Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Stand mixer choices in Japan - KitchenAids and Kenwoods

After lots of research, this week I took the plunge and invested in my first stand mixer!

How pretty are these attachments?

I initially had my heart set on a Kenwood Chef mixer with its straight lines and serious looking die cast appearance, as this was the popular work-horse brand I’d heard about over the years on British TV, and everyone I know who owns one is delighted with it. Recent cooking shows like the Great British Bake Off however seem to use American KitchenAid stand mixers, and I’d seen those colourful machines in many restaurants in Tokyo, and so many months ago I set out to find out what the differences were and what would be available to me in Japan.

First of all, the mains electricity system in Tokyo is 100v / 50 Hz, very different to the UK’s 230v / 50Hz and slightly different to 120v / 60Hz in the US and Canada. While many US products can be used in Japan as they are without a voltage transformer - the plug is the same 2-pin type and the equipment may just be a little less powerful in Japan than they would be when used in the US - some sensitive equipment could run into problems. Digital clocks for example will run slowly(!), and apparently the difference in hertz between the US and Japan can cause the internal wiring to heat up and in the case of old or cheaply-wired items could start a fire.

I didn't feel it was an option for me to buy a Kenwood Chef from the UK and fetch or ship it to Japan – even if I worked out a voltage transformer solution I wouldn't be sure what I was doing was safe and reliable long-term for my business, and using the machine like that might have voided the Guarantee etc. etc.

Kenwood Chef-type machines are available in/imported to Japan if you hunt them out. They appear to have been sold overseas under the De'Longhi name (they acquired Kenwood in 2001), and you can still find old models with the De'Longhi logo online in Japan. De'Longhi itself appears to have returned to using the Kenwood name to sell mixers in some countries, see that the US version of Kenwood site has the De'Longhi company name in their address. There is also Hamilton Beach with a similar mixer being imported to Japan here. Domestically, Aicoh sells the closest Kenwood Chef mixer in Japan as ケンミックス / Kenmix (Rakuten link).

Kenmix KMM770, even has the 'Major Premier' labeling of Kenwood

I got to see a couple of Kenmix machines in Kappabashi, here is the one at Yoshida Kashi Douguten (吉田菓子道具店 Google maps). They sell for just under 100,000 yen and are the most powerful of the counter-top mixers that I saw, at 800 watts (although this isn't a patch on the machines made to their home-turf specs, running at 1400w). The problem for me in Japan was that they are not as well supported as KitchenAids. Apparently the re-seller supplying the Kenmix to the Kappabashi shops sells them as single units and does not stock any attachments – not a huge problem in itself as you can use ones ordered abroad, but it is indicative of lack of support.

Repairs for KitchenAids are handled through Yoshida but I gather you are on your own with a Kenmix and would need to find a different repair shop. I really wanted this machine but felt cautious about the lack of after-sale support and unsure about paying that amount of money and also not knowing whether it was a ‘real’ high quality all-metal Kenwood or a plastic internal parts hybrid version.

Looking into the KitchenAid options for Japan – the official Japanese KitchenAid site is very much targeted to the domestic kitchen and lists just one model:
  • 9KSM95 100v, 225w, 4.28L, 10.2kg, tilting type (47,250 yen recommended retail price)
The 9KSM95 has the same wattage (225w) and weight as the Artisan/KSM150 model in Japan but is over 20,000 yen cheaper, so there must be some difference in quality between the two. When I asked at Yoshida, though they don’t stock the domestic 9KSM95 model, they thought it was because the bowl is slightly smaller (4.28L vs 4.8L) and that there is no guard attachment. I feel there must be more to it than this, perhaps it is also internally less robust as it isn't designed for professional use.. well that's just a hunch with nothing to back it up as yet.

The professional range of KitchenAid machines (pdf) currently has 3 options available in Japan, all there on the shelf to look at at Yoshida kashidouguten - they'll plug them in for you so you can see and hear how they go.
  • KSM150 100v, 225w (325w in the US), 4.8L, 10.2kg, tilting type (69,300 yen RRP)
  • KSM5 is 100v, 250w (325-350w in the US?), 4.8L, 12.7kg, bowl-lift type (105,000 yen RRP)
  • KSM7 is 100v, 400w (575w in the US), 6.9L, 12.7kg, bowl-lift type (162,000 yen RRP)
The KSM7 is being sold for 98,000 yen at Yoshida Kashidouguten and is a recent addition to the Japanese KitchenAid range. It has an improved bowl design based on feedback from users, is much more powerful than the 225 and 250 watt lower-end machines and is quieter too. The attachments are made from burnished steel as opposed to the white nylon-covered beaters sold with the Artisan/KSM150 model. In cooking schools and restaurants where the Artisan is used a lot, you'll frequently see that the paddle beater coating is worn away at the base and potentially flaking into your mixtures. At which point you'd want to buy a new beater, but it seems these businesses rarely do. I imagine that you can buy all-metal beaters for your artisan mixer anyway, but it was nice that this model started out with them.

