Saturday, February 25, 2012

Bakers, Calibrate Your Ovens!

It's not you, it's your oven! Seriously, it really could be! If your baked goods aren't coming out quite right, check your oven's temperature. Your oven could be way off. Mine was.

If you read my experiment post, you'll remember that I was trying to figure out why my cookie dough was spreading so horribly while baking.

I concluded that three things really helped minimize spreading:
  • More flour.
  • Chilled dough.
  • Correct, lower oven temperature.

That last one, the oven temperature, is the most difficult to fix when you have a finicky oven.

Please meet my new BFF. He's the one that clued me in on the fact that my oven was partially to blame for my spreading issues. He's the one that's going to help me solve them. Thanks Harold! Where would I be without you?

If you're having similar oven issues, you can easily find an oven thermometer. I found Harold at Bed, Bath & Beyond for just a few dollars.

I baked my first batch since my experiment and thought I had everything figured out and that I'd achieve perfect cookies this time with Harold's help. Unfortunately that didn't happen. I spent hours raising the temp, waiting for it to get there, lowering the temp, raising it again. It took forever. To make matters worse, the temp lowered a bit each time I opened the door. I wasn't very patient and put pans in when the temperature wasn't where I wanted it to be.

I had spreading issues again.

It wasn't you Harold. It was me.

After that long, un-fun cookie baking session, I decided that I'd have to do one of the following:

  • Call a repair man.
  • Bake at my parents' house.
  • Buy a new oven.

The third wasn't really an option. The first sounded costly. While visiting my parents is always nice, baking there would be rather inconvenient.

I realized there was actually a fourth option. It involved Google and a screwdriver. At least that's what I was thinking. There has to be some knob or screw that calibrates the oven. I can do that, right? So off to Google.

"How to Calibrate Oven". That's what I typed in and there were results. Yay! I can do it myself! But then I quickly realized that most of the results were for calibrating an oven that has a dial to regulate the baking temperature. Mine's digital.

If you happen to have the dial-type oven and need to calibrate, it is super easy. You just pop off the dial, turn two screws, turn another dial, then test it out. Here's a Youtube video that shows you how.

I went back to Googling and found something about digital ovens and checking the user's manual to find out how to calibrate it. Doh! Why didn't I think of that? I guess because I thought they'd tell me that if my warranty had expired that I'd need to call for a repair. How wrong I was. There it was, in black and white - "Oven Temperature Adjustment". All I had to do was press a few buttons on my oven's keypad! I didn't even need a screwdriver.

I have a Maytag Gemini. I can adjust my temperature -35 degrees to +35 degrees. I chose one, waited a while for it to heat, adjusted, waited for a while, and so on. I ended up going +20 degrees. I'll have to wait until my next baking session to see how well that works. I can always adjust again. I may have to go higher.

While Googling the calibrating issue, I ran into this post on O'Reilly Answers. It says to place a pizza stone on the bottom rack of your oven. The stone will hold onto the heat so you don't lose as much opening the door. It will also help distribute the heat evenly throughout the oven, lessening hot and cold spots. Bingo! Harold and I could really use help in those two areas.

Now I'd like to introduce you to Harold's BFF - Gladys. Harold is just smitten and can't wait to work with her.

Please don't judge Gladys by her appearance. Yes, she's been around the block a few times. She's been with me for a long time. She turns out beautiful pizza dough and dinner rolls. I always remind her that those are "character spots", not flaws. That's how she's supposed to look when she's been so well loved. Now she has the chance to be loved even more. By me and by Harold.

Here they are, working together as one. When I bake, Harold will have to be hanging from the upper rack where the cookies will be. The pizza stone... I mean Gladys, will stay on the lower rack.

Sounds like a plan to me!

Somewhere in my googling, I saw another mention of using a pizza stone but there it also mentioned using bricks wrapped in aluminum foil if you don't happen to have a pizza stone.

Don't tell Gladys but I'm thinking of trying that too. Without Gladys, I had that bottom rack moved to the top so that I could hang Harold from it. He would be hanging just above my cookie sheet. I liked him right there. Then I could add a brick or two on the bottom of the oven. No rack.

One little problem with that idea. I don't have a brick or two. Ha! I suppose that I could buy them.

Maybe I could buy a third rack. One to hang Harold. One to bake on. One to hold Gladys.

The experiments never end! I'll report back on how Gladys does. Or how the bricks do. Or both.

If you're having baking issues, I hope you'll buy an oven thermometer and run a few calibrating tests of your own. It'll take a bit of time but no more than just a few dollars. Sounds like a bargain to me!

Edit: For an update on my cookie dough spreading problem, please see this post.

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