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Understanding Your Oven Will Save You From Baking Disasters!

Updated: May 26, 2020

I thought I'd write this post about ovens and mainly oven temperatures. I've lived in many rented houses in my life, the last house I rented before I bought my own home had an oven with a couple of holes in the bottom! Not fun when you are a baker! The ovens are never any good in rented houses, and even if you have a great oven and it's your own you still need to know and understand it to get the best out of any recipe. Especially if you plan to tackle the more temperamental baked goodies such as French macarons. Because I'm making them next week!

I've just moved into a new house, it has a new oven, and as I tested my recipes I noticed that everything seemed to come out a little crispier than usual. Hmmm. It wasn't until I tried baking a batch of croissants that I really hit issues. Croissants are usually baked at 22o degrees C or so, but it's a fan so I went for 200 degrees C And those babies came out like charcoal! Ok so maybe not quite, but they were rather overdone! Thanks, new oven! So up to the spare room I went, where a lot of my stuff still sits waiting to be unpacked, to find my trusty oven thermometer! The only thing that allowed me to bake cakes back in the days of the holey oven! I was planning on baking brownies, so I thought I'd check it at that temperature before I started baking, so I set it to 165 degrees C, my usual baking temperature for brownies. 20 minutes later my oven had reached its temperature and the light had gone off! Ok, so what did my trusty thermometer say I hear you ask? Oh god 195 degrees C, no wonder 200 degrees C killed my beautiful croissants (the ones from my last post, thankfully I froze half to bake at a later date).

You can see why it's so important to know your oven. I read so many other peoples recipe blogs, with comments about cakes and bakes not baking in the time suggested, and the truth is this is most likely because ovens vary so much. One of the best ways to do this is to grab yourself an oven thermometer. They are pretty cheap, you can pick one up for £5 easily. They are so useful when it comes to baking. Even small variations in temperature make all the difference to a final bake, and if you are as unlucky as me to get stuck with an oven that's 30 degrees C off then it's a must! Just remember some ovens have hotspots too, even with a fan, so check it in lots of spots if you are worried, and if you notice your cakes or bakes not baking evenly, turn them around for the last quarter of the baking time for a more even bake.

Back to temperature, let's take an example of what you might think is a rather easy thing to bake, a victoria sponge. Now that's a pretty simple recipe that if you are not careful can go pretty wrong. Temperature plays a huge part in creating the perfect cake. The optimum temperature (Based on a fan assisted oven) to bake a cake like this is 160 degrees C, 170 degrees if you want crisp enough edges for a naked or semi-naked finish.

Now at 150 degrees C - your cake will take ages to cook, it'll probably not rise too well and will look very pale by the time it is cooked through.

At 160 degrees C - You have the perfect cake for fully icing that baby. It's light and soft, it's risen evenly, no domes whoop, so not so much water. And it's nice and moist, no need for sugar syrups here!

At 170 degrees C - You've got a little more of a domed shape, it'll cook a bit quicker, but that's ok so long as you know to expect that. It'll have a nice caramelised crust, but it won't be too thick, particularly if you bake all your layers in separate tins, which is a must for a good cake! Always bake layer cakes as if you were baking a sandwich cake. It makes all the difference. It won't be quite as moist as a cake baked at 160 degrees, but if you are making something with exposed edges like a naked or semi-naked cake you don't want crumbs all over the place. A sugar syrup will sort that out anyway.

At 180 degrees C - Hmm you're starting to get quite a peak now aren't you? Oh well, we can slice that off and eat it, bakers perks. Maybe it looks done on the outside? Wait not quite on the inside, give it 5-10 more minutes. When it's done, it's a bit dry, particularly on day 2, but it'll be ok will cream and jam hopefully.

At 190 degrees C and up - OH DEAR GOD IT lOOKS LIKE A VOLCANO HAS ERUPTED, OOPS!!! Yep, that's because cake on the outside has baked quickly, but the cake inside is still rising. It needs to go somewhere, so up it goes. You'll have a huge peak on that cake, dark thick crusts and my god that cake is dry, I need two cups of tea for this one and some custard I think.

That's quite a difference a simple change in temperature makes to what seems like an easy bake to make.

So if you are having trouble with recipes, if they never bake in the time they are meant to, get yourself a thermometer and test it out. Try a few simple recipes and see if it helps. Then when you try the more complicated stuff you'll be ready to tackle them head-on!

N.B. For those that are interested, my brownies are out, so I've wacked that oven up to 200 degrees C, to see what the temperature really reads. It was a whopping 230 degrees C! Well, that explains that then doesn't it, good job I lowered it to 200 and didn't go dor 220 then isn't it!

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