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How my oven is teaching me to be a better baker!

Baked chocolate cheesecake decorated for Easter on eatlivetravelwrite.comDisclosure: KitchenAid Canada has provided me with product as compensation for my services and posts but all posts represent my own opinion.

Those of you who read this blog on a regular basis will know, I have slowly become much more of a baker. Not a conscious decision – in fact had you asked me even just a few years ago whether I considered myself a cook or a baker, I’d probably have said that I was more a cook. But in recent times, especially through my adventures in macaron-making, I’ve turned into a baker. Over this time, I’ve learned that baking is essentially science – physics and chemistry (now if only science classes has been presented through baking, I might have stuck with it beyond Grade 10!) – and that most “not successful” attempts can be explained by science (if you don’t believe me, check out this fascinating article about the science of the best chocolate chip cookie over on Serious Eats – now that’s some serious investigative journalism right there!). As I’ve slowly started to understand how ingredients combine and react under heat, I’ve ventured forth into the land of the pastry and the bread, feeling more confident with each attempt.

But don’t get me wrong, not all my baking attempts are successful. Especially when making macarons, at first, I had a lot of, shall we say, less-than-perfect batches.  And, in those early days, I liked to blame my oven. Ignoring the science part of the equation, every time a batch came out cracked, burned on top, with no feet or flat, I’d say it was the oven’s fault.  And to a certain degree this was true. Over many, many attempts, I learned not to pipe my macarons in certain places on the baking trays because my old oven did, in fact, have “hot spots”. I learned that the temperature inside my oven wasn’t necessarily the temperature it said on the dial. I learned to adjust recipes (both temperature and bake/ cook time) because of that. My old oven wasn’t even that old – maybe 15 years which seems fairly young but it definitely had its quirks. Many years of use and a few years’ intense baking (read: macarons every weekend for weeks!) helped me understand its temperature and hot spots and it’s something I emphasize when I teach pastry classesget to know your oven.

Getting to know your oven is also important when you get a new one. This is something that I hadn’t realised until I started working with my new KitchenAid® 30-Inch Freestanding Electric Range with Even-Heat™ Technology and Warming Drawer.  I wrote about some of my early impressions here where I said:

Well it’s funny you should mention “getting to know” the oven because these past few months have been exactly that – a “getting to know you” period! Who would have thought, huh? One of the things we have been getting used to is the convection setting. Our old oven didn’t have convection so learning what temperature and how long to cook basics like roast chicken and macarons (yes, in our house, macarons are “basics”!) required a bit of re-thinking and experimenting.  Our old way of roasting a chicken was to cook it at very high heat (like 450˚F) for about 20 minutes then lower the heat to about 385˚F for the rest of the cooking time. After a little experimenting, we found that 400˚F Convection Roast is the perfect temperature to cook a roast chicken to ensure even browning and cooking. But it took a while. I guess I wasn’t used to the idea of such even heat. I’d say I use the convection the majority of the time now.

It’s interesting looking back now after having used the oven for 7 months to see that those things that took “getting used to” (the truly even heat and the convection setting) are the things I love the most about the oven now.  The Even-Heat™ Technology really does make for much more consistent results for both baked goods as well as other foods.  The heat is even over all the racks – I’ve baked 3 racks of cookies successfully with consistent results and baking 2 racks of macarons is no problem either. In my old oven, I’d always have to switch baked goods baking trays back-to-front and top to bottom halfway through baking – not anymore! It’s so much easier to bake when there are no hotspots!  A bonus for me has been the AquaLift® Self-Clean Technology  which cleans the oven in under an hour with no odors and at a very low temperature (less than 250°F) – I’d never been one to clean the oven too often because it was such a pain but this system that cleans with just water and low heat is easy enough to do every month!

