How do you prevent food from burning at the bottom in a gas oven?
November 19, 2006 11:54 AM   Subscribe

I keep burning cakes and cookies in my new gas oven, what am I doing wrong?

I am new to gas cookers/ovens and I although I am very happy with the switch from electric to gas generally, I still haven't quite master the use of the oven... Every time I back a cake for example, it is burned at the bottom by the time it comes out of the oven, and I always have to scrape a near black layer off. Are there any tips or tricks of how to avoid this?
posted by jp021272 to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Sometimes the temperature on an oven (gas or electric) is off a bit. If you stick an oven thermometer (I don't know the real name for them) in the oven, you can see whether your oven is really telling you it's set on the right temperature and adjust accordingly. (I mean, you could preheat to 350, and the oven would tell you it's at 350, but the oven would really be at 375 or vice versa.) The thermometer you put in there would be reliable, though. (I would leave it in there, even if the oven ends up being accurate, because they can get a bit off any time.)

If it turns out that's not the problem, try moving the rack you're baking on up or down.
posted by Airhen at 12:00 PM on November 19, 2006

We started using Pyrex baking dishes and AirBake baking sheets and haven't burnt a thing since. Bit of an up front investment, but not prohibitively high. The AirBake sheets are the dual-layered sheets with the layer of air in between them. They apprently slightly lower the temperature on the botton, and everything comes out perfect since we started using them. The Pyrex glass bakeware seems to do essentially the same thing as we haven't burned anything in it either, but we burned stuff in metal pans all the time.

Here are Amazon links to the 3 Airbake sheets set ($US 21.00) and 3 Pyrex baking dishes set ($US15.00) we bought this year. The reviewers of the Airbake set complain about the scratches on the sheets, but they're cookie sheets, not showpieces. Ours have scratches too, but who cares? It's not like you show off your cookie sheets.

We bake all the time now that we get reliable results. We probably bake 4 times a week now -- bread, cornbread, cookies, etc. Not to make out the AirBake and Pyrex to be magic, but they made a huge difference in our cooking.

Also, as Airhen mentioned, try moving the rack up a notch or two -- get it further from the heat source. You want to surround the food in hot air, not put it right over the heat. If your oven has a preheat mode, and you're using it, make sure you switch to 'bake' mode before putting food in. 'Preheat' mode can leave a heat source at the top of some ovens on, and that will burn the top of the food too.
posted by Katravax at 12:24 PM on November 19, 2006 [3 favorites]

oh yeah, Airbake sheets are awesome. I'd totally second that.
posted by th3ph17 at 12:39 PM on November 19, 2006

Move the rack up, single best solution.

For unburnable cookies, try either the airbake sheets mentioned earlier (hollow with air inside, insulates the bottom) or silicone baking sheets (Exopat or Silpat, which insulate the bottom and are also totally nonstick). There's nothing better than the silicone sheets if you want to be known as the perfect cookie-maker.
posted by jellicle at 12:40 PM on November 19, 2006

I second Airhen's suggestion. Depending on the age of your oven the temperature could be way off. However if when you say "new gas oven" you mean "new as in new" and not "new to me" then the temperature probably isn't the issue.
posted by wemayfreeze at 12:49 PM on November 19, 2006

Ditto on the airbake. Would like them better if they were stainless and could go in the dishwasher.

Ditto on the oven thermometer.
posted by plinth at 12:51 PM on November 19, 2006

Get an oven thermometer (which is, by the way, called an oven thermometer). Check that your oven is calibrated correctly, new or not. You can get all the high-end baking canoodles you want, and if your oven's not right, you'll still tend to end up with cakes that are black on the bottom and raw in the middle (or something). Try that first, and then move your rack, and then (and only then) invest in more bakeware. I have a heck of a time finding non-airbake cookie sheets (I simply prefer them).
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 12:55 PM on November 19, 2006

Sorry to piggyback, but, well, I'm going to anyway:

For those of you who use the silicone baking sheets, do the cookies get as crispy as they would on metal baking sheets?
posted by amarynth at 1:35 PM on November 19, 2006

One more vote for getting an oven thermometer - it's well worth the $5 you might pay for one to know whether your oven runs hot or cold.

If it's badly off, it's then worth a visit from an appliance service guy to recalibrate. This is also not an expensive thing to do. If it's off by less than, say, 25 degrees, I might skip recalibrating and just set my oven thermostat lower when preheating.
posted by briank at 1:48 PM on November 19, 2006

Are you preheating the oven? Is there plenty of air circulation around your cake pan? Baking on the middle rack?
posted by oneirodynia at 2:11 PM on November 19, 2006

Response by poster: Yes, I do preheat the oven and generally put the food on the middle shelf. I am pretty certain there isn't an even air-flow/heat distribution around the food: it seems to get 'burned' more where it's sat straight above the flame...?

I will definitely go out and get a thermometer tomorrow - I am curious now to see how accurate the temperature indeed is!!
posted by jp021272 at 2:45 PM on November 19, 2006

My gas oven -- which is actually new @ 3 years ago -- has always been about 25 degrees hotter than what it says it is. (I never got a thermometer, but I could tell from how hot it felt and everything worked when I substracted 25.)
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 4:07 PM on November 19, 2006

wemayfreeze writes "However if when you say 'new gas oven' you mean 'new as in new' and not 'new to me' then the temperature probably isn't the issue."

