Getting the Most out of Your Oven: 7 Things You Didn’t Know
We have holidays to celebrate many things, but there’s no day set aside to celebrate the workhorse of so many holidays: the humble oven. While your oven might not be the most exciting thing in your home, it’s hands down one of the most useful — and often the most under-appreciated.
When you consider than only a few generations ago, our ancestors were trying to bake the perfect roast or pie while stoking coal embers or setting wood ablaze, it makes the convenience of an oven all the more appreciated. Nowadays, all we need to do is push a few buttons and — voila! — the right temperature, the right time … no need to chop firewood!
While it’s true that ovens make baking, broiling and roasting incredibly easy, there are still a few tricks to using your oven more efficiently. Once you’ve added these pointers to your repertoire, you might just find yourself singing the praises of your oven every day — no official holiday necessary!
No peeking! We’ve all been told to resist the urge to open the oven to check on our cookies or roast, but many of us still do anyway. However, every time you open the oven door you lose 20˚F of the oven temperature. So all you’re really doing is making your cooking time longer. Keep the door shut, turn on the oven light, and peek in through the window.
Beat the clock. This tip doesn’t work for baked goods, but for anything else in your oven (roasts, etc.) you can actually turn the oven off up to 5 minutes before your cooking time is finished. Just keep the oven door closed, and let the residual heat finish the cooking process without using any extra energy.
A clear difference. Replace those metal pans with glass or ceramic bakeware. Glass conducts heat much more efficiently than metal. As a result, when you’re using glass, you can cook things just as quickly — and at 25˚F cooler — than in metal pans.
Be patient! Remember when old recipes used to start with “preheat your oven for 20 minutes” instead of, say, “preheat your oven to 350˚F”? There was a good reason for that time limit. When you preheat your oven, it doesn’t heat to the precise temperature you’ve set. It actually heats to a much higher temperature at first (as high as 25 degrees more), then shuts off. The temperature can drop up to 25˚F. For example: you set your oven to 350˚F. It actually heats to 375˚F, then turns off and cools to 325˚F. When it hits 325˚F, it repeats the process. The oven is trying to get your set temperature as the average, and this can take as many as three cycles to achieve. Therefore, if you allow your oven to preheat for up to 20 minutes — regardless of that beep telling you it’s preheated — you’re more likely to be at your required temperature when you start baking.
The need for speed? Some ovens these days have a switch that says “speed bake.” This is essentially a conventional oven’s nod to the convection oven. When you flip this switch, a fan starts in the oven, circulating the heat more evenly. Unlike a convection oven, the speed bake feature can be turned off and on, and it also doesn’t cause a dip in the overall temperature in the oven. When using the speed bake, be sure to pay close attention to whatever you’re baking to avoid overcooking.
Find your oven’s hot spots. No, we’re not talking about some velvet-roped nightclub that springs up in your oven after you’ve gone to bed. These are the areas, in even newer and more expensive ovens, that are hotter than the rest, a particular scourge for avid bakers. Here’s what you do: heat your oven to 350˚F, line a baking sheet with sliced bread, then bake for several minutes. The darker slices will show you where your oven’s hot spots are, and you can either avoid them altogether or rotate your baked goods accordingly.
Rack ‘em up (or down). Mystified about where to position your oven racks? To answer that question, it helps to know a bit about how your oven works: there are two heating elements, one on the top and one on the bottom. Both kick in when the oven is heating. Once it’s heated, though, only the bottom one fires up from time to time. That said, the upper part of the oven is consistently the hottest, while the bottom gets intermittent bursts of heat. Position your rack at the top when you want a nice browned surface (like on a casserole), and at the bottom when that’s where you want the browning (say, a pizza’s crust). When in doubt, go for the middle!
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