Not to have lots of choices about everything is one of the American nightmares, it seems. So manufacturers look around for any possible niche in the marketing system that might not be filled, then make something to fill it. As a result, consumers who want to buy an electric mixer have approximately 9 million variations to choose from.

Starting at the top, there is the KitchenAid, that perfect combination of Concorde and DC-3. Visitors have come into my kitchen and remarked on my "funny old mixer," words I try not to take personally.

The KitchenAid will knead a three-loaf batch of bread dough with ease, mix the stiffest pasta dough, do a great job of cutting butter into flour for pastry dough, and it will do these things all day long, batch after batch. Go into hotels or restaurants and you'll see a huge version of this same, funny old mixer.These professional things are so big that five dozen eggs swim like minnows in them, far away at the bottom.

But lots of people have other things to do with $300 than spend it on a mixer, even if it is a KitchenAid.

At the other end of the spectrum are the hand mixers, the kind you can pick up for under $20, that will whip cream or eggs but go limp at the mention of any batter stiffer than mayonnaise. The lightest hand mixers don't do anything you couldn't do with your hand and a metal whisk, and they fly around like rudderless boats when the going gets rough.

But a good hand mixer is valuable, especially for small families that have no need to mix up huge batches of anything. And sometimes KitchenAid owners want to whip up a cup of mayonnaise, a process that seems a waste of the mighty KitchenAid's talents. So I've been trying out the Krups "3 Mix 4000" system, which is a complicated name for a nice but tough little hand mixer.

And I found that, while it wouldn't take the place of the KitchenAid -- it's not as powerful and doesn't have the large capacity -- it will do on a smaller scale most things the KitchenAid does. And of course it's very good at the smaller jobs like whipping an egg white or two that the KitchenAid is less efficient at.

So in a comparison with the KitchenAid, the Krups, at a fraction of the price, does very well. The mixer alone -- with whip-type and dough hook attachments -- costs $55, which is about $10 more than other highly rated and fairly strong hand mixers such as the Sunbeam, which can't handle bread dough and get hesitant when it comes to stiff cookie dough. But it's about $250 cheaper than the KitchenAid.

But would a manufacturer let it stand at that? Produce a nice little hand mixer and then call it a day? No. The manufacturer would give us another choice. Accordingly, you can also buy the Krups hand mixer with a stand. The price becomes $90, and you get a sturdy, well-designed stand and a nice plastic bowl.

The stand allows the installed mixer to oscillate and its bowl to rotate. But you even get your choice about this -- you can set the mixer to oscillate or not as you wish. However, the bowl always rotates if you're using the stand. (No choice!) And, of course, if you buy the version with the stand you can still use the mixer in its hand-held mode

Where the stand really comes in handy is kneading bread dough, which usually takes 8 to 10 minutes. I found that the mixer handled a one-loaf batch easily, and kneaded it for 10 minutes without overheating or even feeling particularly hot. It mixed the dough well initially -- thanks in part to the oscillating motion of the stand, and it thoroughly distributed flour added after the dough was substantially mixed.

Cookie dough was equally successful, except that the mixer didn't like the partially hard butter I gave it to work with (I had softened it in the microwave, but not enough) and sent it flying all over the place. Dry ingredients added later, however, were amalgamated with no trouble -- many mixers, including the KitchenAid, have a bad habit of dispersing flour dust when you add dry ingredients with the motor running.

Switching the mixer from hand-held to stand-held and vice versa is a matter of two or so turns of a large plastic screw. It's easy enough, in other words, to do in mid-operation.

While the mixer is larger than most hand-held mixers, it doesn't feel cumbersome in the hand. It feels heavier, too, than flimsier versions, but not uncomfortably so. I thought the ejection button was a little difficult to operate -- I needed two thumbs to manage it.

But that is a small complaint. I think the Krups people may have found a good niche to be in.