It's not unheard of for a brand new control to be off, all you need is a kink in the cap tube to mess up readings. Make sure if you can see the temperature sensor probe in the oven that it is clipped in place ad not just hanging in the oven.

Next you can check the accuracy and precision of the control. First if possible check your new thermometer by placing it in a pot of boiling water. It should read 100/212 or possibly a bit less depending on your altitude.

Then place the thermometer in your oven so it can be read thru the window, you can't get an accurate set of readings if you have to open the door. Once the thermometer is in place turn your oven on to 350 and let the burner cycle at least twice (you can hear it firing). Then watch the thermometer for a couple cycles making note of the minimum and maximum temperatures. They should differ by somewhere between 35 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit hopefully straddling 350. If the difference is more than 75 degrees you may have a defective control. If the difference is good but isn't close to being centred on 350 your thermostat needs adjusting.

There are commonly two ways of performing this adjustment, either on the knob or in the control. First pull the knob off. Looking at the back of the knob if the hole for the shaft is secured by a screw then the adjustment in on the knob. Otherwise the adjustment is in the control. The knob is adjustment is easy, move the adjustment the difference between the observed mid point and 350.

If the knob isn't adjustable you'll need a long, thin, small bladed flat screwdriver. The adjustment is at the bottom of the hollow shaft for the knob. Clockwise is generally hotter and CCW is cooler but check to see if the adjustment direction is indicated on the control. Turn the adjustment no more than a 1/16th of a turn in the appropriate direction and then allow the oven to cycle twice before observing the minimum and maximum. Rinse, lather, repeat until the mid point is close to 350. Make sure you keep the oven door shut during the entire calibration.

One other thing to check: make sure your burner is not encrusted with cruft. Most gas ranges you can see the burner by removing the bottom cover in the oven (make sure the oven is off and cool). Crud can sometimes accumulate on the burner when the broiler is used resulting in uneven heating. It usually just wipes off with a cloth.
posted by Mitheral at 5:03 PM on November 19, 2006 [2 favorites]

I always found my gas oven to work hotter than an electric. I'm not sure if it was hotter or if the convection was more efficient at carrying the heat around.

Is your oven fan forced? If so, you can turn on the fan and drop the temperature a little. My cooking technique leans towards the `cooler temp / longer time' school, rather than what the recipe necessarily says.
posted by tomble at 5:13 PM on November 19, 2006

An earthen ware pizza tile on the bottom of the oven can moderate the heat a bit.
posted by hortense at 7:08 PM on November 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

Also, I'm told that you need to make sure that there is some room between the edges of the sheet/pan/whatever and the edge of the oven. Otherwise the heat is trapped at the bottom of the oven and isn't getting evenly distributed to the top of the oven.
posted by JDHarper at 8:05 PM on November 19, 2006

I will second the pizza stone. Get the biggest pizza stone you can afford/fit in your oven. It will do wonders to even out the temperature. Using an airbake cookie sheet will almost always prevent burning but it also eliminates the yummy chemistry that happens when sugar caramelizes on the bottom of your cookies so you will lose taste. Get a good oven thermometer, like said. Most ovens are not at the temp the installed gauge says they are and they tend to get out of whack over time.
posted by Foam Pants at 12:12 AM on November 20, 2006

I'll third the pizza stone as a moderation tool -- it's not just for pizza anymore.

Gas ovens, like gas ranges change temperature very quickly. I actually explicitly chose a gas range and an electric oven for my kitchen, specifically because I have trouble baking in gas ovens. Electric heat seems more uniform and lower-stress on the baked goods, while the instant-hotness of a gas range is a godsend.

But a pizza stone (or any heat retaining/evening trick) really should help calm down the gas oven.
posted by rokusan at 12:44 AM on November 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

We have a bakery with gas ovens and a gas oven at home. My two cents:

* oven thermometer (if it's off and you're not comfortable adjusting it, the gas company might come out and do it for you)

* go to a restaurant supply store and get a stainless steel sheet pan (approx $7). These last forever, bake and roast like champs and will fit in the dishwasher.

* Silpat or Exopat (approx $20 per pan)
posted by Atom12 at 7:09 AM on November 20, 2006

One more comment about calibration - I can't tell if this oven is newly installed or new to you (like you just moved into a new place with a gas oven). If the oven is newly installed, and fails the oven thermometer test, call the installer to re-calibrate it at no fee. Calibrating the oven is part of the installation process.

Cooking school tip - almost all ovens have "hot and cold spots". Pros normally (a) rotate the pans halfway through the cooking time (b) if cooking two pans at once, also switch them top and bottom and (c) never put two similar pans directly over one another. If baking two round cake layers, one goes in the lower right of the oven, the other in the upper left. Later, do the switcheroo for best air circulation.

The other suggestions are good too, but these are no cost !
posted by AuntLisa at 11:37 AM on November 20, 2006

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