Know what you can do, and do it well

4 December 2012
I was talking to a woman the other day who told me she always bought cakes and biscuits because she didn't have an electric mixer and couldn't afford one. I asked her if she made scones, banana bread or nut loaves - all of which don't need a mixer. She told me that she thought everything needed a good mixing. I have no doubt there are many people who can't afford mixers but who would easily just carry on doing what they can with what they had. It doesn't make sense to me to do anything else. Later in the day I emailed her these three recipes.

You don't need a mixer to make very good scones, pikelets, pancakes, banana bread, date loaf or the heavier biscuits like Anzacs or oatmeal cookies. And you can make a most cakes if you apply enough elbow grease and mix by hand with a whisk or wooden spoon.

One of the challenges for me when I came back to my home was to work out what I could do. I wanted to do everything to make up for all the nothings I'd done in the previous years. In the end, the challenge turned out to be not only to know what I could do but to know what I could do with what I had. I didn't want to buy anything extra. I wanted to make do with what we had here because from where I stood, it was more than enough.

If you're reading this you have access to the internet - the world's largest resource for finding information, including recipes that don't require too much mixing. If you don't have a mixer, accept that and learn what recipes you can make with what you have, be that a wooden spoon, a hand beater or whatever. You might not be able to make a sponge cake but if you can make the best date scones or walnut loaf you're family has tasted, who cares about the sponge!

  • 1 cup of chopped and pitted dates
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 80 grams butter
  • a drizzle of vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon bicarb
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1½ cups SR flour or plain/all purpose flour with 1½ teaspoons baking powder added
Add the dates, walnuts, sugar, butter, vanilla and bicarb to a large bowl and pour the boiling water over the ingredients. It will fizz a bit because of the bicarb. Mix it all together thoroughly with a wooden spoon, making sure the butter has melted during the mixing process.

Add the flour and mix thoroughly.

Pour the batter into a greased and papered baking tin - I use a rectangle tray, and bake in a moderate oven 180C/350F until you can smell the aroma and a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.

You don't have to be too exact with your measurements for scones, close enough is good enough.
  • 2 cups SR flour or plain four with 2 teaspoons baking powder added
  • 1 tablespoon caster sugar
  • ½ cup finely chopped dates or sultanas
  • pinch of salt
  • 60g cold butter 
  • ¾ cup buttermilk or plain milk if that's what you have
You need a hot oven to cook scones. Turn on the oven before you make the scones - about 200 - 220C (395 - 430F).

  1. Sift flour, sugar and salt into a bowl. Add the butter and using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. 
  2. Add the dates or sultanas.
  3. Add buttermilk and with a bread knife, stir until the dough forms and all the dry flour has been mixed in. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead gently until just smooth, no more than 15 seconds should do it.
  4. With your fingers and palm of your hand, press the dough down to about 1½ inches/3cm in height. Then cut each scone with a scone cutter or a wine glass.
  5. Place scones, just touching, on a tray. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden.

  • 1 cup SR flour or plain four with 1 teaspoon baking powder added
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • ¾ - 1 cup  milk
  • 1 egg
  • 20 grams butter, melted
These will be cooked on the stove top in a frying pan.
  1. Sift flour, sugar and salt together into a bowl.
  2. Mix the milk, egg and melted butter together, then add to dry ingredients, whisking until smooth.
  3. Heat a non-stick frypan over medium heat and brush with a little melted butter. 
  4. Drop level tablespoonfuls of the mixture into the pan and cook for half a minute or until bubbles appear on the surface.
  5. Turn over and cook the other side for one minute or until golden.
Serve warm with butter, or cold with jam and cream. You can add grated apple and cinnamon to the batter to make a delicious variation.

You can keep the batter in the fridge till the next day if you only want to make half a batch each day.


  1. I've never had any kind of mixer except the under $20 hand held kind. I've seen them on sale for $9.99. I bake everything!

    1. Me too Linda, including show-winning sponges

    2. Same here! They last for quite a long time too!

  2. Good Morning Rhonda, can't wait to try your date and walnut loaf, it looks delicious. I threw my electric mixer out years ago when it gave my daughter an electric shock and have never replaced it. I haven't found anything I can't bake since, although I did buy a small hand mixer to make pavlovas with - beating a pav by hand calls for more elbow grease than I can muster!

