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Small appliance gifts that make a big impression

Ninja Master Prep Professional QB1004

If a small appliance is on someone's holiday wish list, be sure to check the latest results from Consumer Reports' tests. Sales of these countertop wares have been robust, despite the down economy, which has kept manufacturers busy vying to build the best blender, stand mixer, toaster, and more. As a result of all that healthy competition, our Ratings have seen plenty of turnover at the top. Here's our holiday cheat sheet to five popular small appliances, including top picks for each from our latest tests.

Tested models: 52
Buying advice: Fruit smoothies and icy cocktails are two popular uses for blenders, but there's more this device can do—if you choose a top-performing model. The best blenders from our tests are powerful enough to pulverize ice but gentle enough to puree soups, baby food, and more.
Two to consider:
Vita-Mix 5200, $450. The top-of-the-line Vitamix costs a pretty penny but is superb at whipping up icy cocktails, smoothies, and other chilled drinks. The only knock is that it's noisier than other recommended models.
Ninja Master Prep Professional QB1004, $60. This bargain buy blends nearly as well as the Vitamix for much less. Its design differs from other blenders in that the motor sits on top of the blender in a separate housing.

Breville BEM800XL

Stand mixers
Tested models: 30
Buying advice: If you like to cook, a reliable stand mixer is a kitchen essential. It's the go-to appliance for mixing batches of cookie dough, kneading bread dough, and whipping cream. In addition to overall performance, make sure the bowl size is suited to your needs. Accessories and attachments make some mixers more versatile.
Two to consider:
Breville BEM800XL, $300. The Breville recently ended KitchenAid's long run as our top-rated stand mixer. That's thanks to solid performance and a bevy of convenience features, such as an easy-to-use 12-speed control dial with a blue LED indicator telling you what speed is right for for various tasks.
KitchenAid Classic (250 watt) K45SS[WH], $200. KitchenAid is still a huge name in stand mixers, with several models on our recommended list. The Classic delivers very good whipping and mixing and unlike the Breville it can take attachments that transform the mixer into a grinder, ice-cream machine, or fresh-pasta maker.

Cuisinart CPT-420

Tested models: 31
Buying advice: You want to look for a model that turns out evenly browned toast with nearly every batch. Many of the toasters we tested had results that were too dark, too light, or lacked consistency. Conveniences such as a bagel setting and pullout crumb tray are worth paying more for.
Two to consider:
Cuisinart CPT-420, $80. Cuisinart's new two-slice toaster claimed the top spot in our Ratings behind superb toasting. Its motorized lift raises and lowers bread with the push of a button, replacing the traditional push lever.
Hamilton Beach Digital 22502, $35. This affordable toaster performs well and comes with many features found on pricier models, such as defrost and bagel settings and a brushed-metal finish.

Cuisinart DFP-14BCN

Food processors
Tested models: 34
Buying advice: Whether chopping almonds, slicing celery, shredding carrots, pureeing peas, or grating cheese, the best food processors deliver consistent, uniform results without excessive noise or strain on the motor. A big bowl and wide feed tube are helpful on large jobs.
Two to consider:
Cuisinart DFP-14BCN, $200. Cuisinart invented the device in the 1970s and it's still a big name. This model was very good at most processing tasks, and it comes with a spacious 14-cup bowl and a dough blade.
KitchenAid KFP715, $100. With its 7-cup capacity, this KitchenAid food processor is smaller than the Cuisinart, but it proved as adept at pureeing and grating and even better at slicing. Plus it's the quietest model we tested.

Hamilton Beach Big Mouth Pro 67650

Tested models: 11
Buying advice: A juicer can be a great way to get more fruits and vegetables into your diet. Citrus juicers are fine for fruit juice, but if you plan to make juice from carrots and other vegetables, an extractor is the way to go. Look for a large feed tube and ample pulp container.
Two to consider:
Hamilton Beach Big Mouth Pro 67650, $80. This well-priced extractor was very good at squeezing juice from apples, oranges, carrots, and tomatoes, and its wide feed tube makes it easy to use. It's also extremely easy to assemble, disassemble, and clean.
L'Equip XL Juicer 215, $120. Paying more for the L'Equip extractor gets you slightly quieter operation, plus the same wide feed tube. And this model did a good job across a variety of fruits and vegetables.

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