All ovens have their own unique quirks, but gas ovens can be particularly tricky. Most of the time it's business as usual, and then out of the blue, you'll bake some muffins that won't brown on top or a cake that bakes unevenly. Wonder why, or what you can do about it? I have a few tips to help you out.
Understanding Your Gas Oven
All gas ovens have the main burner on the bottom of the oven compartment, usually shielded by a sheet of metal with large vents on the sides. This main burner provides very intense radiant heat upwards into the main oven compartment.
Some models also have a second burner on the roof of the oven, but this is primarily used for broiling and not for warming the oven for baking.
Gas is very efficient, so gas ovens tend to heat very quickly. However, the oven temperature can fluctuate more widely and the overall heating is often less even. Most gas ovens (especially older ones) will have hot spots. Gas ovens also tend to be more humid than either electric or convection ovens since the combustion of the gas releases some moisture into the air of the oven; this can lead to issues with browning and crisping some baked goods.
These are general characteristics of gas ovens. Your own oven might not show all these characteristics, particularly if it's a newer model.
5 Tips for Baking in a Gas Oven
1. Always rotate your trays.
Gas ovens are notorious for having hot spots, so it's important to rotate your trays once or twice during cooking (depending on the length of cooking). This ensures that everything bakes as evenly as possible. When baking foods like cakes, quick breads, or trays of muffins, rotate them 90 degrees midway through cooking. If you're baking multiple trays of cookies, swap the top and bottom trays as well as rotating them. Long-cooking foods, like casseroles and some breads, will benefit from rotating a few times.
If you do a lot of baking, it can also be useful to map out the hot spots using a tray of shredded coconut or breadcrumbs.
2. A pizza stone helps provide even cooking.
A pizza stone holds heat incredibly well and also radiates it outward at a very even and steady rate. This makes it a great tool not just for making pizza, but also for turning your cranky gas range into a sure and steady cooking machine. When you're not using it for actual baking, place your baking stone on the floor of your oven or on the lowest rack. Cook your foods on another rack just above the baking stone — baking directly on the stone can sometimes cause the bottoms of delicate foods to burn, but baking just above ensures you get the maximum benefit of that even, radiant heat.
If you're purchasing a new pizza stone, I suggest buying a large rectangular one. This gives you a surface area that most closely matches the shape of your oven.
3. Move trays higher for browner tops.
Since gas ovens tend to have more ambient moisture in the air, it can take longer — sometimes a lot longer — for foods to brown on top. If you'd like to speed along the browning process, move the tray to the top of the oven or place a second baking sheet directly above the food. The heat will bounce off the ceiling and help brown your foods. Alternatively, you can run the food under the broiler for a minute or two. Be very attentive if you do this, though — it's very easy to go from lovely golden-brown to scorched and burnt in just a few seconds under the broiler.
4. Turn up the heat for more crisping action.
Also due to the humid oven atmosphere, it can sometimes be hard to get foods as crispy as you want them to be — particularly things like roasted potatoes, meringue, or pâte à choux. If crunchy and crispy is your aim, try turning up the oven heat by 25°F. The cooking time will change slightly, so be attentive toward the end of cooking and look out for visual and aromatic cues that your food is done.
5. Avoid dark metal cookware.
Because the heat coming from that main burner is so intense, the bottoms of your foods can start to burn long before the middle or top is done. If you can, avoid using dark-colored metal bakeware, as this absorbs more heat and speeds up cooking. Light-colored metal, glass, and silicone are great choices for baking in gas ovens and will reduce the risk that the bottoms burn.
If you only have dark metal pans or if you're still having problems with burnt bottoms, try moving the trays one rack higher in the oven to put a little more distance between the food and the heating element. You can also try reducing the oven temperature by 25°F, particularly in the last half of baking.