Speeds on the KSM7 KitchenAid

I was a little concerned about the range the mixer could handle, as I'd want to do some large and some small portions of various recipes - but apparently it can whip anything starting from 2 egg whites.

Bit of a tricky operation fitting the bowl

An awkwardness with this and the other bowl-lift types of KitchenAid mixer is that despite the improvements, the bowl is quite hard to fix into place. Once it's in there it feels incredibly sturdy, which is reassuring, and it is easy enough to remove. So far I've found it easiest to fit the bowl in by positioning the holes that are on either side of the bowl over just the tops of the pins on the arms of the mixer, and then pushing down on the back of the bowl to snap it into place (see the images below with the nub at the back of the bowl in the before and after hefty-push position). I guess I'll get better at it with practice.

You get a photocopied Japanese manual and Japanese recipe book with the KSM7 from Yoshida, but the English manual is also online here (pdf). Note that the Japanese manual says that it needs to be plugged directly into a wall socket rather than an extension cable and should be earthed, particularly because the chassis is made of metal (pictures of Japanese electrical sockets with earth connection, since they are not that common here).

Yoshida are official re-sellers of KitchenAids in Japan, and offer a repair service at their shop with some free and some paid repairs depending on what goes wrong. They will loan you another machine for free during that repair time, any time up to 5 years after the sale. I wonder if they do the same for ovens.. :)

You can also find on Amazon, Rakuten, etc. a Series 6 professional KitchenAid, which is imported from the US and whose listings say they can be used as they are on Japanese voltage systems.
  • KP26M1 120v, 575w, 5.7L, 13-15kg, bowl-lift type (50,899-69,800 yen).
It's likely to be less powerful than using the same machine in the US, due to the above-mentioned difference in voltage between the US and Japan, perhaps it will end up very similar in power to the 400w KSM7, but noisier and with a slightly smaller bowl.

The reason that I didn't go for the imported series 6 was again mainly to do with warranty - I'm going to be a tiny business and may only have one or two mixers, I'm going to need them to be reliable and I need to know that I can get them fixed if they break. Rakuten offers the manufacturer's 1 year guarantee, and you can buy an extended guarantee for 2,000 yen that covers you for 2 years. However, read the small print and you'll see that "business use" is outside the terms of the agreement and so I imagined potentially being mixerless and possibly needing to shell out another 60,000-70,000 yen for a machine in the short term and decided it wasn't a smart choice for me.

After admitting to myself that my attachment to the Kenwood was probably more to do with brand-affinity and appearance than good business sense, I went for the robust, quieter KSM7 (in case you hadn't already guessed!), with the amazing after-sales support from Yoshida Kashidouguten, something I couldn't pay a business like Amazon or Rakuten for, even if I wanted to. If I lived in the UK or Canada and had Kenwood options along with full warranties then I probably would have gone for the Kenwood, like this person in this excellent KitchenAid vs Kenwood review. Who knows, if this business malarkey gets off the ground well enough I'll be able to treat the shop to a second mixer, and it could be a Kenwood :)

Yoshida Kashidouguten, since 1922

Yoshida Kashidouguten is one of a dying breed of shop, knowledgeable staff who are skilled in their particular niche and offer thorough and thoughtful service - I guess it's just not scalable, and it's not very online either, you have to go there in person and like much of food industry-serving Kappabashi, they are closed most weekends and evenings. They arranged delivery free of charge ("service" ;) ), and told me that the Garnet oven I blogged about previously was still their top selling oven, and that the company that makes them has a test kitchen that you can book to go and try them out. I sense another field trip coming on! They drew me a map to a local cake shop who had bought that particular oven from them about a year ago and urged me to drop by. It was a tiny shop front with a big kitchen, run by one friendly lady on her own. She loved her oven and the cake-shop lifestyle and wished me luck. As if I needed more encouragement to get the warm fuzzies for Yoshida.

So here we are, my brand new first-ever stand mixer, looking a bit too big for my Tokyo apartment kitchen. No more standing tied to a bowl of meringue for the 9 minutes it takes to whip macaron to the right consistency! Pie crusts in minutes, even, if I look into attachments, possibly automatically grated carrots for carrot cake? Multi-tasking, here I come! Can't wait to try it out. Gosh this turned into a rather long post.. I wonder if anyone will get to the end of it. :)

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Japanese bread flour tests - koumugi, haruyutaka and someiyoshino

I finally got around to testing out the remaining Japanese white bread flours I’d ordered. After the initial surprisingly different taste of the kita no kaori flour blend that I tested a little while ago, I wanted to make a few loaves at the same time using exactly the same method and starter, to compare them side-by-side like a wine tasting.

