Have you switched over to a convection oven and want to start baking cakes? Then there are a few things that you need to keep in mind.
Convection ovens are known to be superior when it comes to cooking all types of food, especially pizzas, that benefit from the unique way that convection ovens heat food.
But can you bake a cake?
Baking cake in a convection oven? Convection ovens, although better than conventional ovens in many aspects, may not produce the best cakes. Convection ovens heat cakes from all sides and bake them slightly differently than conventional ovens. This difference can cause the cakes to come out flatter and chewier.
Luckily, there are ways to use convection ovens in a better way. Read below to learn more!
Convection and Regular Ovens
To understand how convection ovens affect the texture of food, we must first look at how they are different from regular ovens.
Regular gas ovens use flammable gas that passes through multiple nozzles inside the cooking chamber. These ovens were the gold standard for decades and were touted as the best thing in baking.
Why? Well, baking was once left to professional bakers who used large and often industrial-sized ovens to bake goodies.
But once manufacturers perfected and miniaturized that design, everything changed. The domestication of the oven was seen as a revolution in home cooking because people could get high-quality and properly cooked meals that could rival famous restaurants.
Of course, this also had a huge impact on baking too! Thanks to the invention of home ovens, people started to take more interest in baking, and it didn’t take long for home bakers to make their versions of cake at home.
The reason why gas ovens are the gold standard for baking is because they use a combination of passive and direct heat. The heat that is generated through the flames across the top and bottom of the oven heats food at different rates.
The part of the food that is directly under the nozzle will receive more heat than the parts that are away from the nozzle. While this difference is small, it does have an impact on how the food is cooked.
For example, when making bread, the direct heat from the gas oven caramelizes the top of the loaf while the layers below it cook using passive heat. This results in a beautifully balanced and delicious texture.
In older ovens with fewer nozzles, you would notice streaks or lines just under the areas where the nozzles were found. Of course, with time, manufacturers made several improvements to the original design of the oven which made it extremely efficient for all baking purposes.
The reason why most people prefer to bake cakes in convection ovens has to do with how cake batter bakes.
The cake batter is way more pliable and is more sensitive to temperatures which is why it requires a delicate combination of direct and passive heat.
Unlike tougher doughs that make bread, cake batter needs a stable and constant temperature so that the outer layer lightly crisps while the bottom layer stays soft and porous.
It turns out that the balance between direct and passive heat is what makes gas ovens so great for cakes! But when it comes to convection ovens, things are a bit different.
What are Convection Ovens?
Convection ovens have been around for a long time, at least in concept! Convection ovens work by circulating hot air around food to cook it passively. Unlike gas ovens that shoot down flames, convection ovens use a more discreet method of heating.
All convection ovens are built with a heating element either on the top or the back of the oven. When current passes through the heating element, it begins to heat up – but this heat doesn’t go anywhere and is unidirectional.
This is where the fan comes in. The fan blows air behind the heating element which causes it to warm up very quickly.
The fan is designed to blow air in a certain way, meaning that it travels across the chamber evenly without leaving behind any cold spots. Cold spots are very common in regular ovens which can lead to uneven cooking times, especially when baking elongated or very large cakes.
However, in the context of baking cakes, there is an inherent issue with how convection ovens work.
Remember how gas ovens keep a balance between passive and direct heat? Well, in convection ovens, all of the heat is transferred passively which is great for most cooking scenarios, but in the case of cakes, this can cause a few issues.
Here are some common problems that you might face when baking cakes in a convection oven:
Since convection ovens heat everything evenly and constantly, this can cause the surface of the cake to dry up quickly! Think about it: in gas ovens, the top layer receives the most heat while the bottom part of the cake cooks slowly using passive/indirect heat.
But in the case of convection ovens, the surface of the food is bombarded with hot air and since every part of the cake receives heat evenly, you can expect the cake to become firm on all sides – this is something that is far from appealing, especially when baking soft sponge cakes.
Confusing Cooking Times
As you can imagine, the design of convection ovens and their method of heating results in different cooking times. This is by far the most common issue for most people who migrate from regular ovens to convection ovens.
In most cases, the cooking time for food will be the same, if not slightly less. But when it comes to baking, you will have to follow specific instructions to account for the way convection ovens work!
The good news is that convection ovens are on the rise and their popularity has skyrocketed in recent years thanks to marketing and the heat distribution advantages of convection ovens over regular ovens.
This means that you are bound to see specific instructions for convection ovens in most recipes online. Many people find reading the user manual to be helpful too – we know, it sounds boring, but if you want to unlock the full potential of your appliance then you will have to relearn!
Uneven Browning and Over Baking
If you’re wondering why we listed uneven browning as a disadvantage after praising the uniqueness of convection ovens to spread heat evenly, then here’s why:
What do you get when you add a material that traps heat without spreading it a lot to a convection oven? Well, you get uneven cooking times.
See, when you use glass or other dark-colored materials that absorb heat, then you are essentially dooming the cake because it will brown at different rates.
