Lopsided muffins, burnt bread, and dried-out roast chicken prove one thing about convection and conventional ovens: There is a big difference between the two. Unlike the free-flowing art of cooking, baking is a science that likes exactness. And roasting requires knowledge of how to convert your baking temperature and time to convection standards.
Both conventional and convection ovens can be heated with gas or electricity, but the heat distribution differs. The heat source in a conventional oven is stationary, usually radiating from the bottom, while in a convection oven a fan circulates the hot air all around the place.
Convection ovens allow for even, fast cooking because the temperature stays more consistent, while conventional ovens can have pockets of warmer or colder air. Hot air rises, so when you're cooking food on both racks, dishes on the bottom rack may undercook while the food on top burns in a conventional oven.
But convection ovens aren't all-around winners.
Convection cooking can cause the outside of a cake to bake — and rise — faster than the middle, and the top could blow over to one side. The whole cake could dry out before it's fully risen. Though some bakers have no trouble, it's likely best to turn off the fans and switch to conventional baking for a cake.
Then there's the conversion. You can sometimes cook food up to 25 percent faster in a convection oven. Assume most recipes are giving you the recommended cooking times for a conventional oven, and reduce the temperature by 25 degrees Fahrenheit if you're using a convection oven. Some ovens have options for both, with built-in convertors. Because convection ovens heat up so fast, there's usually no need to pre-heat, but you might want to anyway, just in case. Especially for baked goods.
If you're in the market for a new oven, make sure the oven has an option to turn the convection fan off, says Susan Reid, a King Arthur Flour recipe tester, oven-buyer, cookbook co-author and editorial director of Sift, the flour company's newstand publication. She's a Culinary Institute of America graduate, teacher at the New England Culinary Institute and worked in restaurants. Reid looks for ovens with four controls: bake, convection bake, convection roast, and broil.
Convection bake, which has a lower fan speed, creates lovely dried-out tomatoes or roast tomatoes, as well as dehydrated foods. Convection roast, with its higher fan speed, is great for chunky meat with crispy outsides and for nicely caramelized roasted vegetables. The high fan speed can end up blowing cookies across the pan, or putting tilted “hats” on your cupcakes, Reid says.
Reid recommends using conventional oven settings for quickbreads, cupcakes, wet muffin batters, layered cakes, angel food cakes, loaf cakes, sandwich breads, and sweet yeast baking. But others have had great luck with convection-baked quickbreads.
Always use the setting that the recipe recommends at least the first time, says Sommer Collier, a recipe developer and author of A Spicy Persective blog. Check your baked goods 5 to 10 minutes before the specified bake time when you try the convection method. "I like to use convection on cookies and breads because it tends to create fuller cookies with an crispy exterior and soft center, and perfectly browned crusty bread," Collier says in her piece, "100 Best Baking Tips and Tricks."
Try both convection and conventional oven techniques with these Chowhound recipes:
For crispy skin and juicy meat inside your whole roasted chicken, the convection oven is the way to go. This is a good basic way to flavor and cook your chicken. Get our roasted rosemary and lemon chicken recipe.
One of the best things about a convection oven is being able to dehydrate food to create healthier, tastier, portable snacks. This recipe only has five ingredients that taste like a floral, spicy, savory Thai meal, but you can grab it with your hands and gnaw on it while on the go. Get our Thai beef jerky recipe.
Quickbreads also benefit from a convection oven, although some say artisanal breads do better. With this sweet and nutty bread, you can get that crusty outside and moist inside that you want in a good loaf. Get our pecan and sweet potato bread recipe.
A little cardamom goes a long way, trust us, to create new layers of flavor that complement this ruby fruit in these light cupcakes with strawberry-cream cheese frosting. Get our strawberry-filled cardamom cupcakes recipe.
You can reap rewards from roasting vegetables with that convection fan on, especially with slower-roasting root veggies. Get our bulgur pilaf with roasted carrots and parsnips recipe.
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