My flight of sourdough boules for taste-testing

This necessitated the purchase of a few more large bowls and I was pleased to find the large 100 yen shop in Harajuku had bowls big enough to do the trick. Sourdough starter can react with metals (that link is a good read right there), and so go for plastic or glass bowls when you can, and if your jam/mason jars have metal lids, sneak a layer of clingfilm between the lid and the jar when you loosely (to let the gasses escape) affix your lids to avoid rust in your lid and off-notes in your starter.

The flours I tested were as follows:
  • A 日清製粉カメリヤ / Nisshin strong flour, camelia. (My control, the regular flour I've most frequently used to date, made from North American wheat)
  • B キタノカオリ / Kitanokaori blend is the one I tried out earlier (from Hokkaido, name meaning 'fragrance of the North').
  • C ハルユタカ / Haruyutaka (from Hokkaido. The name is usually written in katakana, but assuming that 'haru' and 'yutaka' have their usual meanings, this would translate as something like ‘spring abundance’ maybe?).
  • D 香麦 / Koumugi (from Hokkaido. The name sounds a little like the Japanese for wheat 小麦 / komugi, but with an extended ‘kou’ sound. It’s the same ‘kou’ kanji character as is used in perfume 香水 / kousui and so the name sounds like it means ‘fragrant wheat’).
  • E ソメイヨシノ / Someiyoshino (from Kyushu, the name is a type of cherry blossom).
  • F Shipton Mill No. 1 organic white bread flour (UK wheat, which I tested previously.)
– I told you they had great names. ;) There is another I haven't tried yet called 春よ恋 / Haruyokoi which is also from Hokkaido, and the name appears to be a play on words. It sounds like the name of a drama, a song and manga 春よ来い / haru yo koi which means ‘longing for spring’ or ‘come on, spring!’ but has instead the 'koi' kanji for love and so means something more like ‘spring passion’.

On with the tests! Based on the protein and ash content I might have expected the kitanokaori blend to behave similarly to the Shipton Mill flour I liked so much when I tried it in the UK. There was certainly a big difference in taste between the two however. In terms of other notable points, the someiyoshino flour was the highest protein of all those I've been testing, at 13.9% and Haruyutaka the lowest at 11.3%. The Shipton Mill flour had the highest mineral content and Nisshin camelia was the most refined white flour with the lowest ash content of all.

My starter was a little more lethargic than usual for these tests, with me not perhaps giving it enough warming and culture-proofing before I used it but with enough time it leavened the dough enough to produce some reasonable half-sized loaves.

For the method I split a regular 700g-ish basic sourdough loaf recipe in half and made 4 test boules using the same amount of starter, water and salt. I mixed in 200g of flour to start with and reserved 45g back to add during kneading depending if it needed it. Of all the doughs the control (Nissin) was the wettest and it took the whole 45g of additional flour. Koumugi was the driest flour to-touch and stiffest dough and so I only ended up using an additional 8g more. This dough was springy during kneading, but tore quite easily compared to the others which were more stretchy.

During their overnight proof the Nissin control flour dough and haruyutaka had spread out the most in their bowls, and koumugi remained the highest.

Tall koumugi is 2nd from the back

This remained the case after shaping final proof and baking - Haruyutaka was the flattest, most spread-out loaf and koumugi the tallest. Haruyutaka also had a noticeably more pliable crust than the other breads.

Koumugi crust

Someiyoshino crust

Other remarkable differences were that koumugi had a strangely flaky crust, in that some of the bubbles in the crust of the dough had shattered, something I hadn't seen before (1st photo above). Someiyoshino, the highest protein flour had unusual gelatinous starchy markings in the slashes on the crust (2nd photo above). The Nissin control loaf had the tightest crumb and mainly small bubbles with just a couple of larger ones, though this could be a feature of me having to shape it a few more times than the others, it being quite a slack dough. (Photos below, left to right are Nissin control, Haruyutaka, koumugi and someiyoshino. Same order also in the photo set below.)

Someiyoshino was the most remarkably different-tasting bread of the batch, it had a slight grassy taste and a slightly soapy mouth-feel on the finish. Still, it was a little more subtle tasting than the kita no kaori flour I tried out a few weeks ago and wasn't unpleasant.

Haruyutaka produced the palest loaf in this batch and was the closest in taste and texture to the control Nissin loaf. The crumb was the holey-est (holiest?) crumb with a few more bubbles on the large-side. None of the loaves were remarkably artisan-level holey, but that's fine with me as I get to keep more of the topping on my slice..

Koumugi was my favourite of the Japanese flours tested to date. The crumb was stretchy and springy, the loaf had risen the highest of the lot and there were no off-notes to disturb the enjoyment of the slight sourdough tang. The crumb was quite evenly bubbly with medium-sized holes.

I'd like to try out a few different recipes with these flours, see what they are like with different toppings or how they perform as flatbreads. I haven't yet had quite the same kind of epiphany I had with Shipton Mill flours, but they have made nice sourdoughs and I'll give it a few more tries!

Comparing the holes in the crumb