Review: Cadco Countertop Convection Oven - XAF-113
I just purchased a new Cadco convection oven and to say I am thrilled would be an understatement. After using a 20-year old Whirlpool oven with a Hearthkit Oven insert while I learned to bake bread during the past six months, and producing very satisfactory results, I have found this new oven to be big step up in ease of use and evenness of baking. Since there are virtually no reviews of this oven on the web, I wanted to share my experiences with this group that has provided me with so much useful information.
DETAILS: After having semi-lusted for this oven since seeing it in operation a few months ago, I used the occasion of a malfunction of my regular oven to to treat myself to the Cadco even though I had never used a convection oven before. The model I chose, the XAF-113 is the largest countertop convection oven they make that can operate on 120 volt current, so no special electrical hookup is needed. It is an approximately 24" stainless steel cube with a huge glass front window and door which provides a clear bright view of everything going on in the oven. No more peering through a small, darkened window or cracking open the door to see how the bread is doing. It has a capacity of 3 half-sized (16 x 12 inch) sheet pans.
This unit also has a very simple manual as opposed to digital control panel. (Digital, programmable panels are available on more expensive models). There are basically only two control knobs, time and temperature. Temperature range is 175°-500° F. Just recently, Cadco introduced a manual "steam" button on this model and my unit is equipped with it. It is not a true steam injector but seems to work well anyway. What it is is a built-in small electric pump which draws water thru an inlet hose which has its outside end inserted in a water container. This water is then sprayed on the ventilator fan and heating element and dispersed throughout the baking compartment. Although I could see some water droplets being scattered around the inside, no drops appeared to mark the bread crust, and my final crusts seemed to be as good as I was getting using hot water thrown on lava rocks in a skillet. And, this is so much easier. The skin on my hands and arms has already started celebrating the end of daily steam burns.
I have also equipped my oven with a 1/4" metal plate that Cadco sells as an accessory to use instead of a baking stone. They claim that this heats up much more quickly than a stone yet retains heat as well as a stone. After baking two loaves I am inclined to agree with them. The metal plate has protrusions coming from the bottom surface which seem to markedly increase the exposed surface area and allow it recover quickly.
EXPERIENCE: I have only used it to bake two loaves so far since I just installed it yesterday. What I immediately noticed was that the oven heats up much quicker than my conventional oven and stone. Normally, it takes my oven 1 hour plus to reach 500°. With the Cadco, it took about 25 minutes!
The first loaf I baked was variation of Eric Kayser's Baguette Monge. I have been playing around with this formula a lot recently trying to work out a successful cold retardation process. I have baked probably 20 loaves recently so I am well aware of the whole gamut of final loaf possibilities. I was extremely pleased when the oven turned out the best loaf of this bread that I have so far been able to bake. I adapted the baking temps by reducing the pre-heat temp from 500° to 450°. Normally, the temp on loading is set to 425° and I reduced it to 400°. Usual baking time has been 25 minutes and with the Cadco I used 20 minutes. What I got was great oven rise and grigne, lovely browning and the most open and moist crumb of any loaf so far. In addition, the overall browning of the loaf appeared to be quite uniform. Although I did rotate the loaves out of habit, I never saw any unevenness in the browning of the crust and rotating is probably not necessary. Here are some photos:
The second loaf was Hamelman's Golden Raisin and Walnut bread. I had never made this before and figured this would be a good test of whether just following simple guidelines for conversion to convection would be sufficient to produce a good loaf. Well, I was more than satisfied with the loaf. It had a wonderful crispy, chewy crust and a beautiful, semi-open and very moist crumb. I had no problems with over-browning of the crust with just reducing baking temps by 25-30 degrees. Here's some more photos:
In trying to be "fair and balanced", these are some of the negatives:
-Pretty noisy although I have gotten used to it. -No audible signal when oven has reached operating temperature -Not supposed to be built-in. Need 4-5" clearance on all sides. -Manual cleaning, not self-cleaning.
SUMMARY: In sum, I am extremely happy with this product. Although my experience with the oven is brief, it appears to be an extremely valuable tool for baking hearth-type breads. And the fact that this may provide a satisfactory solution to the ever-present "steaming" problem is a real plus for me.
As far as price goes, the unit lists for $1850 but I have seen it on the web for $1200-$1300 dollars. If you order one, make sure that it has the new manual "Humidity" button. Both the old and new units have the same model number so that alone is not enough to know what unit you are buying.
I hope that this will help those members who have been leery of convection ovens, just as I was, to consider it as a possibility. I have never used another convection oven, so this review is not meant to say that the Cadco is better than any other brand. I just know that it works, works well, and appears to be very solidly built. YMMV.