The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

oven temperature

ssor's picture

oven temperature

My grandmother checked the oven temperature by holding her hand in the open oven. The oven temperature was defined as slow to very fast. That discribed how long it took to be too hot to hold your hand in the oven. My mother got a stove with an oven that had a knob with marks on it for every 25 degrees. She had to check it with an oven thermometer. Both of those women made excellant bread. I have seen bakers throw a small handful of cornmeal onto the hearth to check the oven heat. Today we have digital controls on our ovens but are they more playthings than truly useful tools?

G-man's picture

I guess you could say that when you can accurately measure every step of the way, you'll turn out a far more consistent product. Variations in texture/flavor/doneness/whatever from batch to batch can be called "character". It can also be called inconsistency. If you prefer the "character" that inconsistency introduces there is nothing wrong with that at all. For me, I prefer consistency when working with one recipe. I want that recipe to be pretty much the same every time. If I want variety, I work with another recipe.


That's my take on it.

flournwater's picture

Rip the thermostat off of your oven; you don't need it.

Hold your hand in the open oven door until you can't hold it there any longer, then load your bread.  It'll work just fine.  ;>}

Let us know how it works.

Are you serious?

Kitchen Barbarian's picture
Kitchen Barbarian

That's ridiculous.  If I did that every single loaf of my bread (and everything else) would come out burned.

Why?  Because I have an unusually high tolerance for heat.  If it's much less than 78F, I'm cold.  Hot running water that others experience as burning hot is perfectly tolerable to me.  In fact the water temp in my current apartment CANNOT get high enough to burn me.  (I keep meaning to call them to have them come over and turn it up, as I can't find the temp control on the water heater).

Get an accurate oven thermometer - and this is no mean feat.  I've been sadly disappointed to discover that cooking thermometers of all sorts are notoriously inaccurate unless you're willing to spend $30 or more, and sometimes even then they're not necessarily accurate.  That's what we get for allowing so much of our manufacturing to go to China.

Digital or not, I wouldn't trust the thermostat settings on any oven I could actually afford to buy, and probably not on any of the ones I CAN'T afford to buy.  Given my experiences cooking on older ovens 40 years ago, and my experience now, I strongly believe that in general, older ovens were actually MORE accurate (or at least more RELIABLE, and I can explain the difference if I need to) than they are now.  So your grandmother may have been able to guage by feel on an older oven, but not on a newer one.  Besides which, she already had 30 or 40 years of experience to back her up - the rest of us don't.

Sticking your hand in the oven to see what temperature it is?  I hope YOU weren't serious!  LOL!

BTW - my dad was a mechanical engineer.  When he was trained - in the 30s and 40s - slide rules were the only option.  When calculators came along, he stuck to his slide rule - not because he thought it was "better" or because he was unwilling to change (he learned to program computers in the 60s and 70s when they were new and he wasn't, LOL!) but because he felt it reminded him to be careful.  With a digital calculator, he said, because it gave you a result out to 10 decimal places, it also tended to give people an exaggerated sense of ACCURACY.  10 decimal places are still just as inaccurate as the 3 or 4 you might get from a slide rule.  Slide rules, he felt, reminded an engineer to acknowledge his own imperfection, enhanced the sense of humility, and led to fewer mistakes because they encouraged double checking your results.

I feel the same about digital thermostats.  Reliability is often way more important than accuracy, and often digital readouts give the illusion of both when neither may be actually present.

ssor's picture

behind one of the two panels that provide access to the heating elements.

 No I wasn't serous about going back a hundred years but I bet that you can tell without a thermometer when the water is too hot for your yeast and if you open the oven door you know immediately if it is as hot as it should be or if you need to wait another ten minutes. Most cooks can touch the bottom of a sauce pan and know the temperature within a few degrees.

As you so well stated the accuracy of the modern oven control may be no better than the older knob control thermostats. I am able on my 40 year old Tappin to pull the oven control knob and use a long skinny screw driver to adjust the thermostst.

 Plus or minus five percent, at 500 degrees is plus or minus 25 degrees.

Kitchen Barbarian's picture
Kitchen Barbarian

There are THREE access panels on my water heater and they all have fiberglass insulation stuffed in there.  I'm pretty sure that's not safe, but regardless I don't have gloves to properly handle the stuff.  So rather than pull it out one panel at a time and then be faced with the problem of getting it back in there I'd rather have the apartment service guy come out and do it.  Fiberglass in your skin is no fun!

I actually can't tell when things are hot enough by feel.  It depends on how cold I currently am, how warm things feel to me.  Since my body temp is almost 2 degrees below what most people consider average, you would think that warm water would feel warmer to me (relatively) than it does to other people.  But oddly enough, the colder I am, the LESS sensitive I am to heat. 

I don't get it myself, but what it boils down to is I'd better use a thermometer to be sure.  I know I'm not alone in that, other people have the same difficulty gauging "enough" heat by sticking a finger or hand in there, though I'm sure it's for totally different reasons, LOL!

This is the problem with trying to learn baking even from a "master" baker.  Saying things like "when it feels hot enough" or "when the dough feels" silky or smooth or elastic or whatever just isn't very helpful when people vary in how they define and process sensory perception.  For those of us who don't get a strong sense of when something feels "right", we need accurate methods of measurement and ways to make the process repeatable so we can figure out what's going right and what's going wrong.  We can learn what "feels right" only if we can get it to come out right often enough for us to experience the "rightness" to start with, LOL!

Bread baking undoubtedly has much of art about it; but it also has much of science about it as well.  Some people are stronger in one viewpoint than the other, that's all.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

is one way to check for hot spots in the oven floor.  Hot spots will darken the cornmeal quickly.  That way one can avoid parking a loaf directly on one until the next load or if it all turns black, wait for the oven to cool a bit. 

ssor's picture

came with digital controls. I am amused by those that change temperatures in 10 degree increments. Experience tells me that bread isn't very sensitive to small temperature changes. Souffles` are another story.