  3. Hi Rhonda,

    What a great post, as always! I have a fancy mixer, one that hubby and I desired for a long time, that we bought with a gift of money for our wedding: a KitchenAid stand mixer. What a dream! It's the best mixer ever, and much sturdier than anything else we've ever owned. However, half of hubby's shifts are night shift, so if I'm baking while he's sleeping, I leave the mixer where it is (on top of the fridge) and mix everything with a fork or a spoon. Last weekend, I spent 5 hours baking, making muffins, loaves, and tarts, without using the mixer (there's details of the bounty in one of my recent posts). Sure, my arm was sore after, but hubby got his sleep and woke up to the smell of goodies in the oven. Plus, how can I get farmer's muscles if I let gadgets do all the work! Mixing batter by hand is just warming up to toss square hay bales :)

    Thanks again for another fabulous, and timely, post!

  4. I've never had an electric mixer, and I've been baking all sorts of things for several decades now. Arthritis is getting worse, so a couple of years ago I experimented and bought what I think is called a "Danish whisk" - it's just two loops of strong wire on a wooden handle. Got it online from a family-run pizza company for about US15$. It's a prize! It makes all kinds of stirring much easier, even bread dough and stiff cookie doughs.

    Even more than an electric mixer, sometimes it seems like 99 of 100 recipes on the web start off with a food processor. At my house, both the "mixer" and the "food processor" would be me! ;)

    1. HA, you're my kinda gal, Quinn.

    2. In days gone by they never had. Electric mixer and they still made cakes even sponges it just takes some hard hand work lol

  5. Luckily for us it's baking day tomorrow so we will have to try that date and walnut loaf!

  6. Thanks for the recipes. My Nan and Mam always made sponge cakes using elbow grease and they were always delicious. Flapjacks is another easy recipe that doesn't require a mixer. Lily

  7. I only have a $30 handheld mixer and have never felt there was anything I couldn't bake. I've looked longingly at stand mixers in the shops but keep saying "one day", not because I can't afford one but because I have limited space in my kitchen and I'm afraid all it would do is add more clutter.

  8. I can't help but think of the women from previous generations who baked everything from bread to cakes without the aid of any tools whatsoever (electric or otherwise). If they didn't master it, the family went hungry. We are SO fortunate to have electricity and power tools to aid us in the kitchen. They DO make life easier, but everybody (man or woman) should know how to cook and bake a few simple things without fancy tools just in case. :) GREAT post - full of common sense.

  9. You made me laugh with your 'use what you have' statement, Rhonda. I'll never forget visiting my son in his first home and finding him whipping up a sponge cake with his grandmother's whisk attached to a drill!! He lived an extremely frugal life while he renovated that house (and sold it for an absolute fortune some years later, I might add) so the whisk on the drill was his mixer of choice for ages. And his sponges were to die for!

    1. I'm just amazed that your son makes sponge!!!

    2. He is a fabulous cook! And he's a big, brawny builder so it's quite amusing to see him togged out in the apron I made for him and weilding a wooden spoon or whatever. Last weekend, he was working in their huge yard but had to keep dashing inside to check on the loaf of gluten free bread he had in the oven!

  10. I haven't got any kind of electric mixers & I have been making sponge cakes & other goodies for years. Yes, it does make your arm ache after a while - smile - but I certainly don't think it affects the results, everything seems to get eaten & enjoyed. After all, home-makers have been cooking & baking for years before any electric gadgets were available & they managed ok. Anne

  11. I never use a mixer. I don`t understand why people think they have to use one. Even as a child when I baked cake I never used one because I found it so loud =) My parents thought of me as a very odd child. =)

  12. Morning Rhonda, I read this with interest as I have never had a mixer ( I guess you are talking about a bench top mix master or similar) but I have been making cakes, biscuits, slices and goodness knows what else all my adult life with a hand held beater. I reckon you could pick one up fairly cheaply for under $30, thats only about 5 packets of biscuits and one fruit cake :) or a Christmas present from a family member

  13. What a great post. You are both generous and kind.
    Of course people do not need an electric mixer to make a cake. Electricity is a modern invention/discovery and millions of cooks have made millions of cakes and other baked goods without mixers both today and for a very long time.
    I am sorry this woman lied to you. It is sad that there are so many people who think it is clever to behave foolishly; and without doubt this woman has done so. (On the other hand she may have an acquired brain injury and be unable to do better.)
    You were very kind to this woman and that shows your lovely character. As you can tell I am not so kind.

  14. Oh, for Pete's sake...this kind of excuse makes me crazy. People have been making cakes and biscuits since before anyone had electricity itself, let alone electric mixers.

    I grant you that doing laundry by hand would be a big chore and not one I'd look forward to, but have we really come to a place in society where people can't fathom beating cake batter by hand? What's next? The electric shoe-tier?

