Baking is equal parts science and art. Once you've diligently measured, weighed, and mixed your batter or dough, you still have to finesse it through the actual baking process. This is when familiarity with your oven becomes the difference between a beautiful baked good and a so-so one.
Here are the five most important things you need to know about your oven for better baking.
5 Things to Know About Your Oven for Better Baking
1. If your oven is gas, electric, or convection.
It's important to know whether you're baking in a gas, electric, or convection oven because this element not only determines where the heat is coming from, but also how the heat moves around the oven. Most gas ovens are heated from the bottom with a broiling element at the top. Electric ovens also heat from the bottom, but with an electric calrod that cycles on and off throughout the baking cycle. Convection ovens have a bottom heat source too, but they're also equipped with fans that blow hot air through the oven for faster baking.
Get to Know Your Oven Type
2. How long it really takes to preheat.
Not long ago I was working in a fancy studio kitchen while a repair crew was fixing one of the high-end ovens. One of the repairmen noted that folks often complained about their new ovens not working properly, but most of the time they just weren't letting the oven preheat long enough. These giant ovens could take as long as 45 minutes to reach 350°F! My own oven takes about 30 minutes to preheat, which I only know because I invested in an oven thermometer.
3. You need an oven thermometer.
An oven thermometer is a non-negotiable tool for better baking. There is no easier way to know when your oven is properly preheated, if it runs hot or cold, or if it's working properly other than with an oven thermometer. Once you've got an oven thermometer installed, test it in a few different spots in the oven while baking. A five-degree difference in oven heating might not be critical when you're baking a batch of chocolate chip cookies, but it is important if you want to master soufflés.
4. When it was last cleaned.
Maybe this sounds more like a chore and less about getting to know your oven, but the cleanliness of your oven can determine a lot about its performance. Dirty heating elements or debris in the oven, like some pie filling that bubbled over in there, can create hot or cool spots in the oven. Whenever you use a new-to-you oven, inspect the inside and give it a quick wipe-down before preheating.
Clean Your Oven Right: 5 Smart Tips for Cleaning Your Oven
5. You've got to use it, too.
Want to know how to use your oven? You'll need to start baking, roasting, broiling — and paying attention while you're at it. This is really the best way to get to know your oven intimately. Do cookies on the left corner brown more quickly that others? You'll learn to rotate the baking sheet halfway through baking. Do cupcakes brown too quickly on the bottom? You'll learn to bake them on a higher oven rack. Taking notes on your oven's performance when you bake cookies or cakes will make you a better baker.
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