Learning how to use your oven correctly is more than half the battle in making perfect baked items. There are a lot of different ovens on the market. And temperature settings vary based on what system of oven heating your oven has.
I have a common electric oven. Even when I’ve had a gas cook top my oven was separate and electric. But gas ovens are still pretty common, my daughter has gas for her oven. Here are some tips for ensuring your oven is set and heated properly.
Preheating is essential as the oven temperature can fluctuate dramatically. An oven temperature example for cookies would be 375°F/190°C/Gas Mark 5. If you have a convection or forced air oven reduce the temperature to 350°F/180°C/Gas Mark 4.
Most recipes should give you the oven setting at the very beginning of the instruction. This is the time to place your oven racks in the appropriate place and turn the oven on to preheat. Turn the oven on to the desired temperature. By doing this at the beginning of preparing your recipe the oven has time to heat completely and evenly.
The majority of ovens preheat by turning the heating elements on to full temperature, taking the oven up as hot as possible. My current oven has a timer count down that says about 5 minutes to preheat, depending on the temperature selected. This is just a fancy gadget by the manufacturer and is not in any way an accurate representation of how long it actually takes. There’s a light on my control panel that goes out when the oven is preheated and it’s always still on when the timer says it’s done.
You can use an interior oven thermometer to check the actual temperature and accuracy of your oven setting. You’ll want to do this if you are consistently having trouble with baked goods. Another way to tell if your oven is preheated is that the heat elements, in and electric oven, are not still burning red. In a gas oven, you’ll be able to see the gas flames through holes in the bottom of the oven. If they’re still burning let the oven preheat longer. For forced air or convection ovens you will learn when they’re done if there are no heating elements are showing. Usually there will be an indicator light on the outside oven controls too tell you.
I have bread and pizza recipes that call for the oven to be 475 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit and tell you to preheat for 25 minutes. This is so the oven is actually as hot as it needs to be for a nice crispy crust.
The correct rack position will ensure even baking. Usually the oven rack goes in the center of the oven. For two trays of cookies space them evenly. I have 5 places for racks in my oven so I place them on the second and forth position. My Angel Food cake recipe goes on the third rack down because of the height of the cake and pan.
When a recipe doesn’t tell you where to put your oven rack it should generally be in the middle position. Sometimes I watch cooking shows and they place things on the bottom rack or top rack when baking and I am perplexed. It seems that the bottom or top of the item will be cooked more.
However, in a convection or forced air oven the temperatures are more even though the entire oven because there is no heating element directly above or below the food to cause more heat in one location.
If you’re still having trouble getting items to bake evenly in your oven check this list of rules; preheating, rack position and separate interior oven safe thermometer place in the center of the oven.
Keep the oven door closed as much as possible so it retains the proper heat setting.
When all of this fails, your oven may actually need service. If you have specific questions or problems just post a comment and I’ll see if I can help with the issue.
NOTE: Because of all the questions on this page I’ve written a second article that may help the preheating and temperature issues. Your Ovens Best Friend and How to Keep it Warm