Why Does My Oven Burn My Biscuit Bottoms

Dear Home-Ec 101,

My oven burns pizza and biscuits on the bottom and the top is under-done.

Help!
Signed,
Pastry Proselyte in Provence

 Heather says:

There are many factors that could be at play inside your oven, it’s going to take some detective work on your part to get to the [burnt] bottom of your mystery.

Here are the tools you’ll need to ensure you need to fine tune your technique or appliance, rather than repair your oven:

  • An oven thermometer
  • a baking sheet -actually a baker’s half-sheet, if your home oven isn’t a professional model
  • oven mitts or a dishtowel, because burnt fingers aren’t fun
  • cheap, white bread -no matter who you are or what you normally eat, just grab a loaf of the crappiest, cheapest white bread you can find at the grocery store. You can give it to the pigeons when you are done, this is for SCIENCE, people, not personal consumption.
  • Your brain -not optional
  • a digital camera OR a piece of paper and a pencil
  • tape

This project is going to take a little bit of time, but it’ll be worth it in reduced annoyance alone.

First we need to see if your oven is even getting to the right temperature or if the appliance needs to be calibrated.

Make sure one of the racks is in the middle position, hang the oven thermometer from the rack, close the oven door, and turn on the oven. If your oven has an automatic pre-heat it to 350°F setting use that and if not, set it to pre-heat to 350°F.  If the oven is electric, open the door and observe the heating elements, in the pre-heat phase of baking, both the top and bottom elements should be heating. Are they? Great.

Close the door.

No? Only the bottom element is working? You’ve found the cause of your problem. Home owners, replace the top element, renters have the top element replaced by your landlord. Bookmark this page and come back once both elements are working.

If your oven is gas, the heat comes from the bottom, regardless. Set the oven to pre-heat to 350°F and chill for a bit. Heh.

Once the oven has pre-heated, set the temperature for 350°F. Give the oven five more minutes. Why? Because this lets the whole oven come to temperature and not just the area nearest the thermostat. Now, look at your oven thermometer. Does it read 350°F? Yes? Fantastic, skip ahead.

No, the oven thermometer does not read 350°F. This can be for a couple of reasons, the thermostat may be broken or it may simply need to be calibrated. (That’s an upcoming article, in the interim pay attention to the difference between the set temperature and the recorded temperature. Leave a post-it note or other reminder somewhere you can see, but not set on fire. It should say let you know how far off the oven is. You may want to also check the difference at 400°F as it may not be as simple as 10 degrees low.)

The elements both work and the temperature is right, but things still aren’t happy.

Pre-heat the oven to 350°F.

Now you get to solve the mystery of the white bread.

I want you to think about your oven, it’s not a magic box. Cooking food is a balance of applying enough heat to cook the inside of food in a reasonable amount of time and balancing that with the need to not burn the outside before the interior is cooked. This is true regardless of the cooking method. When baking or roasting, the temperature of the air in the oven is responsible for the majority of the heat transfer (indirect heating). However, the baking sheet (or muffin tin or pan) gets heated by the air, too. Metal is a great conductor of heat, in fact it is far better at heat transference than air. Once the pan reaches the temperature of the oven, it also cooks your food through direct heating. This is why the bottom of your food gets done before the top (and quite possibly the middle). Some of this you can control by using the upper rack position -this slows the heating of your baking sheet and decreases the distance to the top of the oven which reflects heat back onto your food.

Get your baking sheet and cover it in a single layer of the white bread. Get your digital camera or that pencil and paper. Ready? Good. Place the baking sheet in your oven, close the door, and get comfortable in front of the oven. Pretend you’re Jane Goodall and get ready to take notes on the behaviour of your appliance.

Watch as the bread begins to brown, you need to wait until all areas of the top of the bread are at least tan and then remove the baking sheet from the oven.

Now take a picture of the bread (you may want to include a sticky note in the frame to show you which way the baking sheet is oriented) or sketch it on your paper and pay particular attention to what areas of the bread are darkest. You are creating a heat zone map of your oven, just like people, ovens are special little snowflakes and have quirks. Once you know this, you can take advantage of their hot and cool spots depending on your baking needs.

If you took a picture, you’ll need to get it printed. If you drew a picture, tape it to the inside of the nearest cabinet, but make sure it is oriented in a way that makes sense to you. You don’t want to have to remember you need to turn the baking sheet around when you’re cooking for company.

Now turn each piece of bread over, do a horizontal flip, not a vertical one, and again either take a picture or make a sketch. Is the bread significantly darker on the bottom? Then you know next time to move the rack a bit higher. Repeat and see what happens. When you find the rack position that browns the top of your toast without burning the bottom, note it and use it the next time you bake.

