When teaching, I often get asked “Is it really that important to preheat my oven?” My answer is a resounding “Yes!”. Preheating is really important if the recipe calls for it.
So let’s talk about… say, cookies. You’ve made a batch of cookie mix. It’s got the usual suspects, flour, egg, sugar and butter. Each of these ingredients reacts differently to heat. Flour on its own doesn’t do too much, but the rest! The egg will start to alter at around 6o°c, Sugar melts, and once it reaches the higher temperatures all sorts of things happen, and finally, butter melts at body temp. I’ve even writen a course on why cookies spread and how to prevent it many issues people have. Get the drift. LOL cookies spreading, drift, I made a pun.
Then there’s baking powder and baking soda, they’re best mixed and popped straight in the oven. If you leave a cake sitting on the bench that’s used a chemical leaven like baking powder or baking soda, then set the batter on the counter for 20 minutes waiting for your oven to heat. You’re going to be disappointed.
Your chemically leavening agents react with liquid, acid and/or heat. They’re not so good if you spread all these processes out over an extended period. This goes for any recipe that you’ve creamed or whipped to create air as well. Leaving it to collapse before baking isn’t a great idea.
Well written methods will ask you to preheat your oven at the right time. Some recipes have lengthy processes so they shouldn’t ask you to set your oven in the first step. For example yeast goods. So it would be silly to put it up front. And on the other hand, if you’ve got a recipe for a cake batter that has only a few simple ingredients mixed in a bowl and it takes you 5 minutes to prepare it, make sure you’ve taken this into account. Have I said this before – The first step to making any recipe is to read the whole recipe first.
How accurate is your oven?
What about oven accuracy, a lot of home ovens are a bit off. I had one that was 70°c out at the top end. Got that fixed straight away. Don’t panic it’s easy to find out if yours is out. All you need is one of these little temperature gauges. They’re usually between $6 and $10 so well worth the investment. We have some at the cooking school, but if you’re not nearby, many supermarkets sell them. The beauty of having a small temperature gauge like this one is that you can move it around, and see what temperature it is from front to back and side to side. If you bake a lot or want to bake more, this tool is invaluable.
So next time you go to bake, make sure you turn on your oven before you do anything else to give it enough time to preheat – if that is what the recipe tells you!