The planetary mixer is a mainstay chunk of equipment in many commercial kitchens. Whenever your restaurant or bakery needs a large project done, and done well, more than likely you’re turning to the mixer taking up a whole corner of the kitchen. The tasks you can perform with a well outfitted mixer are numerous, and the speed with which you can accomplish these tasks is impressive.
Of course, as great as the planetary mixer is, it may not be the right mixer for your operation, especially if you’re looking for a mixer that does one specialized task very well. The two most obvious exceptions to the planetary mixer rule are the spiral mixer and the vertical cutter-mixer. The spiral mixer has a fixed dough hook and rotating bowl and it’s designed for mixing large amounts of dough all day long.
Some people even claim that spiral mixers mix better dough than a planetary mixer, but that’s a matter of opinion to be sure. Vertical cutter mixers are more of a food processor; they can do mixing, chopping, blending, etc., and are ideal for operations that need to process large amounts of a specific food product day in and day out.
So what makes the planetary mixer so great? Well, to start, it’s a very versatile machine that can operate on a large scale. Different attachments allow you to mix dough, whip up creams, sauces, and icing, chop, shred, or grate vegetables, or even grind up meat products. Planetary mixers have a single offset shaft that turns in an orbital motion resembling planets going around the sun, which accounts for the name. When attachments are affixed to this shaft they rotate through the mixer bowl in an elliptical shape, which ensures an effective mixing of the entire contents of the bowl.
Sizing Your Mixer
The capacity of the mixing bowl determines the size of the mixer. Commercial mixers can be separated into three main categories: countertop, bench, and floor models.
Countertop mixers are usually 5 – 8 quarts in capacity and resemble a residential model mixer.
Bench mixers are quite a bit larger than a countertop model (10 – 24 quarts) but can still sit on a sturdy work table.
Floor mixers are the most common type of commercial mixer. These large mixers range in capacity anywhere from 30 – 80 quarts and are a freestanding unit.
To determine what size mixer you need, take a couple factors into consideration:
Leave yourself some extra capacity. Some products will expand when agitated in the mixing process, which can mean a mess if you’ve completely filled the mixing bowl. Besides, you may need to make larger batches of whatever you’re mixing in the future as your business grows.
If you’re mixing dough, calculate the absorption ratio (AR). The drier the dough, the tougher it is to mix, and that is going to affect how large a batch you can mix according to the size of your mixer. To calculate the AR, divide the water weight by the flour weight, e.g. 20 lbs. of water and 50 lbs. of flour equals a 40% (0.4) AR. The lower the AR, the more stiff and therefore more difficult to mix the dough is and therefore the smaller the batch will need to be.
Please note that just because you need to mix a smaller batch due to the stiffness of the dough does not mean you should use a smaller mixer. The point of calculating the AR is to find a batch size that your mixer can manage without overworking the motor. Consult with your operator’s manual or the mixer manufacturer for recommended batch sizes for different absorption ratios.
In general, if you plan to use your mixer for day in and day out dough mixing, go with a heavier duty floor mixer that can handle the heavy load dough puts on a mixer motor.
Planetary mixers have several attachments for performing different tasks. Here are the most commonly used ones:
Dough Hook – these spiral shaped attachments are for mixing and kneading yeast-based dough.
Flat Beater – this paddle shaped attachment is perfect for mixing batters and icings or for mashing vegetables like potatoes. Basically, anything that needs to be creamed should get the flat beater treatment.
Wire Whip – the wire whip looks just like a handheld version but packs a lot more punch. Use it for the same things you would use your hand whip – meringue, creams, and frostings, just on a much larger scale.
Pastry Knife – use this thin dough hook to mix shortening and flour for light dough for things like pie crusts.
Vegetable Slicers & Grater/Shredders – these attachments can process a high volume of just about any kind of vegetable very quickly. Use them to slash your prep times on tedious slicing tasks.
Meat Chopper/Grinders – these attachments allow you to chop up or grind meat products quickly and efficiently.
If you maintain a good planetary mixer that is properly sized for the tasks you give it, that mixer should serve you faithfully well into the future. Some tips to make sure your mixer has a long and happy life:
Clean it regularly. The mixing bowl, attachments, and shaft should be cleaned after every use. The rest of the mixer should be cleaned on a regular basis. No matter what part of the mixer you’re cleaning, always use soapy water and a soft rag or brush. Never use abrasive pads or steel wool to clean any part of a mixer.
Lubricate moving parts regularly. Refer to your owner’s manual for an official schedule and the location of all the parts that need regular lubrication. Always use food-grade lubricant, especially on parts that could come into contact with food product, like the mixer shaft.
Don’t overload the mixer, ever! If you do, you’re going to break something sooner or later. Take care to size the mixer properly for the tasks you have at it and overloading shouldn’t be an issue. Always remember that what seems like a bargain when you buy a smaller mixer can end up being a headache later when it burns out on you from overwork.
A planetary mixer can do a lot of work for you. Buy the right one at the start and take care of it throughout, and you’ll have a permanent fixture in your kitchen’s daily operations.