The Building Blocks of Baking – Part 6 Ovens

I want to talk about ovens.  The different types and which is best for baking or does it make no discernible difference.  When I was young we had a wood burning stove.   Now that is a tricky monster to try and bake a cake with!  There is also the new Speed Ovens that are a combination of a convection oven and a microwave.

Historical Oven cooking depicted in a painting...

Historical Oven cooking depicted in a painting by Jean-François Millet

Convection V’s Conventional Ovens

Fan assisted Convection Ovens

These ovens circulate hot air and leads to a much more even baking temperature.  In a convection fan assisted oven you can bake different cakes on different levels.  This is my preferred oven as I can make the most of the oven.  If I am cooking a stew for tea I will also stick in a cake or two at the same time.  Stews take three hours so I can bake nearly half a dozen cakes at the same time!  Make the most of your oven.  You still need to keep a little eye out for hot spots.  Mine for example, cooks cakes towards the back of the oven slightly quicker.

A tip from Nigella suggests that you can test for hot spots by laying slices of white bread on the oven shelf, bake them at 180c/350F/gas mk 4 for 20 minutes and check how evenly they brown.  You would have to be pretty about hot spots to want to do this!

Remember to adapt baking recipes for cooking in a fan assisted convection oven’s as follows;

  • Reduce the cooking time by 25 percent
  • Reduce the oven temperature by 25°F (4°C)

Conventional ovens (not fan assisted)

Conventional ovens heat the oven with an element from the bottom of the oven with baking racks located above it.  These ovens tend to be hotter on top as hot air rises, and without the fan it is not distributed evenly.  The middle shelf is the best spot of bake.  If you want to bake multiply cakes you will have to rotate them part way through baking.  If you have two pans on the same shelf you will have to rotate them half way through cooking.  If you have cakes on multiple levels you will need to swap the cakes half way through cooking also.

Multiple cooking is tricky with all this swapping and rotating.  If you open the oven door too soon to rotate the cakes you risk them collapsing if they having set enough.

Chocolate chip muffins baking in an oven

Chocolate chip muffins baking in an oven.

Approximate times to wait before rotating or swapping levels:

Rotating cakes on the same shelf – wait until they are about two thirds of the way through the cooking time.

Swapping cakes from different levels – wait until they are about three quarters the way through cooking.

Keep a close eye on the cooking when cooking more than one thing at a time.  Remember things will cook and tend to burn the higher up the oven they are.

WINNER – Fan Assisted Convection Oven

Without a doubt the fan assisted convectional oven wins.  I don’t want to be swapping this and rotating that half way, three quarters way or any other way!  So if you are going out to buy a new oven make it a fan assisted convection oven – for the sake of your sanity!  Convection ovens also bake more gently.  The fan blows the hot air across the surface of your bread, cookies and cakes which helps to draw off excess moisture, speeding up the cooking time.  So more efficient.

Gas V Electric

I have an electric oven and am as happy as a pig in muck.  Except when I get the bill.  Lets look at the differences.

Gas

Most people will agree that gas is better for cooking on a stovetop.  So with your saucepans of milk or for you poached eggs it allows you to control more accurately the temperature.   Some people will say that for baking cakes a gas oven is not as good.  However these days it makes very little if any difference.  You will get equally good results from your gas oven as you will from an electric oven.

Electric

With an electric stovetop you have less control with the temperatures.  It takes time for the stovetop plate to reduce or increase it’s heat.  Unlike gas which is instant.  As for the oven and baking cakes.  Some people say electric is better.  The ovens nowadays are so efficient and of a much better quality that you will see little difference.  The main consideration is to use convection or conventional.

WINNER – GAS

Only by a cat’s whisker and only because a gas stovetop is easier to control by allowing you to instantly increase or decrease the heat.

New Speed Ovens

These new super fast speed ovens bake more than 15 times faster than a conventional oven.  Originally for commercial kitchens.  They use a combination of high speed convection to brown the outside and controlled bursts of microwave energy to cook the inside.  They can cook a souffle in 2 minutes and a loaf in 10 mins.  It can even roast a chicken in 15 minutes.  They can be very very very expensive but you are starting to get domestic kitchen super ovens at more reasonable prices, Samsung and Whirlpool both have models on the market.

Watch this space – they are coming and I suspect to stay.

Aga’s Rayburn

I don’t like Aga’s or wood burning stoves or anything like them.  I grew up with them when I was young and I tell you they are terrible to cook with.  Now I’m sure lots of people make it work but they aren’t for me.  I need complete absolute control!  If I can’t be bothered to swap things in a conventional oven I sure as hell am not going to cope with an Aga.

English: Front of a 2006 Aga GC3 in cream.

English: Front of a 2006 Aga GC3 in cream. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hotplates up and down.  Taking ages to heat up.  But at least my wellies are dry and warm, and the cat finds it the best place in the world to sleep.  But I’m not about to fork out thousands of pounds for my cat to have a nice warm bed.  I’ll buy it an electric blanket.

They do look beautiful and look very nice in any kitchen.  If you visit Jo’s Blue Aga she has tonnes of amazing recipes baked in her Aga.  So it can work, just not for me.

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About Claire Sullivan

Bake - Slice - Eat - Enjoy! An Irish girl living in Norfolk, sharing everything I know about baking and everything I learn along the way. The beautiful County of Norfolk is full of wonderful gems, from cafes's to salons and I can't wait to share them with you. https://bakewithclaire.wordpress.com
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