Once upon a time, convection ovens were the coveted white whale for home cooks with a passion for baking — always talked about in hushed, reverent tones and rarely seen outside professional kitchens. These days, every newly renovated kitchen seems to have one, but having one doesn't automatically mean we know how to use them. Need some tips? Here are five things that will help you feel confident baking in your convection oven.
Understanding Your Convection Oven
First of all, understand that "convection" is a setting on your oven, not the oven itself, and it's usually controlled by a switch or a button near the other controls. When it's on, you are baking with convection heat; when it's off, it's just a regular oven and bakes as usual.
What happens when that convection setting is on? Your oven heats as usual, but a fan and exhaust system are engaged. These respectively blow and pull hot air through the oven and around your food. This means that the air directly around your food maintains a very steady temperature, helping your food cook more quickly and evenly. The exhaust system also pulls moisture out of the oven, so food becomes more crisp and brown.
5 Tips for Baking with the Convection Setting
1. Lower the temperature by 25°F.
Since heating and cooking is so efficient in a convection oven, you usually don't need quite as high a temperature to get the same results. A good rule of thumb is to set the oven to about 25°F below the recommended temperature of your recipe.
2. Check food frequently toward the end of cooking.
Also thanks to all this efficiency, your foods will usually cook a little more quickly than usual. Check on your food halfway through the recommended cooking time to gauge how quickly cooking seems to be coming along, and then check more frequently near the end of cooking. Go by how your food looks and smells to tell when it's done, rather than by the timer. As you get used to baking with the convection setting, you'll get a better feel for how quickly certain things cook and can feel more confident predicting the timing.
3. Don't crowd the oven.
Since convection relies on air being able to circulate, be careful of overcrowding the oven and blocking the flow of air. The food will still cook, but the cooking will be less efficient and you'll lose the advantage of the convection setting. It's fine to bake on multiple racks, but try not to fill the racks wall-to-wall.
4. Use low-sided baking sheets and roasting pans.
In addition to not crowding the oven, the convection setting works best if you use low-sided pans or rimless baking sheets, especially when baking cookies or roasting vegetables. This allows for better air circulation around the food and helps crispy foods become even crisper. (Although note that this is less important for things like casseroles and cakes, which rely on the high sides of their pans to hold their shape and where crisping isn't as important.)
5. Don't use convection for cooking cakes, quick breads, custards, or soufflés.
While these dishes would benefit from the steady heat, the movement of the air from the fan and exhaust system can cause them to cook unevenly or to rise less impressively. Custards can also form an unpleasant crust on the surface as they dry out in the wicking action of the oven.