The new ovens available for purchase today are just fantastic (I am still dreaming about getting a Viking or a Wolf). However, not every oven works the same way, or made from the same material and there are still plenty of old ovens in our kitchens.
For us bakers, what is important in an oven is, how efficiently it transfers heat to the food. Ovens also come in different sizes, which determines the time it takes the oven to heat up; they are constructed by using materials (i.e. ceramic, metal, etc.) and designed to various shapes, both of which determines how fast heat transfers to food. Most modern ovens are made of steel which is better heat conductor than ceramic and offers better temperature control, as well.
Heat transfers in three different ways: radiation, conduction and convection. Radiation is a quick transfer of heat through space from a warmer object to the surface of the cooler one. Conventional ovens heat by radiation. Conduction occurs when heat passes from a hot area to a cold area molecule by molecule. It is a direct heat transfer because direct contact is needed for heat to be transferred . It is more used in stove top cooking.
The best I like from the three ovens is the convection oven. It has a fan that forces hot air to circulate around the food, cooking it evenly and quickly (baking is about 25% faster in convection oven, but I have just learned from Rose Levy Bernbaum, the author many great cooking books of which I own three, that contrary to some of the major cookbook authors’ recommendation, do not need to cut baking time). Puff pastry and pate a choux does particularly well in a convection oven. To maximize the beneficial effects of a convection oven, make sure to place the baking pan in a way that the air movement is not obstructed and in general, do not overload your oven.
It is a good idea to learn how ovens work, because it helps you in creating top quality baked products. By appreciating heat transfers we can better control the baking process that affects the quality of our baked products.
7. Oven Temperature
Irrespective of the heat source or the material used in the construction of the oven, it is the oven temperature that makes the difference between the various cooking methods. It is well-known that oven temperature readouts are deceptive; to assure the correct temperatures for specific food items it is desirable to have an oven thermometer placed in the center of the oven.
All ovens need to be preheated before placing the dough or the batter into the oven. What you need to know is that if you setting up the oven to reach 350F/177C, by the time you are ready to place the dough into oven, its temperature may be above of what you requested. Why? Because the manufacturers consider the fact that you are placing a cold bake ware into the oven which may cut the temperature.
To create great breads and cakes the oven needs to provide constant heat. However, that may not be that easy to meet either. When the temperature in the oven reaches your desired 350F/177C, the heating unit shuts off; when the oven cools below the desired temperature the heating unit will start to work again. This swings in temperatures is not to be dismissed because it can reach between 15 to 20F (8 to 11C) fluctuation and depending on what you are baking it may turn out to be disastrous. Add to this that when you open the oven door to check the cake for doneness, the temperature drop can reach 150/66 or more. After you are shutting the over door back, the heating unit will work hard to bring the temperature back up as quickly as possible during which the cake is in danger of getting burned.
Another important matter to consider is how to keep the top of the cake from crusting before the cake is fully rises. For yeast dough, or pate a choux, place a heavy oven proof pan (never glass) with a few stones/pebbles (1-2 inches/2.5 to 5cm in size) in it (you can get these in a gardening shop, or at Home Depot) on the floor of the oven and pour about 2 cups of boiling water on the stones before you put the yeast dough into the oven. The type of steam produced by this method will condense on the dough and will keep it moist while allowing the cake to rise properly.
If you are aware of these issues, you will be ready to watch the baking process.
8/9/10. Bakeware – consider size, shape, and material
Many problems we experience with baking can also be due to the bakeware we use. For instance, dark and nonstick pans absorb more heat than the lighter ones; a cake can be easily burned.
I am not sure if you read the baking book of Rose Levy Beranbaum’s “Cake Bible”, (and I recommend highly that you do; it is loaded with very useful information aside from recipes) but if you did I would be curious if you were also amazed how the size of the cake pan can affect the amount baking powder you need for a successful cake? if you using larger cake pans, you will need less baking powder, because you increased the surface area of the batter and made it easier for it to expand. The opposite is true for using smaller pans. She also added that if the recipe includes heavy ingredients, like chopped nuts, you can use slightly more leavening (about 20% more). You also need to adjust the baking time when you are changing the size of the pan.
For baking cookies, it is important to select the correct baking sheet (i.e. it needs to be heavy and preferably made with aluminum), placing it in the center of the oven, check the baking time and remove the cookies when the edges start to brown.
The primary consideration in selecting a Tart or Pie pan is based on, which one provides the proper support for rapid baking. Why? If the fat will melt before the protein structure starts to set in the crust, you will lose the flakiness of the dough and it may also shrink, so the appearance of the tat will also be effected negatively. In addition, if you are baking the filling together with the dough (i.e. apple, pumpkin, blueberry pies/tarts, etc.) fast heat is vital to eliminate the bottom crust to become soggy.
The best equipment in this case is a heavy aluminum-based pan, preferably with holes, so that the air that is trapped between the pan and crust can escape when the crust is heated. It also eliminates the need for punching holes into the tart dough, which at times may let the filling ooze out and create a mess in your oven. Chicago Metallic makes a heavy aluminum 9 inch pan with holes and you can order it from Amazon.
There are a variety of cake pans on the market and selection depends on the specific recipe. I like a cake pan with 2 inch high sides but I use quite often the springform pan with the removable bottom, even if what I am baking does not have delicate structure. The only dark pan I use is the Bundt pan.
In the Kugelhopf or Tube pan the center tube also conducts heat, so the batter is receiving even heat from the side, the bottom and the center.It is very useful for baking the batter evenly without over browning the outside of the cake.
Insulated pans have a double bottom separated by air pockets. It provides gentler heat which is great for pound cakes that need to spend longer time in the oven. The insulated bottom tones down the heat and allows the pound cake to bake more evenly.
Please come back and see many examples in upcoming posts; I do not want to get out of my kitchen; the aroma of the cakes I just baked is filled not only the kitchen, but nearly the entire apartment.