When it comes to dependably producing dish after dish, casseroles and other baked goods, there are many reasons that might be the culprit for chronically unevenly baked goods, just as there might be certain causatives for occasionally uneven cooking that produces less than satisfactory results. Sometimes the cause can be directly attributed to some kind of malfunction that is occurring in your oven itself, and sometimes it can happen when certain important ingredients are accidentally left out, or have gone past their “use by” date, and uneven baking can even happen when proper stirring or mixing was not conducted. It’s important to understand how, especially when baking from scratch, the ingredients you use and the way you use them are important for the success of your effort.
Tougheners and Tenderizers in Baking
In the process of baking, the ingredients that comprise whatever you put into the preheated oven will fall into one of two categories. The first is tougheners or strengtheners, which includes flour, whole eggs, egg whites, water and milk. The second category includes ingredients that weaken, tenderize, and is comprised of fats, sugars, egg yolks, acids and leaveners. It is most important that whatever it is that is being baked contain just the right amount and ratio of these ingredients, so that our baked items come out tender, fluffy, moist, dense, crisp or chewy, etc.
The Importance of Creating the Right Conditions for Baking
There are additionally variations in every recipe, with regard to the volume of ingredients, as well as the very techniques used for mixing them. There is a form of measurement that is commonly used among professional bakers known as “bakers’ percentages,” which covers management of the ratio of ingredients in each category, as they correspond in a necessary balance for proper baking efforts that will produce any particular desired results. In addition to the ratio of ingredient categories, other important factors in baking include having the ideal cooking temperature and specific time for thorough baking without overcooking or burning occurring as an unfortunate result. Every consideration and variation will ultimately affect the end result, in terms of color, flavor, shape, size and texture. So, no matter how little you actually add of any ingredient in a recipe, every ingredient contributes to the resulting finished product.
Batters and Doughs
As most baked goods (non-meat, and some casseroles,) are comprised of flour, those that have a larger ratio of flour to liquid are referred to as doughs, and the ones with more liquid and less flour are referred to as batters. Batters can be either dropped or poured. The taste and texture of various different baked goods will always depend on the dough or batter’s makeup. There are leavening ingredients or agents that are usually always an important inclusion in any recipe for a baked good, and these vary from both added and naturally occurring yeasts, baking soda and baking powder. Typically baking soda and baking powder are added into the dry flour before any liquid is introduced, and it is always recommended that these dry leaveners be combined with the flour and then sifted together, to ensure the most thorough blending. This is the best chance you have of evenly distributing the sameness of rise, throughout the baked product. Yeasts are typically first mixed with warm liquids before being added to the dry ingredients. Then, it is kneading that is performed to effectively distribute the leavening power through the dough, evenly.
Eggs in Baking
Eggs serve as the binders that cause all of the ingredients to hold together. They also must be factored in as a liquid component of a recipe, which means that they serve as tougheners, mostly from the white part of the egg. Egg whites can be used to create a lighter texture, when they are whipped prior to adding. Egg yolks tend to make dishes a bit denser, and add color and flavor. The eggs themselves are used to bind every other ingredient. Too many egg whites will produce an overly dry product. Eggs are often the only leavening agent used in a recipe. And with generous lecithin content, an egg yolk will emulsify fat and liquids effectively.
There are many different types of sugar that are used in recipes for baked goods, and while sugar is conventionally included as a way to provide sweetness to the product, it can often be included in smaller proportions in a manner that will serve to tenderize anything by preventing the flour from forming gluten. You don’t always taste these smaller amounts of sugar in a baked good, but the addition of sugar can play an important part in the final product.
Altitude Can Play a Role
Another contributing factor in ensuring even baking has to do with the environment. This refers to the altitude and the air pressure at the time. For anyone baking at high altitudes, it’s necessary that they know the modifications necessary to be made to goods that will be baked at high altitudes. The higher up you go in altitude, the thinner the air and the lower atmospheric pressure. Reduced air pressure means liquids will heat faster, and it can take longer to cook and bake in an oven. The moisture will leave your baked goods quicker and jeopardize the overall structure of your goods baked. Different areas of the product will expand more or suffer from bubbles forming that produce unevenness overall. While recipes using leavening will rise faster, they will also fall erratically and faster. Baking in higher altitudes requires highly exacting attention being applied to choosing the right pan for each job, as well.
High humidity, rain and lower atmospheric pressure can affect even baking. It’s important to minimize unwanted uneven results by adjusting a recipies variables to respond to higher levels of moisture within the environment.
What if it’s Your Oven’s Fault?
If you are experiencing the majority of everything you bake coming out unevenly cooked, the problem might just have to do with your oven’s performance. When an oven is not able to provide even heat to all of its interior, your ability to cook them satisfactorily will be thwarted. Some people deal with this problem by continually turning whatever they are baking a quarter turn at every 5-10 minutes. This is too much work for most people, though. If your oven is too hot, this could produce uneven baking. Even though you set the temperature for baking yourself, it’s a good idea to add a heat gauge or thermometer inside of your oven to compare its results against the temperature you selected. You then just need to lower or raise your baking temperature to correspond with the reading on the thermometer. You can also have your oven recalibrated. If your oven is not installed level, you could also suffer from uneven baking. To check, fill a glass loaf pan with water and place it on an oven rack inside the oven. Look at the distance from the water level to the pan’s top, all the way around. If it’s not the same, change the leveling legs to be even.
Your Oven’s Bake or Broil Element
The problem could be your bake element. Normally the bake element should glow red hot if it is burned out, your oven will bake unevenly. In most ovens, the broil element comes on during the preheating phase of operation. Uneven baking can be a result of a burned out broiler element, as well.
If you own a convection oven, these shouldn’t produce uneven baking, but occasionally things can go wrong with them. Check to see if either the convection element and/or the convection motor is malfunctioning.