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Sunday 5 May 2013
About my oven (or why the nose is mightier than the timer)
So it seems that my oven just doesn't have the oomph that is expected of an oven in standard recipes. It is not due to it being old and cranky. In fact we bought a new oven in 2011. (See my kitchen renovation post.) I expected a new oven would deliver the power to my baking that had been lacking. It didn't. The second time we called out the oven repairman, he explained why.
Apparently our place has a weak gas flow so the flames are never as high as they should be. There was no easy solution. Unless we move house. I have always preferred gas ovens over electricity. Perhaps it is due to my memory of moving house and being told by my mother that we could bake in our gas oven whenever we wanted now because we didn't need to preheat the electric oven. However if my previous residence I had one of the most effective ovens I have lived with and it was electric. If I had known about the gas flow before buying my current oven I might have bought a good electric oven. (Though I couldn't stand an electrical stovetop.)
What this means is that I can't be sure that my recipe times are accurate. It is frustrating when writing a recipe on my blog that I want to be replicable by others or myself (in this kitchen or others). What is means is that I am more likely to include advice on how to know when a cake is ready. This is usually the skewer test but I can also see if it looks baked by the batter firming up, turning golden brown and slightly pulling away from the edges of the cake tin. I usually turn my cake around midway through baking for even timing. This gives me an idea of if the cake will need more time that the recipe suggests.
When I think about the ovens I have had over the years in many different homes, I think about how each acted differently. Some were uberpowerful and others looked like they had been there for centuries. My mum also bought a new oven a few years back and she has the opposite problem. Her oven cooks so powerfully that it burnt so much food at first.
It seems that many of our ovens have quirks. We learn to live with them. My mother has found the right setting on her oven to cook food and not burn it. I know that my oven will usually take longer than a recipe says. (I know I need to use my oven thermometer more. Perhaps one day I will find the setting to bake everything at the time a recipe suggests but I fear it will be off the dial.)
It is not that many decades ago that cookbooks often didn't give a time for recipes. I guess it reflected on ovens being less standardised than today. I am sure many of our grandmothers were quite adept at using their nose (like the aforementioned baker) to know when a cake was ready to come out. It is all about intuition. We rely on recipes so much these days that we forget to use our intuition. Common sense is just not that common any more.
So I will give you this gentle reminder. There are many ways to tell if a cake is cooked. However the nose is a great helper. If a recipe smells like it is burning before the time is up, it may well be. If a recipe doesn't smell cooked when it comes out of the oven, be wary as it may not be.
Update (November 2013): After this post, I felt I should try harder. I used my oven thermometer more. I have started to turn my oven dial up to 20 C above the stated temperature. Which means that though my oven is fan forced and technically I should put the temp at 160 C plus the fan if a recipe calls for 180 C, I now usually put it at 180 C. It doesn't always solve the problem. It can still take ages to roast vegies. I can't make my oven really really hot. But it is working better.
Update 2017 - found this article on The Kitchn really useful in thinking about gas ovens - 5 important things to know about baking in a gas oven. It advises that you have a pizza stone in the lower racks to spread heat evenly and that you always rotate trays and dishes mid way though baking or roasting, both of which I do.
Questions for you:
I'd love to hear about your oven. Does your oven have any quirks and if so how you do compensate for them? Have you had problems with a weak gas flow and if so have you any advice for me? Do you prefer to use your timer or your nose to time your baking?