I’d like to acknowledge Nathalie Dupree for sharing this technique at one of her presentations. I highly recommend getting to know your appliance as a way to prevent frustration and burnt food.

Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

 

Tomato Pie: Smack Your Granny Good

Heather says:

Two years ago I stumbled upon the deliciousness that is tomato pie. The framework for this recipe can be credited to Paula Deen, but it has been played with enough, to call it my own.

Before giving this pie a shot, make sure you have fully ripe tomatoes. I know, I know it’s tempting, what with the bacon and basil, but just sit tight and wait. Don’t ruin this with a tomato that has seen the inside of a refrigerator. Fine, you won’t ruin it, but. . . it’ll be worth it.

Some people get very persnickety about the bottom crust. You have three options:

  1. Blind bake -pre-bake the bottom crust-  but know that you will absolutely have to protect the edge of your pie during the real baking and I hate putzing around with foil like that
  2. Instead of draining the seeded tomato slices in a colander you can do so on a clean flour sack towel -it doesn’t have to be that particular one, you just don’t want to end up with linty tomatoes. Bleh.
  3. Suck it up and deal with it because it’s delicious.

Double Crust Tomato Onion Bacon Pie

Double Crust Tomato, Onion, and Bacon Pie Recipe Ingredients

  • 1 recipe pie crust (9″ pie) – feel free to cheat and use refrigerated pie crust if you’re in a hurry and sometimes I am
  • 4 very ripe tomatoes
  • 1/2 medium onion
  • 3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 3/4 cup shredded Monterey jack cheese
  • 3 slices bacon crumbled
  • 3 TBSP cream cheese or mayonnaise*
  • 1 tsp dried basil, divided -If you have fresh, use a small handfull and cut into a chiffonade -fancy word meaning thin raggy strips
  • salt/pepper to taste

*It absolutely must be mayonnaise, not low-fat and for the love of all that is holy not miracle whip

Tomato Pie Recipe Instructions

Core each tomato. This is simply a matter of removing the hard area around the stem. Cut each tomato in half through the equator. Use your finger to scoop the seeds out and into the trash or sink. Then slice each tomato. Place the sliced tomatoes in a colander over a large bowl or the sink, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Allow this to sit while preparing the other ingredients.

Preheat the oven to 425F. Slice the onion very thinly. No, thinner. No, thinner still, we want the Calista Flockhart of onions.

In a bowl combine the cheese, bacon, and 3TBSP mayo. Mix thoroughly.

tomato layerCarefully lay the bottom pie crust in a 9″ pie plate. Arrange a layer of tomatoes, sprinkle with half the sliced onion and 1/2 tsp dried basil.

Repeat the first layer with the remaining tomatoes, onion, and basil.

Top with cheese mixture. Add the second crust, seal the edges, and cut slits in the top.

Use water to glue on any decorative touches.

Use water to glue on any decorative touches.

Tomato PieBake for 45 minutes, checking after 30. Use the foil trick from the pie crust recipe to protect the edges of the crust.

Allow the pie to cool for 10 minutes (at least) on a wire rack. If you can wait longer to slice the pie, the cheese won’t be as runny.

We look at each other and say, but we LIKE the cheese to be runny.

Enjoy.

***Submitted to: Mouthwatering Mondays***

Why Does My Cornbread Burn on the Bottom?

Dear Home-Ec 101,

How do you keep the bottom of the cornbread from burning? I use an electric oven and I’ve tried putting my muffin pan on the higher rack but that didn’t help. The bottom burns but the top stays light.

Signed,

I Would Prefer Cajun Style Blackening

Heather says:

It’s fairly common for household ovens to not heat to an accurate temperature. This is an incredibly frustrating experience, especially for new cooks who may think, “I followed the directions! I’m a complete failure at cooking.”  How would a novice know that it was mechanical failure and not their fault? Heck, I get frustrated on their behalf and please don’t even get me started on flimsy cookware.

Cooking food is a balance of applying enough heat to cook the inside of food in a reasonable amount of time and not so much that the outside burns before the interior has cooked. This is true regardless of the cooking method. When baking or roasting, the temperature of the air in the oven is responsible for the majority of the heat transfer (indirect heating). However, the baking sheet (or muffin tin or pan) gets heated by the air, too. Metal is a great conductor of heat, in fact it is far better at heat transference than air. Once the pan reaches the temperature of the oven, it also cooks your food through direct heating. This is why the bottom of your cornbread gets done before the top (and quite possibly the middle)

The first thing I suggest is getting an oven thermometer, this will give you an accurate indication of whether or not your oven is heating to the proper temperature. To test your oven, place one of the racks in the middle position, hang the thermometer from the rack, set the oven to 350F and wait for 20 minutes. Now check the temperature on the thermometer, this should be a much more accurate indication of the actual cooking temperature your oven is maintaining.