  15. Other than bread I'm not a great baker although I do knock up various cakes, pikelets, nut loaves and so on. It makes me smile when people think you have to have a mixer -- a hundred years ago the same recipes were made and nobody had a mixer.

  16. Lovely , everyday recipes, I can vouch for the buttermilk scones....they are awesome.
    Muffins are a great thing to make , they NEED very little mixing, too much and they go tough ! and they include all kinds of sweet or savoury variations and are easily frozen to keep them "bake day fresh".
    If you have a fan forced oven, you can cook one and a half dozen on each rack, 3 dozen batch, save energy and heating up the kitchen.

  17. Rhonda,
    Never discount sites like freecycle - I moved here from America 7 years ago so couldn't bring things like kitchen gadgets. One day I popped a request on the site - "wanted: Kenwood mixer", and what do you know - the following week I was the proud owner of a Kenwood mixer from a lady who used to do a lot of baking, but then realized it was just sitting on her shelf! When I was baking my light fruit cake over the weekend I was drooling over my super creamy and fluffy butter, sugar and egg mixture.

  18. I used the internet yesterday to teach me how to make a lemon meringue pie which I made with lemons off my tree. I didnt have a hand juicer so I squeezed the juice by hand, the juicer would have made it easier but you do what must to get the job done. I have often read your whole orange cake recipe and thought Id love a food processor but that is a long way off so I make other things instead. I have a mixer I bought in kmart for $9, it is not top quality but it soon whipped up the egg whites and sugar yesterday. I think alot of people get caught up in the idea of "Ill do it when I get all the right equipment" so they either never start or they spend alot of money and then dont use all the fancy equiptment anyway. Just get started on what you want to do and add what you need bit by bit along the way. Its more satisfying that way.

  19. Interesting. I was brought up without mixers & made everything by hand with either a wooden spoon or a hand beater. I do have 2 electric mixers, a hand eletric & a big one similar to a Kenwood Chef, now & very rarely use them prefering to do most baking by wooden spoon or the hand beater i tracked done in a 2nd hand store a few years back. I actually bought 2 & this year my 24 year old daughter asked me could she have the 2nd one. :) I finally got myself organised & made soap from your recipe yesterday. Don't know why i waited so long. I'll be buying more ingredients this week when i shop as i really enjoyed making the soap.

  20. Rhonda thanks for the recipes, with the date and walnut loaf, when do you add the flour? Is it first with the rest of the ingredients? Thanks

    1. tasgirl, I wasn't clear on that. I've amended the post. The flour goes in after you mix the first ingredients with the boiling water.

    2. Thanks Rhonda, I will try it next week.

  21. I have an old kenwood and two stick mixers. All these are fairly recent additions to my kitchen and I use them to save time. The stick mixers for making mayonaise (takes 10 seconds this way)and for soap making. I've never had a stand mixer until I bought the kenwood and I find for most baking I prefer not to use it as I like to 'feel' cake batters etc as I'm mixing. I do love all the attachments I have for it though and use them all the time.

  22. Great post Rhonda. Using a mixer seems like such a chore. I have a little hand mixer that I rarely use. I have eyed the stand mixers though, but really don't have room for one. There are plenty of things to make that don't require a mixer.

    Thanks for this post. It is always good to be reminded of the joy of making/doing things by hand.

    Happy Holidays ~ FlowerLady

  23. Hi Rhonda,

    I have for many years taught classes in 18th century cookery. The only "mixer" that our 18th century cooks had was either a big wooden spoon or a whisk made from a white pine whorl. I'm here to tell you that you can whip up egg whites into a beautiful meringue using nothing more than a homemade whisk...of course it takes arm power, but it can be done. Cakes were beaten sometimes for an hour or more so as to incorporate a lot of air into the batter. Makes you appreciate our modern day appliances, I think. I've made many a whisk as a present for a newlywed and most of them have enjoyed using them.

    In modern day cooking, I almost never get out either the hand mixer or the big old Kitchenaid mixer. I like the quiet and I haven't noticed any difference in the quality of my cakes and pies. There's always an old fashioned egg beater, too. That can be picked up at yard sales for next to nothing and they do a wonderful job of mixing. Many folks are just too eager to use electricity when arm power will do the job just as well, and a lot more quietly.

    As usual, your post was so thought I love the pictures of the yummy looking food. Can't wait to try some of the recipes.

    Diane in North Carolina

    1. After mixing things by hand (and arm) I don't need to visit the gym; been baking for years without a mixer. I always think "if the pioneers could do it, so can I." So nice to know there are plenty of kindred spirits out there.

