Sunday, January 3, 2010

Update: Why I Love My KitchenAid (But You May Not Love Yours)


Yesterday I wrote about making bread with my KitchenAid stand mixer, and I mentioned that my mixer, which is 23 years old, is still going strong after mixing an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 loaves of bread, not to mention plenty of cakes and cheesecakes, as well as innumerable batches of cookies (I made over 1,800 cookies for Christmas this year; suffice it to say that I bake a lot).

However, after receiving a comment from JWD (someone I don't even know, who apparently stumbled across my post only hours after I wrote it, while doing research on--imagine!--the merits of making bread with a bread machine vs. a KitchenAid stand mixer [I have to admit that I get excited all out of proportion to the event whenever someone I don't know finds my blog and leaves a comment, as if it might be the first step on the road to the kind of wild success enjoyed by Julie & Julia author Julie Powell...]), who found my post helpful in her process of deciding which appliance to buy, I felt that perhaps I should post again, this time on the topic of Why I Love My KitchenAid (But You May Not Love Yours).

As I mentioned yesterday, my KitchenAid stand mixer was a Christmas gift in 1986. (It was one of the two best inanimate gifts I ever received from my first husband [from whom I also got two wonderful children]. The other was a portable Kenmore sewing machine he gave me for Christmas in 1977, back when they were still made with almost exclusively metal parts. [It was the first year we were dating. I was 18, and my mother seemed concerned when I got it, thinking it was an inappropriately intimate gift.] If it weren't for the time a few years ago when I started to sew while Remy was sleeping under the table, startling him awake and causing him to leap up in a panic, becoming entangled in the electric cord, and yanking the machine off the table so it crashed to the floor, I'd still be using it today. The two newer used machines with which I've attempted to replace it have both been rather fragile and plasticky.)

My KitchenAid is the model that I think is now called the "Classic," with a 4.5-quart metal bowl and a 250-watt motor. It's a workhorse, but I can only mix two, or possibly three, loaves of bread at a time in it, so in 2005, when I decided to open a bakery, I knew I'd need something bigger. Much bigger.

I had been lusting after a used 12- to 20-quart Hobart dough mixer, but they were prohibitively expensive for my shoestring operation. Before I found the used 12-quart Univex pictured in yesterday's post, I bought a brand-new KitchenAid Professional 600, a totally cool-looking machine with a six-quart bowl, a 575-watt motor, and the bowl-lift (rather than the tilting-head) mechanism.

Here's how the KitchenAid website describes the Professional 600: "The overachiever of the stand mixer family, it has a Flour Power Rating of 14 cups. That means it can mix enough dough for 8 loaves of bread or 13 dozen cookies in a single bowl."

Excuse me, but this is bullshit. For one thing, 14 cups of flour makes about five loaves of bread. Maybe even six, if they're not too big. But eight loaves? No way.

However, I was still pretty happy with my Professional 600, because it easily mixed up big batches of cookie dough and cake batter, and four- or five-loaf batches of bread. And I had this really cool antique dough bucket that I used to mix most of my bread dough anyway.(I got it from our former neighbor, Aunt Bertha, when she was cleaning out her house, prior to moving out so the state could bulldoze it and reroute the road. I liked using it because it was such a simple, non-electric thing [such as one might find in the awesome Lehman's catalog--except that I just checked, and they don't have one], and because it made me think of Aunt Bertha, and because I developed some pretty impressive biceps muscles during those first few months in the bakery, turning the crank that turned the paddle that mixed the dough. [These are the directions on the lid of the bucket: Put in all liquids first, then flour. Turn 3 minutes. Raise in pail. After raising, turn until dough forms a ball. Take off cross-piece. Lift out dough with kneader. It doesn't get much simpler.])

But...only a month or two after I started using my Professional 600, as I was mixing a batch of dough of a perfectly reasonable size, it started making a funny noise and smelling very hot, and then it just quit. I called the KitchenAid people and they told me it was probably "just overheating" and I should leave it alone until it cooled and try again, but that didn't fix the problem. Every time I turned it on, it would run for a minute or two, smell funny, make a noise, and shut down.

I consulted my owner's manual for information on their "Hassle-Free Replacement Warranty"--after all, it was practically new. That's when I read this: KitchenAid Will Not Pay For: A) Repairs when Stand Mixer is used in other than normal single family home use.

