A hand mixer and a stand mixer can both whip cream or butter, but they're not interchangeable appliances. If you're wondering which one to purchase, think about your needs and habits before you make the leap. Some excellent home bakers never invest in a stand mixer, just as others never use a hand mixer. However, most people first buy a hand mixer, then spring for a stand mixer when they can afford one.
A hand mixer is a basic houseware item—even people who cook infrequently tend to purchase one when they're fitting out a new kitchen. Though some models can be expensive, a sturdy hand mixer shouldn't cost more than $30. Even if you enjoy mixing ingredients by hand, you might consider buying an inexpensive hand mixer for the days when you don't have the energy to whip cream. Not only will the appliance save you time, it will do a better job of mixing cake batter or cookie dough—it will mash potatoes, whip butter and beat eggs in minutes. Even if you don't bake much, you'll probably grow to love your hand mixer.
All portable hand mixers come with a pair of removable all-purpose metal beaters, which you can use to whip egg whites, cream, or butter. Some high-end specialty hand mixers may also include a balloon whisk or dough hook attachment. Though you can still purchase manual rotary beaters (for a camping trip or for fun), most people opt for electric hand mixers instead, since they require very little physical effort. All hand mixers can operate at several different mixing speeds.
A stand mixer will take your cooking and baking to a whole new level, but you shouldn't purchase one on a whim. Ask yourself a few questions first: How much counter space can you devote to a large appliance? How often do you bake and, of course, what do you bake? On the one hand, even the smallest stand mixer will outperform a hand mixer—it will whip, mix, and beat ingredients in far less time (thanks to its efficient preset mixing motion). Most stand mixers come with several useful attachments, including a dough hook, whisk, and paddle. If you love to make layer cakes, buttercream or bread, then a stand mixer will only make your life easier. You'll be able to clean the kitchen or focus on other tasks as your stand mixer whips Swiss meringue buttercream or kneads brioche. Even the best home bakers don't always mix ingredients for long enough when using a hand mixer, so a stand mixer will probably improve the quality of your baked goods.
Still, a stand mixer can sometimes seem like the more inconvenient alternative. You can store a lightweight hand mixer in a drawer or cupboard, but you will likely end up keeping your stand mixer on your counter. The smallest stand mixer weighs around 15 pounds and costs $200, while larger models can weigh and cost twice as much. It's also important to remember that a stand model can only operate in its bowl—a portable hand mixer, on the hand, will work in any bowl or pot, however big or small.
How to Choose
So, which is best for you? Many bakers use both. At the very least, you should purchase a sturdy hand mixer. You'll find yourself using it several times a week. However, serious home bakers (particularly cake decorators and bread makers) should consider investing in a stand mixer, which will quickly become a favorite appliance. Specialty attachments will even turn your stand mixer into a pasta machine or an ice cream maker.
If you're interested in a stand mixer but can't afford one at the moment, consider adding one to your wedding registry. A high quality KitchenAid stand mixer is a timeless wedding gift.