The correct oven temperature is key to successful baking.

©Janusz Hylinski

Q. When I bake cookies, cakes, or pies, they come out dry and sometimes burnt, even though I follow the recommended baking time and temperature in the recipe. Is there something wrong with my oven?

A. The key to successful baking and roasting is to cook food at the oven temperature stated in the recipe. Burnt crusts, low-volume cakes and dried-out foods may all be the result of oven temperatures different than those indicated by the reading on the oven control dial.

The best way to solve this problem is to purchase an oven thermometer. Available in several styles and price ranges, oven thermometers can be found in the gadget aisle of your local supermarket or at specialty gourmet shops. As a rule, mercury thermometers are generally more reliable than spring-type thermometers. Both types are heatproof and designed to stay in your oven at all times.

A simple way to test the oven temperature is to place the thermometer in a preheated oven. Wait about 15 minutes, then check the temperature on the thermometer through the window of your oven door.

If your oven door does not have a window, open the door and quickly check the temperature. If there is a difference between the reading on the control dial and the reading on the thermometer, adjust the control dial to compensate for this difference. Bake with confidence and have more control, knowing your oven temperature is correct.

Q. What is the difference between a convection oven and a conventional oven?

A. A convection oven is equipped with a fan to speed the circulation of heat around the food, thus cooking it faster and more evenly than conventional ovens.

Conventional ovens rely on radiant heat that rises from the bottom up to the top of the oven. Convection ovens cook foods approximately 25% faster than conventional ovens, and the oven temperature can be reduced by 25°F for most foods.

No special cookware is required. Just like conventional ovens, convection ovens can be gas- or electrically-heated. As with any major appliance, it is always best to carefully read the manufacturer's guidelines and instructions for operating the oven.

For more information on ovens and baking, see: