Believe it or not, proper preheating can make your baked goods actually taste better! Before you throw your favorite baked dish in the oven, it’s important to ensure that the oven’s temperature has reached it’s proper setting, and that you don’t lose too much heat when you open the door. To achieve this, you need to add some thermal mass to your oven, and learn how long to preheat your oven.
How preheating works:
The oven begins to heat up when you turn on the heating elements or gas flame. As the oven heats, the thermal mass (walls, ceiling floor, baking stones, etc.) heats up slower than the air.
If you want your oven to be the right temperature when you put your food in and close the door, you need to give it time for the thermal mass of the oven to also heat up.
Prevent Heat Loss & Uneven Heat
When you open the door, you lose heat! If you’re reheating yesterday’s casserole, it probably does not matter very much if the oven loses some temperature when you open the door. But if you are baking bread, cookies, or anything else that is very sensitive to temperature changes, you need the oven to be at the right temperature – not just before you open the door, but after you put the food in and close the door as well. Here are two methods to ensure the best possible temperatures when baking.
Prevent Heat Loss
Preheat the oven about 75 degrees ABOVE the temperature you want to cook. When the oven reaches that temperature, put the food in and lower the thermostat to the “original” temperature.
For example, if you want to cook at 375 , then preheat to 425. When the oven reaches 425, put the food in and lower the thermostat to 375. This will make a HUGE difference on cookies, biscuits, and anything that requires short cooking time.
Prevent Heat Loss & Achieve Even Heat
To maintain the proper temperature, add a thermal mass (such as a baking stone) to the bottom rack of your oven. This will help your oven maintain its temperature (and quickly recover back to its desired preheat temperature) when you open and close the door.
Adding a thermal mass like a pizza or baking stone to your oven will also help the oven disperse a more even heat, which is necessary for certain baked items that require even, consistent heat. If you have a repair complaint such as “my oven doesn’t bake evenly” try adding a baking stone to the bottom rack to fix your heating problems.
Whatever you do, don’t place the dish directly on the baking stone…use the rack above!
Baking bread and cookies
Bread, cookies, and any other foods that rely on a leavening agent need a very hot temperature to get the right amount of “oven spring.” This is where the leavening agent expands dramatically in just a few moments, giving you those nice puffy holes in your baked goods. If your oven isn’t preheated properly, there won’t be a hot enough temperature to shock the leavening agent into action.
The result is cookies and breads that are very dense. To prevent this problem, add thermal mass to your oven (such as a pizza stone). The thermal mass will help your oven maintain its temperature when you open and close the door.
How long should I preheat my oven?
The amount of time it take to preheat your oven will depend on how much thermal mass you added and how long it takes to change temperature. Some people add 20 minutes to their preheating time, and some add up to an hour. Just remember: there’s no danger of preheating your oven too long, since it will only get as hot as the temperature you set it to.
To ensure you’ve reached the optimal temperature, use a thermometer to monitor your oven’s heat. As you learn more about how long it takes your oven to preheat to certain temperatures, keep a log for your future reference.