  24. HI Rhonda, i thought that i would share this recipe its great for starter bakers requires only the pan you bake it in and a spoon, its really cheap to make and to top ot off its dairy and egg free!!!

  25. Thank you for the recipes Rhonda- they look yummy. I have a vintage kenwood which I like to use for baking but when I am up early in the morning baking lunchbox treats for the kids I either use a wooden spoon or my little hand mixer so i dont wake the little ones. My cakes still turn out just fine.

  26. I only own a small hand held electric beater. I always use a wooden spoon for baking and this is by choice. I don't tell people as I live in mortal terror that someone will feel obliged to buy me a proper mixer.
    Laidley 4341

  27. oh those recipes look delish!
    Sheesh...when I was growing up we had a hand held electric mixer, but we also had my Grandmothers hand held NON ELECTRIC mixer (remember - the kind you crank by hand?) as well as a good old fashioned pastry blender. Thars more than one way to skin a varmint! ;-)

  28. Rhonda, Wonderful post. Your concept of "To know what I could do with what I had, without buying anything extra" is really profound. Could you expand with examples on what this meant in practical terms? What kinds of things did you have and not have, and how did that effect your lifestyle? In other words, how did you chose what to discard (like making sponge cake w/o a mixer), what did you begin doing, and what did you adapt? I'm sure this concept extended into almost every aspect of your new life at home, and it would be such a help if you would tell us more-- maybe another post or two:) ? Glad Hanno (and you as well:)) have recovered from his recent chainsaw "adventure" and wish you and yours a very Happy Christmas.

  29. Never heard of pikelets or anzacs.
    One time I've lived with out any electricity and mange to bake. I found small household appliance at used store.
    Coffee is on

  30. Rhonda,
    Thank you for your wonderful recipes. I've tried your chicken casserole and loving it. Will definitely try this new recipes as well.I love to bake but no proper mixer. Thanks for the tips.

    Wishing you and Hanno a very Happy and Merry Christmas.


  31. Still dishing out the wisdom, Rhonda. Thanks for being a great mentor.

    I haven't used an electric mixer for more that 40 years, much prefer an enamel bowl and a spoon. Less cleaning up! In my opinion it isn't necessary to cream butter and sugar until it is light and fluffy. I just combine them and things turn out fine. I do a lot of baking for family, catering functions and street stalls and the compliments I get indicate a good result. I don't make sponge cakes though as I don't like them.

    I have an egg beater which my young granddaughters love to crank to whip cream or scrambled eggs. Wonder if they will still want to use it when they are older?

    Date loaf is one of my favourite standby recipes. I boil the dates, sugar, butter, bicarb soda and water, let cool then add one egg, the flour and pecans/walnuts. Makes a lovely moist loaf.

    VERY hot here today! I'm ready for summer to say goodbye already.

    Lyn in Northern New South Wales.

  32. Lovely scones recipe, have you ever tried the easy method?

    4 cups SR flour, 300ml water, 300ml cream.
    Mix together, roll out dough and cut, place side by side on tray,
    brush with milk.
    bake at 230 C until golden.

    So very easy and simple, works every time!

    I will definitely have to try the loaf recipe, and I enjoyed the whole Orange cake again yesterday. It's amazing how simple recipes can be so delicious.

  33. there are lots of melt and mix recipes too that are easy to do.

  34. After 15 years of marriage I finally bought a fancy stand mixer - mainly because it does double duty and makes delicious healthy icecream as well! But for many years I used either a blender or a hand-held mixer, or an old fashioned egg-beater, and I love baking cakes!

    Thanks for the pikelet recipe. With the school holidays coming up, I think we will try that to entertain and feed the teenagers! I haven't made pikelets for years, but they have a dear place in my husbands heart, thanks to his Nanna. A good old-fashioned woman who made the most exquisite sponges on a coal fired stove!

  35. Thank you for the recipe for the Date and Walnut Loaf. It is enough different from recipes we have and use and similar enough to know it will come together easily. Your blog is so encouraging.

  36. I have been cooking for 35 years and for the first 30 owned a hand held electric mixer and then it was destroyed in a house fire and managed to find a bench one on a stand at a garage sale for $15 and it worked well for a couple of years until I think I used it once with the beaters not properly in place and it died. I nothing for a year and was debating about buying another hand held one but found a second hand one for $8 at the local flea market (yes it was risky whether it would work)took it home plugged it in and away it went. It is a few years old and the lady assured me little use, so will see how it goes. I do like to make cakes using electric beaters but most other things a wooden spoon.


  37. You know, until just last weekend I've always made do without a food processor because I had a mortar and pestle. Then suddenly I started looking for one. I think after reading this I'll stick to my guns and go on without it.