For example, the half that rises above the pan will cook evenly because it will be surrounded by uniform heat but the batter inside and around the pan will cook quicker, especially if you use a material that traps heat!
This is why choosing the right bakeware is so important when it comes to baking in convection ovens.
So, now that we have listed all the disadvantages of convection ovens in the context of baking, it’s time to talk about how to overcome these issues! That’s right, most of these issues can easily be resolved either by making small adjustments or by choosing the right equipment.
Ensuring Success When Baking in Convection Ovens
There are a few best practices that you need to keep in mind before you use your convection oven. Here are some of the ways that you can maximize the efficiency of convection ovens and overcome the issues discussed above:
Let’s begin with a few basics.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Convection ovens, although different from regular ovens, require to be preheated in the same way. The good news is that these ovens are extremely good at preheating to the exact temperature without leaving behind any cold spots – they can also be quicker!
Preheating is extremely important in baking because it allows cakes and other baking goods to bake evenly without over-drying. If you bake a cake in a non-preheating convection oven, then you might as well just serve something else for dessert.
Tools of the Trade
A clever way to get the most out of convection ovens is to opt for bakeware that works with convection ovens instead of against them. For example, always go with heavy and shining baking pans that deflect heat instead of trapping it.
Why is this important? Well, as we discussed above, trapping heat will doom the cake to an early (and charred) demise. Never go with dark or non-stick bakeware because they will likely cause the batter to cook quickly.
Aluminum works well with convection ovens, and they are also easier to handle. But if you do end up going with materials like glass or ceramic, then it would be a good idea to bring the heat down by a few degrees.
Going down by 15F is a great place to start, but will also depend on things like the type of bakeware, size of the oven, temperature setting, etc.
Temperature and Cooking Time
By now, the importance of adjusting not just the temperature but also the cooking time should be clear! Convection ovens don’t require the same cooking times as regular ovens, in some cases, they might not even require the same temperature!
This is why we recommend that you go with the 25-25 rule. Decrease the cooking time by 25% and the temperature by up to 25F to get the most out of the capabilities of your appliance. This is a general rule of thumb that can be applied to any type of convection oven.
If you are working with a large convection oven (above 10 cubic feet) then you may start by decreasing 15% of time and temperature. Smaller or countertop ovens will require more adjustment because the smaller size will result in quicker cook times.
Important Best Practices
Here are a few best practices that you should always follow when baking food in a convection oven:
Checking for Doneness
This is going to be the most important tool in your arsenal. Checking for doneness can not only allow you to bake effectively, but it can also help you make perfectly moist and delicious cakes.
The best way to check for doneness is the toothpick method. Take a clean and dry toothpick. Insert the toothpick at the center of the cake. You can insert it all the way – just make sure that you can pull it back out easily.
Remove the toothpick from the center and then check the toothpick for the cake batter. If you can see batter around the toothpick, then this would mean that the cake still needs more time to cook. If you don’t see raw batter, then this would mean that the cake is ready!
Moving the Pan
Although not necessary, it may be beneficial if you rotate the pan around halfway through the baking process. Older convection ovens with an inferior design might require you to rotate the baking pan.
If you regularly notice a discrepancy over the surface of food after baking, then you might just benefit from moving the pan around to evenly cook or bake food. Just make sure that you only do this adjustment once.
If you frequently adjust the pan, then you will essentially disrupt the heat flow inside the oven. Every time you open the oven door, some of the heat escapes, and the problem can be even worse if you live in a cold environment. Only rotate twice if you feel that the cake needs more browning on the surface.
Take Size Into Consideration
The only rule for using convection ovens is to keep the air flowing! Keep in mind that the heating element won’t be able to bake food alone! You need a steady flow of air to keep the oven working.
This is why you must avoid overcrowding the oven. Check the dimensions of your convection oven and then plan accordingly. If you bake a large enough cake, then you will likely block the air from either side of the baking pan.
Go with medium or small baking pans that can easily fit at the center of your convection oven. If you are using a countertop convection oven, then it would be a good idea to go with smaller cakes – or cupcakes!
Convection ovens have a few disadvantages when it comes to baking, but with a few minor adjustments and best practices, you can create delicious (and possibly better) cakes in these ovens when compared to regular ovens!
Now that you know all about baking cakes in convection ovens, here are some related questions:
What Happens When the Cake is Cooked From Above but Still Raw on the Inside?
When checking for doneness, if the toothpick comes out raw but the surface looks overcooked, then the best course of action would be to lower the temperature of your convection oven.
While this isn’t a perfect fix, it will keep the surface from burning. You will either have to use heavier frosting over the surface or redo the cake if it is beyond repair.
Can Convection Ovens Be Used for Cookies or Muffins?
Yes, convection ovens are excellent for baking cookies as they can enable the cookies to spread more evenly. Muffins can also be baked in most convection ovens, although you will have to follow some of the tips and best practices that we have mentioned above for the best experience.