A good stand mixer is a true workhorse in the kitchen for anyone who bakes more than occasionally, and just like with food processors, the battle for kitchen superiority (at least for the home consumer) comes down to the choice between KitchenAid and Cuisinart. When selecting one, there are a few criteria that I try to look for.
First off, it should have a dough hook attachment with a motor powerful enough to be able to mix at least two pounds of bread dough without straining, shaking, or burning out. Secondly, it should have a whisk attachment to whip cream and egg whites quickly and efficiently into frothy meringues and foams. It should also effortlessly cream butter and sugar with a paddle attachment, as well as make short work of mashed potatoes and meatball mixes.
A good stand mixer should feature planetary motion with its whisk, with the attachment spinning around its axis in one direction, and orbiting around the work bowl in the opposite direction in order to maximize contact and mixing power. Finally, it should have a low-gear port for extra attachments such as a meat grinder or pasta maker.
Other factors to consider include:
Capacity and Bowl Design
Some mixers, like the Cuisinart Stainless Stand Mixer go as high as seven quarts. Unless you plan on baking five or six loaves of bread at a time, this is entirely unnecessary. Five quarts is ample for all but the most serious of home bakers.
For bowl shape, I prefer processor bowls with taller sides and a narrower mouth. Wide-bottomed bowls means that when working with small amounts of ingredients, the whipping head may have trouble reaching it. Trying to whip anything less than say, four to five egg whites is an exercise in futility. Taller, narrower bowls also help ingredients fall towards the bottom of the bowl more easily and so require less frequent scraping. Tall narrow bowls do make it a bit harder to add ingredients while the machine is running, but the clear plastic lid guards with feed tubes that come with most decent models solve this problem handily.
Despite the fact that many manufacturers boast their motor wattages in their advertising, these numbers actually mean very little. Within a given manufacturer's product lineup, it is an indicator of how powerful the motor will be, but the wattage indicated is the power consumed by the mixer, not the power produced by the motor. It's a marketing gimmick, pure and simple. Given two motors that perform equally well, it's actually better to pick the one with lower wattage, as it produces equal results with less than half the power consumption!
For me, there are only two absolutely essential attachments. The first is a meat grinder. Given the number of burgers I make, the grinder alone is worth the cost of my mixer. Fortunately, both the KitchenAid and the Cuisinart have meat grinder attachments available. Here, the Cuisinart's large meat grinder attachment has an advantage over the KitchenAid's attachment. It's also much more expensive. It has a larger capacity, and is made of metal as opposed to the Kitchenaid's heavy-duty plastic. This means that it will stay cold longer letting you work more before having to re-chill if you are planning any large-scale grinding operations. For me, it's not a deal-breaker. I've used my KitchenAid grinder for years and have only lamented its small size on one or two occasions.
The main difference in design between various mixers is the way in which the spinning attachment is brought into contact with the food. The KitchenAid Pro Series features a lifting mechanism that lifts the entire work bowl up and down to meet a stationary attachment. On the other hand, both the KitchenAid Artisan Mixer and the Cuisinart feature tilting heads. The difference is really a matter of space in your kitchen. Models featuring lifting bowls are taller and require an extra five to six inches of height underneath a cabinet. Tilting head models will require a bit of clearance behind them. In this instance, the KitchenAid, which tilts only at the head—has an advantage over the Cuisinart, which tilts at the joint where the body meets the base in a way that I find quite frustrating, requiring much more effort and space to remove or insert the bowl.
The Cuisinart does come with a built-in timer and an automatic shut-off which is neat, but hardly necessary.
And the winner is the KitchenAid Pro 600 stand mixer. It's ideal for both heavy-duty bakers who make bread at least a couple times a week and want a real powerhouse in the kitchen, or for those who will be mostly mixing batters, whipping cream, or using attachments.