The cooler weather hits and like moths to a flame, we gravitate to the oven. The desire to bake — bake anything! muffins! cookies! pies! — is overwhelming. But there is nothing sadder than opening the oven and finding that an afternoon spent mixing, dividing, and anxiously waiting has resulted in a batch of burnt, lackluster baked goods. We've said it before and we'll most likely say it again: The one tool you need above all others to bake crave-worthy and friend-winning treats this fall is an oven thermometer.
An oven thermometer is such a simple tool and yet it makes all the difference. The actual temperature of home ovens (especially those of us living in rental apartments) can be completely different than where you set the dial. A difference of 50 degrees might not make a huge difference when braising a stew or even baking a casserole, but it certainly can affect something delicate like a cake or a batch of pastries.
Knowing your oven temperature allows you to adjust for accuracy. For instance, in my own oven, I know that the temperature I've set the oven to and the actual temperature of the oven is dependably close up to about 375°F. But when I start getting into 400°F territory, I have to tweak things a bit. For 400°F, I usually set my oven dial to about 390°F. For 450°F, I set it to about 420°F. Sometimes the oven gets sneaky on me, too, so if I notice that something is cooking more quickly or more slowly than expected, I can check the thermometer and know if I need to further massage the oven settings.
I am not so skilled a baker that I can wing things by feel. I'll take every little advantage I can get, and part of this is making sure that my oven temperature is where it should be. You can find oven thermometers at almost any grocery store for a few bucks. Worth it for a little extra guarantee? I definitely think so!
Do you bake with an oven thermometer? Do you think it makes a difference?