If your oven’s temperature is off, it may need calibrating, check your owner’s manual of your oven. If you can’t find it, use Google and perform a quick search of the make and model of your appliance. Many manufacturers have the pdf of  the owner’s manuals available online.

If your oven’s temperature is off by 20 degrees or more, the thermostat -the part that controls the temperature- may need to be replaced. If it’s only off by five or ten degrees it won’t matter for all but the most delicate of baked goods. Just make a note and set your oven’s temperature accordingly.

As a stopgap measure to try to keep the bottom of your cornbread from burning, place the pan on a room temperature baking sheet or pizza stone in the oven. This may delay the direct heating long enough that the top of your cornbread has a chance to finish cooking.

 

Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com

This question came from a comment on the post: Sweet Cornbread Recipe.

Banana Muffins

Heather says:

Muffin recipes are a great introduction to baking. They aren’t fussy and a flat muffin is still a delicious muffin. Don’t get smug and try to pass these off as health food; they aren’t. They are however delicious and semi-portable. What is semi-portable? Great in a lunch bag, not so great while driving.

Just as an FYI the optional streusel topping isn’t so optional, in my opinion.

Optional Streusel Topping

  • 2 TBSP cold butter, cut into small cubes or grated
  • 1/8 cup rolled oats
  • 1/8 cup white sugar
  • 1/8 cup brown sugar
  • a pinch of cinnamon

Use a fork to stir these ingredients together in a small bowl. Set aside.

Simple Banana Muffins

Yields 9 – 10 muffins (depending on the size of your bananas)

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose or plain flour
  • 2/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1.5 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 medium bananas, mashedOptional Streusel Topping

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Mash the bananas and set aside. In this case, a little oxidation is a good thing, it helps bring out the banana flavor.
Grease  a muffin tin, you can use butter or cooking spray.
In a bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. In another bowl, whisk together the egg, vanilla, and vegetable oil. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry and stop as soon as they are mixed. Overmixing leads to flat muffins.
Banana Muffins
Fill 9 muffin cups with 1/3 cup batter each and sprinkle with the topping. If you have a standard ice cream scoop, this is the perfect size for muffins. I use a measuring cup and spatula.
Banana Muffins
Bake for 20 -25 minutes and cool on a wire rack, if you can wait that long.
Enjoy!
Related recipe:  Blueberry Muffins

Chocolate Biscotti Recipe

Heather says:

What’s your favorite cookie? Mine is the very simple chocolate biscotti. I prefer this recipe without the chocolate chips and with the walnuts, but since I was making it for the family, they got it their way.

Biscotti is actually an ancient technique for making food fit for travel. Consequently biscotti is suitable for mailing. Just remember that not everyone is a biscotti fan.  I dig the crunch, the chocolate, and the way they aren’t overly sweet. The word biscotti comes from two Latin words, “bis”  for twice and “coctum” for baked. Humans being the way they are, eventually slurred the words together. I’m sure y’all¹ understand.

¹Intentional.

Chocolate Biscotti Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder²
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 6 TBSP butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar (It is possible to reduce the sugar depending on your preference)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup walnuts -optional
  • 3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • about 1 TBSP confectioners or powdered sugar

²Hershey’s Special Dark Unsweetened Cocoa Powder is a thing of beauty. Just sayin’

    Directions for easy chocolate biscotti

    Set out the butter and eggs. (The butter to soften, the eggs to come to room temperature).

    Pre-heat the oven to 350ºF. Butter and flour a baking sheet.

    In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. In another bowl cream the butter and granulated sugar until fluffy. While this is going on, crack the eggs, beat them lightly and stir in the vanilla. Add the vanilla egg mixture a little at a time to the butter and sugar and beat until well combined.

    Slowly stir in the flour mixture and stir until just combined. The dough will be stiff, this is normal. Add the chocolate chips and walnuts if you want them. Flour your hands and divide the dough in half. On the floured baking sheet, shape the dough into two, slightly squashed logs. They should be about 12 inches long and two inches wide. Dust with confectioners sugar and bake for 35 minutes. The logs should be slightly firm to the touch.

    I didn't get a good picture of the cooked biscotti logs, but when the come out of the oven, cut on the diagonal, like this.

    Cool on the baking sheet for five minutes. On a cutting board cut the biscotti carefully with a serrated knife. The logs should be cut diagonally into 3/4 inch slices. Place the slices cut side down on the baking sheet and return to the oven for approximately 10 minutes.

    Cool on a wire rack and enjoy.