Tried & Tested: PUREE GENIUS

The handblender doesn't just whisk and mash - it's a design statement too. But which put form over function?
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The Independent Culture
A HANDBLENDER can take the strain out of cooking. Say goodbye to lumpy mash, soups that separate and airless cakes with this indispensable piece of kitchen gadgetry. Many have additional attachments, including miniature food processors, whisks and puree/juicer blades to prompt even the most unimaginative of cooks to creativity in the kitchen. But how to decide which blender is best for your needs? We put five of them into the mixing bowl to find out.

THE PANEL

Valuations specialist Jo Dinsdale and Martin Snape, a deputy director of Sotheby's, both keen cooks, joined housewife Tania Hester for a pureed dinner party - all four courses were blended, as were the cocktails. Teacher Marion Lawie who enjoys baking joined in, while Michael Bateman, IoS food writer, gave an expert's opinion.

THE TEST

The main criterion was efficiency and the blender's ability to cope with a wide range of culinary challenges. The panel also looked for user-friendly design, ease of cleaning and useful attachments. Appearance was assessed, although this was considered secondary.

***MOULINEX OPTICLICK 2

pounds 40

This multi-purpose blender got a mixed reaction from testers. Tania Hester felt that the click-in-pop-out attachments lent it a certain gravitas, but Marion Lawie thought there were too many of them, they were ridiculously tricky to assemble and that most would end up at the back of her cupboard. There was also doubt about the attachments' efficiency, and Marion singled out the "vanity whisk" as particularly poor, although Michael Bateman recommended the puree attachment for "excellent mashed potatoes".

All the testers agreed that the Opticlick's double-bladed blender performed with reasonably efficiency and that the attachments were easy to clean. Jo Dinsdale liked its practical looks, but felt it was just too cumbersome and heavy, as did Tania Hester: "It's too long to use easily when assembled, and all these bits remind me of a Meccano set." The consensus was that the Opticlick was a competent piece of kitchen equipment, but that too many fiddly bits made it a jack of all trades and master of none.

GUZZINI GILDO

pounds 55

The Guzzini failed to win any friends, and was widely criticised by the panel for its lack of power. Michael Bateman called it "totally unable to even damage a tomato"; "wimpy", chimed Jo Dinsdale, and Martin Snape felt that "it would probably break if asked to do any real kitchen work". Design-wise, most of the testers found the Guzzini top-heavy and its elongated egg-shaped handle extremely tricky to grip. "I kept dropping it into the mixing bowl," said Tania Hester. Jo Dinsdale conceded that the plastic shaft was easy to clean, but complained that it made "a noise like a dentist's drill" while she was mashing avocados.

Not even its modern looks could save the Guzzini from condemnation; its pastel green drew comments of "bilious", "ghastly" and "revolting pistachio" from the panel. Martin Snape took against it so much that he decided he would only ever use it to mix drinks behind closed doors, while Michael Bateman condemned the Guzzini as "the perfect appliance for someone who owns a pea-green kitchen and never cooks".

*****BRAUN MR 550HC

pounds 39.99

The Braun had testers in raptures about its 300 watts of power and sheer effectiveness. "The best by far," said Tania Hester. "It pureed everything in minutes." Michael Bateman said the Braun "pulverised" its way through all his tests: "It's so powerful you could dig up a road with it," he enthused. Panellists welcomed the blender's rubber handgrip and balanced weight, and Tania Hester commented that it was the only one with a lead designed to not flop into the bowl, while Jo Dinsdale praised its "perfect ergonomics".

Lookswise, the Braun was branded "elegant" by Martin Snape, although he agreed that its performance was its greatest asset. Only the attachments caused doubt: "The toy food-processor add-on works, but I'd prefer to buy the blender without the frilly bits," said Michael Bateman.

***KENWOOD HB360 MULTIQUICK HANDBLENDER

pounds 24.99

The Kenwood's steel shaft lent a professional air, but its performance failed to live up to expectations: "It would be fine it were as brutally functional as it looks," commented Michael Bateman. Tania Hester, also keen on the no-nonsense design, was disappointed with its "industrial noise-levels, less than ideal for domestic use". But everyone agreed that the Kenwood was quite capable of most basic blending tasks, reducing most things to a smooth consistency in minutes. "It's got a good surge of power," said Martin Snape.

The dishwasher-safe, detachable shaft was judged extremely practical, but Michael Bateman found the deep-set blade unable to cope with small quantities of food or reach the bottom of the mixing bowl. The panel's consensus was that it represented a competent, basic blender. "Its not exciting, but it does the job," decided Martin Snape. Jo Dinsdale added: "It's so practical, I can't think of anything to say against it."

**PHILIPS BILLY HR1340

pounds 19.99

Testers praised the aesthetic charms of the Billy blender. Tania Hester liked its kitsch colours ("very Seventies cocktail bar"), while Marion Lawie warmed to the stylish, modern design. All the panellists agreed that this is a fun blender, not really suited to serious cooking. "It's nice to use, but it's not really a chef's implement," was Martin Snape's verdict. Marion Lawie thought the Billy quite powerful for its size and price, but was a minority voice in the panel. Most agreed that the blades were too small, and that there was not enough "oomph" to tackle anything more challenging than soups or drinks. No one felt that the lack of attachments was a particular downside - the single unit design was thought easy to clean - though Michael Bateman bemoaned the absence of a jug. The Billy won the panel over on style points, but failed to sway expert opinion. "It doesn't fit my decor or my needs," was Michael Bateman's verdict.

STOCKISTS

For stockists' information telephone Braun on 0800 7837 010; Kenwood on 01705 392 333; Guzzini on 0181 646 3883; Moulinex on 0121 380 0590; Philips on 0181 689 2166.

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