This is the one tool that has made artisanal bread baking accessible to the public.
If you are serious about bread baking, or your have aspirations of being serious about bread baking, you just about have to have a sturdy, high quality mixer. There is simply no way that most people can make the range of doughs that artisanal bread baking encompasses without the mixer. I shudder to think of making an 85% wet dough, a ciabatta, a bagel or a crocodile bread by hand. I’m sure someone is doing it right now, but I’ll take a pass on that one, thank you.
For most people in the US, the best mixer to buy is some model of the Kitchen Aid. These are sturdy, reliable and very capable. There are a lot of accessories for them, so you can grind sausage, make pasta, etc., with the same mixer power. If you give your KA reasonable attention, it will last a very long time; mine is a small model that we bought in 1981 and it is still going strong. The KA is literally a scaled-down commercial mixer. If you look at the schematics of the two versions, you’ll see a lot of similarities.
If you want to step up in price and bread making capability, or so I’m told, look at the Electrolux Assistant. This is a totally different concept from the KA. the bowl rotates and brings the dough into stationary rollers. The people who have them swear by them. You can find them on Amazon and eBay.
The top of the line for home bakers is the Santos, an Italian fork mixer, priced, last I looked, at $1200. It isn’t good for much else but mixing bread, but for that, it’s the tops.
There are a few others around, like Kenwood and Bosch, but I haven’t been impressed with them from the stories I’ve heard.
One other possibility, if you have the space and need to make large batches of dough, is to buy a small Hobart mixer, say a 10 quart model. These are available on eBay, used, so if you buy one, check out the seller and the condition of the machine very carefully. These machines look like a KA on steroids, take up a little bit more room than a large KA and will really do a job on a large batch of dough.
And lastly, my dream machine, the Artofex PH-0. This is a small diving arm mixer made many years ago by the Artofex company in Switzerland. It was made as a laboratory mixing device, but bakers latched onto it and used it. They didn’t make many of them. I’ve seen two for sale, one for $3200.00 in Australia and one in the US that the owner wouldn’t even discuss with me. I saw a post on a blog where a man in England found one and restored it. Good for him! This machine isn’t anywhere as useful as a large KA, but it represents, to me, the ultimate confirmation that I am a bread nut.