Excuse me?! This mixer--this Professional 600 model--is covered under the warranty only if I don't use it professionally?? If that's the case, shouldn't it be called the "Home-baker 600," or the "Big-family 600" instead?

Having spent $350 for the darned thing only a couple of months previously, I was pretty unhappy. I was unhappy enough to decide to adopt a "don't ask, don't tell" policy with regard to my conversation with the KitchenAid warranty people. I think all I told them was that I had four kids and I made a lot of bread...which was true. They didn't ask if I had just opened a bakery in the front room of my house, and I didn't mention it, either.

They sent me a new mixer. And I loved it. I loved it for more than a year, which is to say, until after the warranty expired. (Not that I would have dared to try to get away with the "don't ask, don't tell" thing again, anyway. Probably.) And then it quit. After learning that it would cost me a bundle just to ship it to a repair center and have the problem diagnosed, to say nothing of what it might cost to fix it, I stowed it on a corner of the porch, where it rests to this day. Sigh.

I moved my old reliable Classic into the bakery and used it when I needed to make small batches of bread, cookies, and cakes. The Univex took care of everything else.

I thought probably I had just had an isolated case of bad luck with my two Professional 600 models, and, given my wonderful experience with the Classic, I was still prepared to defend KitchenAid's quality. Until, that is, in the process of writing yesterday's post, I spent entirely too much time doing on-line research about KitchenAid mixers, and what I found was pretty interesting.

It turns out that KitchenAid used to be a brand of the Hobart Corporation. Hobart invented the electric mixer 100 years ago, and their mixers are still the gold standard for the foodservice industry. (They make floor models with bowls of up to 140-quart capacity. It boggles the mind.)

However, Hobart sold the brand to Whirlpool Corporation in 1986. Remember that I said my KitchenAid Classic was a Christmas gift in 1986? It was apparently one of the last KitchenAids manufactured by Hobart, and I think that probably explains why I've been so happy with it.

I found several sites where people could rate and review their KitchenAid mixers, and, while the reviews were generally positive, each site had a smattering (maybe 10%) of very negative reviews. Since, in my experience, the majority of people who have fancy kitchens and high-end appliances don't actually use them all that much, I'm guessing that the negative reviews are probably coming from frequent bakers like me (who are the only ones really putting their mixers to the test).

One Amazon reviewer wrote: "No, KitchenAid is not top-of-the-line anymore. They aren't as high quality as they used to be, they are noiser than earlier models, and have only a third the life expectancy of the old ones." Ouch.

Another reviewer pointed out sadly that "the reputation comes from the days when it was a brand name of the Hobart Corporation, through 1986...KitchenAid mixers no longer have any Hobart DNA in them; they are Whirlpool through and through."

So, be warned: if you buy a KitchenAid mixer today, you won't be getting the same machine I got for Christmas 23 years ago.

That leaves me to worry about what I'll do when my 1986 model finally does bite the dust. I guess I should be keeping an eye on eBay to see if anyone is selling a gently-used, quarter-century-old KitchenAid Classic. (Or a late-70s-vintage Kenmore zigzag sewing machine with all metal parts.)


6 comments:

  1. That late 70's Kenmore zigzag sewing machine is absolutely the only one I know how to use. I had high hopes of getting ahold of it one day so that I wouldn't have to learn how to use another more complicated one. Stupid dog.

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  2. I haven't given up on my old Kenmore; I think it might be able to be repaired. It's really the only sewing machine I've ever loved.

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  3. Better keep the dog away from the mixer!

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  4. Well I hope your mixer lasts another 25 years. I work at Whirlpool and I know the mixers we are making today will give that same experience to the next generation of bread makers! You should look into the KitchenAid experience when you have to buy your next one. You can go to the Greenville, OH factory (still made in the USA!!!) and actually build your own stand mixer! You will see the passion of the people working in the factory. I have worked for GM, Clark Equipment Company, and Whirlpool. I have never seen more passionate workers on building quality products than the fine people working in Greenville Ohio! Makes me proud to be working for Whirlpool!

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  5. I bought a used Kenmore sewing machine in 1980, and the guy at the shop said it was better than a new one because it was all metal instead of modern plastic. It worked great for a long time, until slamming onto the floor because of being plugged in across a busy household thoroughfare. Even then I managed to repair it, mostly, and then I gave it to my sister after her awful boyfriend threw her machine into their yard during a fight. I have a newer kenmore now that has hit the floor several times but still goes, despite the modern plastic.

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