Ovens and Baking!
We get a lot of e-mails from you telling us about all of the problems you run into when cooking. One of the most frequently asked questions is about how to properly cook food in the oven.
So I thought I would shed some light on the matter for you!
There are 2 types of ovens. Electric ovens and gas ovens.
Let’s begin with electric ovens.
The most commonly used ovens are electric ovens.
There are 2 types of electric ovens that heat in different ways. Conventional ovens and convection ovens. Let me begin by clearing this up for you a little.
Conventional ovens are ovens that cook food by surrounding it with heat. The heat can be turned on from “above” or “below” or both.
Convection ovens are built with a fan placed in the back that blows the hot air all around the inside of the oven, keeping the temperature more stable everywhere. This makes it possible to put multiple baking pans in the oven and all of the food will be cooked at the same time since the air circulates, keeping the heat evenly distributed.
A very important bit of information is that no matter what temperature you set your oven to, it does not actually reflect the actual temperature inside of the oven.
It may differ a great deal, especially in the older and cheaper models that are not very precise in their readings. This means that even though you may set your oven to 180* C (350* F) the actual temperature in the oven will range from 150* C – 220* C (300* F – 428* F); which also means that your food will either burn or not be cooked in the time the recipe suggests.
A good way to be completely sure what the temperature in your oven is… is to buy an inexpensive oven thermometer, so that you can adjust the oven temperature accordingly.
There are also these so called oven “hot-spots”. These are areas in the oven where the temperature is higher or lower than the setting suggests. A good way to find these spots is to place a baking pan lined with parchment paper in the oven and see what parts of the parchment burn first.
Now let’s take a look at baking pans and cooking.
First of all, baking pans can be placed on racks that are on different levels in the oven.
The most common position used when cooking with the heat set to both “up and down” is the second rack level in the oven. This usually ensures that the food is cooked on both the top and bottom at the same time, so there is no fear of burning the top of the dish before the bottom is done.
This is great for cooking dishes with vegetables and especially pies, where it is very important that the phyllo dough at the bottom of the pan gets cooked in the right amount of time.
There are 2 ways that you can give a more golden color to the surface of your dish. One way is to position the baking pan on a higher rack in the oven that will put it closer to the heating element.
The other way is to just adjust your oven setting so that the heat is only coming from the “top”. This way only the top side will cook.
Now if you see that a pie, for instance, has gotten a nice golden color on the surface but the bottom isn’t cooked yet, all you have to do is adjust your oven setting so that the heat is only coming from the “bottom”. Transfer the baking pan to a lower rack. This way only the bottom side will cook.
For dishes with meat or poultry, especially if they are wrapped in parchment paper or aluminum foil, begin by roasting as you would regularly. When the meat is tender and ready, remove the wrappings and cook under the broiler on very high heat until the meat is golden and roasted to perfection.
Let’s move on to gas ovens:
The heat in most models of gas ovens begins from the bottom so you need to be a little more careful where you position your baking pan to ensure the best cooking results.
The distribution of heat in gas ovens is not as even as it is in electric ovens. Also, the changes in heat according to the settings is even less precise than in electric ovens.
I don’t want you to get the impression that I’m saying that one type of oven is better or worse than another. What I’m trying to do is give you as much information as possible to get you better acquainted with all the differences between them so that you no longer have any trouble cooking anything you like, perfectly!
One of the advantages of gas ovens compared to electric ovens is that the usage of gas creates moisture. This is very good especially when baking breads, pies or doughs of any kind.
When baking cakes or cookies, you may need to bake them longer in a gas oven before they dry out, due to this moisture created. The same thing applies to most meats and poultry.
A good trick to help them cook faster is to open the oven door every now and then while baking, to help some of the moisture escape.
It is the exact opposite with electric ovens, which can be considered a disadvantage compared to the gas ovens, since they dry out food more. A good trick to help when baking breads, pies or doughs of any kind, is to add an ovenproof dish to the oven that is filled with water. The water will evaporate and create more moisture inside the oven while baking.
Another very important factor in baking is preheating your oven. It is imperative that your oven has reached the correct temperature before placing your baking pan in it. It is not by chance that it is one of the first things written in a recipe. It is actually a part of the recipe. Consider it one of the basic “ingredients” that can ensure the recipe’s success, if used correctly, or its failure if it isn’t.
Each oven is different. Some are “quick” and some are “slow”, which means that it may take a shorter or longer amount of time to reach the correct temperature.
Generally, the time needed to preheat most ovens is 15-25 minutes. You should always keep this in mind before beginning any recipe.
Finishing off, I would like to stress that the oven is one of the most important tools in your kitchen. It is very important to know all of the little details and “idiosyncrasies” of each tool that will enable us to use them in the right way and get the best results possible.
I hope I’ve given you enough information to help you get better acquainted with your own oven, use it to your advantage and release its fullest potential!
I have a special conversion chart for you to help you with both conventional and convection ovens to help you cook even better!