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October 14, 2013
The first line in every oven manual should read: Know your oven!
Of course you need to be told about all the bells and whistles, but the most important thing you need to know is that your oven has a personality, usually a tricky one, and that you’ve got to play with it to discover its idiosyncrasies and propensities. Then you’ve got to find a way to get around them.
The most common quirk – and the one that can be so vexing – is the hot spot. Even if you’re baking in a convection oven, where the fan is meant to distribute the heat evenly, it’s unlikely you can escape the hot spot … or even the cool one.
All of this came to mind the other day when I was working in a beautiful, carefully calibrated, professional convection oven. I slid a full sheet pan of shredded coconut into the oven and 2 minutes later the front of the tray was pale and the back left-hand corner was dark. I stirred the coconut, as I would in any oven, and continued to bake, stir and bake until it was all nicely toasted.
It was only after I pulled it out that it struck me: Toasting coconut is the ideal test of an oven’s evenness and the easiest way to discover hot spots. Coconut colors within minutes, so you can see the differences quickly and clearly. Think of it as litmus paper for your oven.
Hot spots are annoying when you’re braising, slightly more irritating when you’re roasting and potentially disastrous when you’re baking, but the work-around is easy: Find the spots; avoid them if you can; rotate the pans, if you can’t. In fact, in baking, rotating is a good idea no matter what, so it's a good habit to get into.
In case you're curious ... the coconut went into a coconut custard pie. I made my standard vanilla pastry cream and stirred a mix of toasted and untoasted coconut into it. The toasted coconut had a lot of flavor; the untoasted coconut had a lot of texture; and together they were perfect.
, baking techniques
In the Kitchen
Mardi (eat. live. travel. write.)
| October 14, 2013 11:43 AM
Dorie this couldn't have come at a better time. As the owner of a gorgeous new convection oven(my first ever!) for just over a month, I have been both thrilled and stumped by the way it works. I have it down in terms of understanding how it works for baking (temperature and time- my litmus test is, of course, macarons!) and regular cooking but for roasting, I am still learning how it operates.
Case in point: Thanksgiving chicken yesterday (it was 6.75lb so it was *nearly* a turkey!) which browned much much faster that we are used to (we used the Convection Roast) setting at slightly lower temps that we are used to) - though if I remember correctly, when we first started roasting chickens in our old oven, it took a fair few goes to get the timing and temperature right.
All ovens are so different, as you say, they have their own personalities and it's so important to play and get to know it properly, especially if you are a serious baker. It's the most important lesson I teach my macaron class students - to get to know your oven before you even think about attempting macarons!
And now, I feel the need to make something with coconut just so I can see how it toasts it!
| October 14, 2013 4:08 PM
Anyone who has ever worked the grill station in a professional kitchen will tell you this is equally true of grills, perhaps even more so. Everyone still enjoying the grilling season should learn their grill's quirks too. :-)
| October 15, 2013 5:00 AM
Can you not achieve the same result by placing several sheets of plain white paper in the oven?
| October 15, 2013 11:19 AM
My new oven is a well known top of the line brand and was expensive. It bakes horribly though and I always know that I will need to bake something far past the recommended time. Even then it still doesn't seem done. I've had repairmen look at it, use an oven thermometer -- still doesn't help. What a huge disappointment it is -- I can't believe companies get away selling such a piece of junk.
replied to comment from Vicky
| October 15, 2013 11:33 AM
Vicky- Thanks for writing in- I am sooooo sorry for your Oven Troubles.
replied to comment from James G
| October 15, 2013 11:35 AM
James G- Good question. I am not sure whether or not that would work- I know that when you place white sheets of parchment on a cookie sheet, they only begin to brown when the temp is over 400 (in my oven) and they brown first on the edges- and not necessarily on the hot spots.
replied to comment from Jan
| October 15, 2013 11:36 AM
Jan- Great point- Grill stations have their hot spots as well. I guess everything in life has quirks.
replied to comment from Mardi (eat. live. travel. write.)
| October 15, 2013 11:37 AM
Mardi- I think your macaron class students are lucky to have you as their teacher. Best of luck getting to know you new oven!
| October 24, 2013 4:43 PM
This is exactly the tip I needed to know! I have just moved house and trying to figure out the 'personality' of the new oven. Will try this now.
replied to comment from Christin
| October 24, 2013 9:07 PM
Christin- Glad this post was helpful for you. Congrats on your move and good luck getting to know your new oven!
| October 26, 2013 5:02 AM
How weird, we also have a good/expensive 'combi' electric wall oven, fairly recently bought, ie within the last 5 years. It works fine on radiant heat, v hot at the top as they always are, great for bread.
It works well on convection but there is a 'hot spot' and it is - wait for it - the back left-hand corner, especially near the top. The previous oven - same make but lower specs, convection only - had exactly the same hot spot in the same place. So is this perhaps an intrinsic feature of convection ovens? If so, why? Would you be in a position to do a quick, informal survey?
Andrea Janssen (4Pure)
| November 14, 2013 5:12 AM
Thank you for the good advice. Indeed my oven has got his own spots and I've found them out the hard way by trying out, where to put my baking goods in best. But I'm going to try you're advice to check my own experience and bake a coconut custard pie afterwards (a real treat!). Thank you!