These Oven Tricks Will Help You Become a Better Baker

Here’s expert advice on how to manage your oven temperature.

Chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven
Chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven. Photo:

Getty Images

If there is one tool that is essential to a baker, it’s the oven. Knowing how to manage this equipment is crucial for successful bakes. Each oven has its own quirks and strengths. Like with a person, you need to get to know and form a relationship with it in order to anticipate the many things that can impact your baking. 

One of the best ways to get to know your oven is to place an oven thermometer inside. The oven’s built-in thermometer is often inaccurate, which means it likely heats hotter or cooler than the displayed temperature. The oven will say it’s set at 350 degrees but is actually at 375 degrees. It’s not uncommon for home ovens to be off as much as 50 degrees. This will impact baking times, the inner texture of what you bake, and its overall appearance. Using a thermometer will let you know how your oven behaves and help you adjust the oven heat as needed to achieve consistent results.

There are more ways to work with your oven. Here are a few more tips on oven management to help you become a better baker.

Always Preheat the Oven

During the initial heating process, the oven temperature fluctuates, creating significant spikes and drops in heat. These variations in heat can throw off bake times and even worse, a spike of heat can impact the look of a finished bake. Avoid these temperature swings by heating your oven for at least 15 to 20 minutes prior to baking. 

Preheat Baking Vessels

If you are baking bread in a Dutch oven, you need to treat it like an oven inside your oven. The Dutch oven needs to be preheated (with the lid on) before you add your dough. 

“If you are baking bread in a Dutch oven, heat the Dutch oven for at least 45 minutes before baking,” says food editorial director Chandra Ram. She explains that doing so intensifies the heat inside the Dutch oven, so when you add your dough to the pot and return it to the oven, you get the most oven spring. Oven spring is the term used to describe when bread dough rises the most, during the first few minutes of cooking. This is why you most often start your bread in a covered Dutch oven, and then remove the lid halfway through cooking to let the crust brown.

Don't Peek!

As tempting as it may be to open that oven door to check on your bakes, the one constant piece of advice that we’ve gathered is don’t do it — leave the oven door shut as much as possible. Controlling the heat is important to success. Once you open the oven door, the heat drops significantly and the oven will take time to gather heat again, impacting bake times and structure.

“Industrial ovens are made to recover heat pretty quickly but home ovens are not,” explains Rochelle Cooper of The Duck & The Peach in Washington, D.C. “Every time you open your oven it loses 15 to 30 degrees, so try to limit peeking towards the end.”  

If you want to check how your cookies or pies are doing, quickly use the oven light. We understand that sometimes you have to open the door to swap trays or to remove the lid off a Dutch oven. If you need to do that, wait until after the first 15 minutes of the baking process. Those first minutes are essential to the structure of your baked goods. When you do open the door, move as swiftly as possible and shut the oven door immediately, so you lose the least amount of heat.

Understand the Difference Between Convection and Conventional Ovens

The ovens you find in most home kitchens are conventional, meaning they have a heat source on the top or bottom of the oven. Most commercial kitchens and some home kitchens have convection ovens. Convection ovens have an additional fan to push and circulate hot air around the oven, creating a hotter, more even heat that cooks food faster and more evenly. 

Be aware of what kind of oven you’re using. If you are baking a recipe made for a conventional oven in a convection, you will need to adjust the temperature of the oven down by 25 degrees. Some newer convection ovens may automatically adjust the temperature; check your manual to be sure.

Remember Carryover Cooking Will Finish Your Food

Your food continues to cook after you pull it from the oven, especially if it’s still on the baking sheet or in the pan used in the oven. “Carryover cooking means the cookie will continue to bake after you pull it out of the oven, no matter what you do and you need to account for that,” Cooper explains. “I usually pull my cookies when the edges are golden and the middle are just shiny in the very center. They will carry over to be soft in the middle and crispy on the edges.”

No matter what temperature your oven is baking, visual indicators are there to show you where things are in the cooking process. Keep carryover cooking in mind when looking at your bakes and making sure you are buffering time to account for the additional cooking.

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