades) then you’d be singing the praises of the ubiquitous Kitchenaid or any other make for that matter.

    It’s a pleasure to once more make my own bread using the stand mixer. I wouldn’t part with mine for all the tea in China etc.

  49. Finally, someone mentioned Cooks Illustrated. I love their empirical approach, but I loathe their aesthetic. They make lunchroom food, horribly homogeneous and generally insipid. They have articles on how to make lumpless mashed potatoes, smooth flavorless biscuits, bland beef tenderloins and so on.

    Oh please. You have no idea what you’re talking about. Cook’s has done a half dozen styles of mashed potatoes over the years including, yes, smooth ones. Here’s the opening text to the January 2003 variation:

    ” When it comes to mashed potatoes, most cooks worry so much about getting the texture right that they forget about the flavor.”

    On the facing page, an article about Rustic Italian Loaf:

    “With a soft, pale crust and a flavorless, Styrofoam interior [supermarket Italian loaves] are merely cheap imitations of the real thing. In Italy, rustic bread is seriously crusty, with a toothsome crumb and a clean, strong flavor….”

    Yeah, just like the cafeteria food I grew up on.

    Jesus….

  50. Meanwhile, I love the premise that an “obnoxious recipe” is one that tells you to use a stand mixer, not one that tells you to hand-knead a heavy, wet dough for 20 minutes.

    Obnoxious foodie-ism is usually about telling people to be impractical, but it turns out that telling people to be practical is obnoxious, too. Score one for blogs!

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  53. heresiarch514

    “So let me get this straight. In order to make a bagel, something I could purchase for about $0.80 if Washington, D.C., had ever heard of what a semi-normal bagel looked like (don’t get me started on those Cosi abominations I’ll leave that to Adler) I can’t make at home because I don’t own a $400 machine?”

    Other things that can be cheaply produced with specialized equipment but can’t be easily duplicated without:

    *stone-oven pizza
    *keys
    *ceramics
    *glassware
    *injected plastics
    *newspapers

    Hello welcome to industrialization! It is a powerful and versatile economic tool.

  54. Maybe Jim Leahy is developing a no-knead bagel recipe as we speak.

    Although humans have been hand kneading dough for thousands of years, many modern doughs (like the distinctively chewy bagel) would not have been developed without some kind of mechanized kneading (because who would want to hand knead a stiff dough for an hour?). Sure you could just hand knead it for less time, until your arms give out, and you may very well be satisfied with the results. (99% of America is perfectly happy calling any kind of mealy pale round piece of bread a bagel after all.)

    I bet if you keep your eyes open you can find a mixer at a good discount, especially these days unfortunately. That’s how I found mine.

  55. > Other things that can be cheaply produced with
    > specialized equipment but can’t be easily
    > duplicated without:
    >
    > *stone-oven pizza

    How to make brick oven pizza without a brick oven (he does use a stand mixer):

    http://www.varasanos.com/PizzaRecipe.htm

  56. My favorite recipe book, “The Bread Bible”, includes both mixer and hand kneading instructions with every recipe.

  57. OMG you guys are cracking me up. Yes, the “stand mixer” was common in the 50s, but usually for frostings, cake mixes, egg whites etc. People still kneaded breads by hand.

    You want to knead bread, check out something called a dough hook. Dump in 50 pounds of wet mix, hit the button, and blammo! 50 pounds of bread dough, ready to loaf and set to rise. These things are so awesome to watch that somebody has probably made a youtube.

  58. Carol Field and Bernard Clayton often give distinct processor/mixer/hand directions.

    Thanks for the link, sPh! This is what the internet is for: focused, profusely-illustrated geekishness. I especially liked the part about how to get your oven up to 800F.

    Serial, I think what people have in mind is a basic KitchenAid stand mixer, which runs about $200 new and has a dough hook and enough power to use it for home-size batches.

  59. Yo, you can usually pick up a kitchenaid at Amazon for $180. I even got mine in a sweet cobalt blue. This is a piece of kitchen hardware that will stay for you for the rest of your life, plus the addons are priceless (I’ve been having fun making alcoholic ice cream). Come on now. Sure it’s not $20, but consider it an investment.

  60. I feel like I should congratulate Ben on such an active topic but I’m sure it was unintentional. Who knew what he was walking into?
    59 comments in 3 days.
    (Been skimming them in my inbox.)

    @Colin : I thought that the internet was for “slandering others anonymously” (and pr0n). :)

  61. There’s no way I could make bagels without a stand mixer. My work-induced tendonitis/carpal tunnel/blackberry means I can barely open jars anymore.

    Seriously, could anyone here actually knead bread for hours? Just thinking about it makes my hands ache.

    I’ve got to put in a plug for the Kitchen-Aid cult as well. My mother gave me her old 1973 pistachio green Kitchen-Aid a decade ago, and it’s still going strong after years of mistreatment.

  62. Well, we all have our favorite equipment. I’m with mistersmed. I make approximately 150-dozen worth of cookies every year at Christmas and before my mom gave me a stand mixer for my birthday (about ten years ago), it took me no less than 2 months to do it. I seriously considered buying a small chest freezer to store them, but space was always an issue. Now it takes 2 weeks.

    What I’d like to see is a comprehensive substitution volume that would include things like what to do if you are too lazy to butter/flour your muffin tins, AND mL to cups, AND bread flour substitutions, AND stand mixers vs whisks vs hand mixers, etc. etc. …

    As for space constraints… I highly recommend placing your stand mixer on top of your fridge. Even for a short person like me it’s easy to get it down and then put back up without needing a stepladder, but it’s still out of the way for the 80% of the time I’m not using it. (I’ve never known anyone to actually use the cabinets over their fridge for anything they need more than once a year.)

    But if you want to knead that dough or whip those egg whites by hand, more power to ya. Just think of it as saving yourself a trip to the gym.

    PS: I like squagels, but I understand that they are NOT actual bagels so they don’t make me upset like they do to some people. Since moving to DC from the Catskills 15 years ago, I have wondered NOT where I can get a decent bagel, but rather where I can get a decent HARD ROLL sandwich?!?!?

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  64. My mother had a stand mixer in the 1960s, and I got one as a matter of course when I got maried, but we used it for cakes and whipping cream, not bread or yeast doughs. I haven’t made bagels in years, but my memory is that the dough was so thick that it would have destroyed our stand mixer. If a Kitchenaid can handle that dough, maybe it’s worth the money!

  65. Ben,

    I’m with you. Cook’s Illustrated is a great resource but for bread I think you need something more specialised. Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice is excellent and the formulas give instructions for kneading or mixing by hand. I haven’t tried the bagel recipe yet but all the ones that I have made (whole wheat, baguettes, pizza, focaccia, etc.) by hand have been winners.

    If you ever do give in to all of these stand mixer boosters don’t go cheap. A cousin of mine, who makes a lot of bread, managed to almost shear the pin on his KitchenAid that the beater head rotates on, while kneading bread. It has been relegated to beating egg whites while he uses one with the fixed head and the bowl that moves up and down for kneading bread.

    When I get married I’d much rather register for a meat slicer.

  66. Pingback: Quick Bites From the Web: Food Politics Edition « Simply Cooking

  67. Pingback: Homemade Bagels « The Internet Food Association

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  69. Pingback: Homemade Bagels | kashwaynepromotion.com

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