The Oven Blame-Game

“Why are the cookies taking sooooooooooo long???” asked my daughters, practically in unison.  I’d told them they’d be ready in 8-10 minutes, but here it was 16 minutes later and still they were not done.   Of course I immediately blamed the oven.   “The oven temperature must be off,” I explained, as I envisioned the $75 service call to have it re-calibrated.

Before I made that expensive phone call, I went out and  bought a simple oven thermometer, which can be purchased at any hardware store, kitchen store, or discount store (I got mine at Target).  Target had two styles available, one for around $4 and another for $10 (I sprung for the ‘deluxe’ $10 model).  If you want to part with about $50, you can get an ‘oven-probe’ style thermometer where a probe gets affixed to the inside wall of your oven, and a wire connects it to the display which sits on your countertop.  This way you don’t have to open the oven door to see the temperature. 

That's the convection fan you see on the oven's back wall...

After placing the thermometer smack in the center of the oven, I tested it at 250 degrees, 350 degrees, and 450 degrees.  The thermometer indicated that the oven was in fact heating to the temperature at which it was set.  Next, I tried the same test using the convection feature.  “Convection” ovens are those that have a fan built-in, which circulates the air around the oven, presumably so food cooks more evenly.  Usually, if you opt to use the convection feature on your oven, you should decrease the temperature by 25 degrees to accommodate for the difference (in fact, my oven automatically re-sets the temperature to reflect a 25 degree decrease when I select “convection” on the keypad).   However, that being said, except for when I’m baking (baking is a science, don’t mess with it!), I almost always manually increase the temperature because I WANT to speed the cooking time.  My tests for the convection feature also revealed that my oven was correctly calibrated.

So, then what was up with my cookies???  Well, remember I said “don’t mess with baking”?  I had, in fact, messed with my cookies.  I happen to prefer using canola oil in place of butter in my chocolate chip cookies.  I think the flavor and texture are much better with the oil.   However, when you change even one thing in a recipe, there are other things that sometimes need to be changed, including the cooking time.   Or, it could just be the recipe was not sufficiently tested in a non-commercial oven.  Or, it could be that the pans I use are different from the pans used during testing (lighter colored pans brown cookies more slowly).  Or, it could be that by trying to bake two sheets of cookies at once that the air wasn’t properly flowing, therefore slowing down the cooking time.  The message here?  There is a lot of trial-and-error that goes on in the kitchen, no matter what your level of experience.  But now that I know that the temperature in my oven is as it should be, I’ll stop blaming the oven!

For some chocolate chip cookie recipes I like, check out my other blog, The Secret Ingredient Online.

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes.

Up next time, selecting and using meat thermometers!

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