Baking Just Got So. Much. Better.

I have always been a baker. Mumma O’C notably craved chocolate chip cookies (and steak) while she was pregnant with me, so you could say I was born to bake. (I guess pregnant women were less concerned about diabetes in the 80’s). When I was 6 or 7, my older sister regularly baked, and would let me ‘help’ her. This basically meant I was her clean up crew, so a few years later, when she was more interested in being a teenager than baking, I honed my egg cracking skills and took over as the household sweet supplier.

When I moved to London, I stopped baking almost entirely. When you go from a house full of family to a 2 person household, there are fewer mouths to consume cookies and therefore more sugar and calories to worry about going into your own mouth. Occasionally I’d bake, and Mark and I would either indulge far too much on our own, or take the excess to work. Working in a heavily male-dominated industry, I always felt especially awkward about being the girl bringing in fresh baked goods. Also, that sort of thing just seemed less common in our big financial offices than it did when I worked for a smaller company in the US. I stuck mostly to birthday cupcakes and Christmas gingerbread men. It’s not Christmas without gingerbread, in my book.

Now that we’re developing a bit of a social circle here in San Diego and we have a large enough living/dining area to host groups more comfortably, we decided to hold a small “Christmas Cookies & Cocktails” evening with a few couples from our Meetup group. I wanted to give our apartment’s on-site management and maintenance crew some baked goods, too, because they’re so great. With so many people to share with – and considering we are hosting a family Christmas – I could finally indulge my love of Christmas baking.

I narrowed the selection down to 6 varieties (yes, you read that correctly). I started with bite-sized peppermint merengues on Wednesday, since I had a free day after cramming all my errands into Monday and Tuesday. While I’ve made several pavlovas in the past, Wednesday’s merengue experience was a total failure. First, I was using a new recipe, which didn’t trust it from the outset because of the involvement of heat, and unsurprisingly, I never got my eggs ‘peaky’. I gave up after 5-6 minutes of mixing, and switched to a more ‘traditional’ recipe. I continued to have problems though, culminating in 7 wasted eggs, several cups of wasted sugar, and a lot of frustration.

Amongst other problems, I was not impressed with my $35 KitchenAid hand mixer. We had a somewhat hefty hand mixer in London, which never proved a problem, since it had a decent motor and I didn’t bake often anyway. When we moved, I was going to fulfill my ‘dream ‘o fa KitchenAid stand mixer, since we’d finally have the counter space for it. When it came to purchase one, I talked myself out of it, reminding myself I didn’t bake that often anymore, and that I was sure a little hand mixer would be fine. Wednesday’s merengue attempt highlighted that the mixer was slightly pathetic, and made me seriously worried about burning out the motor making more dense doughs, like gingerbread.

When I spent half our dinner complaining to Mark about my frustrating afternoon, he suggested I get the stand mixer I’d originally planned to buy. I first rejected the idea, saying I’d try the ‘pro’ hand mixer first and only upgrade to the granddaddy of mixers if I was still having problems. He seemed to think I should get the stand mixer anyway, but conceded to my conservative spending style.

The following day, I repackaged and returned my crappy 5 speed. I browsed Target’s appliances, looking for a more sturdy hand mixer, and noticed their KA stand mixers were on sale ($225, down from $300 for a 300W, 4.5qt “Ultra Power” model). Mark’s idea of upgrading was more compelling, since it was ‘only’ about double the cost of a (hopefully) decent hand mixer. I called him to discuss the idea, and he continued urging me to buy it. That location was out of silver, which would match our other KA appliances (blender and food processor). A nearby location had several though, so I could buy one there.

En route, I stopped at Home Goods, in search of baked good ‘towers’. They also had KA mixers on sale. Theirs were the 325 W, 5qt ‘Artisan’ model priced at $250 (down from $350). They also had a wider color selection. I had already convinced myself the smaller one was more suitable, and proceeded to pick it up from Target and then went home. Grinning. And thankful for having such an understanding, generous husband.

Once home, the size was fine, but I really disliked the color. “Contour Silver” is a shiny silver, which clashed next to a matte stainless steel sink and kettle and looked bland in front of our grey-ish walls.I thought black countertop appliances would be far better, since they’d stand out against our countertop and not look like a failed attempt to match stainless steel (especially since ideally our next place will have s/s appliances). Unfortunately, black was sold out at Target online and in stores. The only other place with the same model on sale was QVC, and it was discounted a ‘measly’ $20 bucks. Mark convinced me that when you’re paying that much for something, you might as well love it – if I preferred the black version, I ought to get it.

To test my ‘color hypothesis’ before paying to have one shipped, I bought the slightly larger black model from Home Goods. I also picked up a white version of the smaller model at Target ‘just in case’. Ever the fan of returns, I’d suddenly acquired 3 (rather pricey mixers) in 4 hours. I brought all 3 home to ‘test’. I was pretty set on the black, but sent photos to Mark and my best friend for additional input. It was unanimous, the black was the way to go. Seeing the 5 qt model, I realized it wasn’t actually that much bigger. Plus, I could always buy a smaller bowl for smaller recipes (the cost of the Artisan mixer and an extra bowl would still be less than buying the other model from QVC). Keeping the black one I’d already bought had the added bonuses of giving me one less thing to return,  allowing me to start cooking immediately, and a stronger motor. Hooray!!

With my new toy set up, I spent a little time rearranging our countertop, and made a (final) attempt at merengue. It was so. ridiculously. easy. Perfection! One thing I’ve also noticed with all the KA appliances I’ve used is how easy they are to clean. This first struck me with the blender, which has a single-piece jug rather than an assembly with a blade, seal, jug, etc. It’s way easier to clean. The same is true with the stand mixer – you just mix the single bowl and beater. As I kid, I remember cleaning 7 or 8 different pieces (some of which were pretty fiddly) with my Mum’s stand mixer. As an admitted clean freak and efficiency nut, KitchenAid’s no-fuss cleaning really appeals to me.

This morning, I rearranged the kitchen some more, and have already made gingerbread dough and my first batch of cookies (cranberry & white chocolate chip – a slight modification on the Mrs. Field’s chocolate chip recipe I’ve been using for 20 years). This is definitely my happy place. And I’m glad that I’ve got so many people to help me eat the evidence in the coming days.


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