  38. Lovely post Rhonda! I remember we weren't allowed to use an electric beater in Home Ec in High School so i have never seen it as a i do own one but rarely use it as it is too noisy when the twins are napping which is when i usually bake and if cooking with them i prefer for them to be able to join in the art and fun of 'mixing' rather than just watching a mixer!! Thanks for the recipes!

  39. Thats an interesting article. I love it!

  40. Rhonda, Can't wait to try the recipes. I have two mixers, both gifts -given years apart and still after all these years in good shape. If I'm doing a lot of holiday baking I'll take the time to get out the big KitchenAid, usually I settle with the small handheld one. I felt guilty because we weren't using the big mixer all the time. Then we purchased a meat grinder attachment for our KitchenAid and use that when my husband shoots a deer. Also, when I buy meat and we grind our own "burger meat." Makes me feel better that it's not just a one trick pony. Thanks for sharing your recipes.

  41. I have a Thermomix which admittedly makes life a LOT easier and before that I was blessed to have a Mixmaster which was given to us for our wedding. However when I learned Home Ec at school we were taught to make cakes and biscuits without the aid of any form of electric or even mechanical beaters. We beat eggs with a fork, creamed butter and sugar with a wooden spoon and folded in flour and any fruit with a spatula. We washed up the old fashioned way too. I know I'm blessed with the Thermy and a dishwasher now but I know I can always bake even without my mod-cons.

  42. tassiehippiechickDecember 05, 2012 2:25 pm

    The best scone recipe I have found (from one whose scones have been housebricks) is: 3 cups SR flour, 1 cup pouring cream and 1 cup lemonade. Mix together, turn onto the bench and follow the normal scone recipe. This makes the fluffiest and lightest scones ever. No rubbing in butter etc, so quick and so easy.

  43. Tassie, I think that's the CWA recipe. I don't like the preservatives in the lemonade so I don't make that one. I actually like rubbing the butter in but you can use cream and add a little bicarb and milk and get a good result.

    1. tassiehippiechickDecember 06, 2012 7:26 pm

      I wonder if you would get the same results from mineral water (for the aeration) and sugar......

    2. wouldn't the taste of the minerals adversely affect the taste of the scones????

  44. When we moved to france we had 6 months living in rented accomodation before our furniture etc arrived. Having limited space in the car travelling to France we filled available space with toys not kitchen gadgets. I bought a metal whisk and a wooden spoon and the girls had their fairy cakes and pancakes as usual. I was pleased to get my electric whisk back but very proud that I could manage without it if neccessary.

  45. Funny how people think you have to have gadgets to make things. The other day I was talking to some friends about giving sewing lessons. They were interested and I said they just need a sewing machine. So we got into what sort to get as 1 lady does not have one (we will be making dance costumes so we do need a machine capable of zigzag). Anyway 1 of the ladies says she makes makes quilts and she does it all by hand - she doesn't own a sewing machine. I told her she was crazy (but then I've made 1 quilt totally by hand too).

    I use a whisk for pancakes (and not much of a recipe I might add, just some flour some milk some sugar an egg - no measurments), a wooden spoon for cakes and puddings, I do use my food processor for rubbing butter into flour for scones and for making your wonderful whole orange cake.

  46. I use a breadmaker to knead my dough but I always make my cakes and biscuits by hand (without a mixer). I actually think they work out better this way...I wonder if I'm the only one that thinks this?

  47. I love this approach! We don't have a mixer at the moment, but I'd love to get one some day. We had a thermomix but then sold it due to lack of space in our new place.

    We were recently gifted a second hand bread maker, and I've been using that to mix pasta dough. I could do it just as well by hand I'm sure, but I like how it turns out in the bread maker.

    I very much agree with doing what you do well. I'm an excellent knitted, good sewer, and a passable crocheter. I've made the decision to only make dishcloths/washclothes out of crochet as it's faster, then knitted and patchworked blankets, because they take time anyway, and it's more important to me that they are done well so that they last. Now to just summon up the time for all these projects!

  48. When you don't have a mixer is when you learn how to make pretty darn fine, if not perfect, muffins. Given that the biggest mistake with muffins is over mixing - there really is no excuse for not baking just because you don't have an electric mixer.

    Another handy recipe is the Easy Scone recipe I use which has an egg in it & uses oil or melted butter & is all shaken together in a covered bowl...or can be mixed, by hand of course, if you prefer.

    I've only just discovered your blog (interesting what a search for growing choko results in!)& am enjoying reading it immensely :)



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