The thing I’m finding now, however is that I can no longer blame anything that’s less than successful on my oven. There’s definitely something to be said for understanding the science of cooking/ baking too.  Now that I have an oven the disperses heat evenly across all racks,  I can’t say the macarons cracked because the oven was too hot. I can’t say that one tray or part of one tray burned because there is a hot spot. No, now when a tried and true recipe doesn’t work out, I can’t blame my oven, I can only blame myself ;) I’ve been working on a couple of different versions of macaron recipes over the past couple of months, making notes about how small changes to the recipe (ingredients, oven temperature, baking time, resting time etc…) make big differences. I feel like I am in some kind of test lab. That would be the science part of baking and something that a Taurus like me is determined to master. With a quirk-less oven, it’s much easier ;)

Check out the full range of KitchenAid Canada ovens here.

Oh and that cheesecake above ^^^^ ? One of the things I used to be worried about making in my old oven because more often than not, they would crack. I’ve been experimenting with baking cheesecakes at a fairly low (even) heat and had great success.  Want a slice of this?

A slice of baked chocolate cheesecake on eatlivetravelwrite.comHead on over the the KitchenAid Canada blog to read my first post and get the recipe!

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Let’s get kids excited about food on May 16th 2014 – Food Revolution Day! Check out all the details for how you can participate here.

 

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14 Responses to How my oven is teaching me to be a better baker!

  1. Angel Reyes April 19, 2014 at 07:34 #

    I totally understand what you mean. Understanding the science behind baking has helped me to successfully recreate recipes that others have claimed to be “hard”. I’m creative, and as a scientist (in real life) I like building on knowledge. Understanding how baking works has allowed me to create my own recipes, allowing me to keep it tasty and healthy!!!

    • Mardi Michels May 9, 2014 at 16:51 #

      Oh I envy your science knowledge – I wish I had paid more attention in science class now!

  2. Cher April 19, 2014 at 14:30 #

    I wouldn’t give too much credit for your baking success to the oven – I am sure a large part of it was driven by the baker :-)

    • Mardi Michels April 19, 2014 at 16:54 #

      Hey Cher, I didn’t actually mean that just because I have a better oven I can bake better. No, the better oven means I can no longer blame any issues on the oven itself – and it’s forcing me to learn more about the science/ chemistry involved, therefore, that is making me a better baker!

  3. Geoff April 19, 2014 at 20:46 #

    It’d be interesting to know how this evenness is achieved. You’d have to think, physics being what it is – viz. hot air rises and cooler air drops, that has to happen in an oven.
    Still, the proof as they say is in the … well, cheesecake in this instance.

    • Mardi Michels May 9, 2014 at 16:50 #

      I’m not sure about the science but yes, it definitely works!

  4. Mr. Neil April 20, 2014 at 12:46 #

    Okay first – if anyone HASN’T clicked over to that science lab on chocolate chip cookies — WHOAH, it’s a must. Amazing.

    Re the oven, well I’m not the baker in the house so have not had nearly the level of experimentation. But I have to say, after some initial “getting to know you” time, I do very much enjoy the consistency of the new oven.

  5. Pam M April 20, 2014 at 20:32 #

    Glad to know you are enjoying you newish oven, and yes, I would love a slice of your cheesecake.
    It looks stunning.

  6. Paula April 21, 2014 at 09:55 #

    I’m glad that you are enjoying baking with your new oven and yes, I would have loved a slice of your wonderful looking cheesecake! Wishing you a wonderful Easter weekend Mardi.

  7. Coco in the Kitchen April 22, 2014 at 16:02 #

    It definitely helps you understand your oven.
    Ours is Italian and as much as I love it, it does seem to be
    a bit tempermental.
    Over the years, I’ve learned to how to use it properly, too.
    This cake is stunning, but those Cadbury Mini Eggs would never make
    it at our house. They tend to vanish into thin air!

    • Mardi Michels May 9, 2014 at 16:49 #

      As long as you know your oven well, a temperamental streak doesn’t matter so much…

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