Recalibrating the Oven: or, The Hausfrau Can Google Things, Too.

Well, a few days ago the Hausfrau went to bake a loaf of bread, as she frequently does, and this time things went horribly wrong. The bread baked; and it baked; and it baked; and it was, somehow, never done. I should have known, sooner than I did, that something was not right — my inner Miss Clavell should have sat right up, pointing a finger in the air — but I did not. And so nearly two hours was that bread baking (ok, maybe 90 minutes). The house smelled wonderful, and the exterior of the loaf looked fine. But evil  was lurking within.

I admit: it wasn’t evil. It wasn’t as though we cut the bread open to find anything festering in there (thank god). But it was a sodden, heavy, wrong loaf of bread. And I was very sad, because I had used really good stuff to make that bread, and it was simply useless.

(I should, someday, attempt to whizz this stuff up into bread crumbs, I suppose. But it is so sad and wretched, even after being sliced into large wedges and dried out in the oven, that I suspect I will simply give up on it and throw it in the trash.)

It was four days after I baked that bread that I went to bake some cookies and discovered, in the process of pre-heating the oven, that things were not correct with the oven. I thought I had preheated the oven to 350°, but it was hovering around 325°. “Well, that isn’t right,” I said to myself. I re-set the oven so it would say it was at 375°; this time it got up to just under 350°. “Huh,” I said to myself. “That isn’t right, either.” I texted my husband: “The oven needs to be recalibrated,” I said to him, “I think.”

He wrote back saying, basically, “Huh?”

I baked my cookies, keeping a very close eye on them. They turned out fine. I made dinner, which also came out fine. Then in the evening, when the kitchen was officially closed for the night, I went to Google and did a search for “recalibrate oven.” My fear, of course, was that this was a task that I could not do on my own, and that I would wind up paying some big burly guy $300 for the pleasure of having him hit three buttons, go “boopboopboop” with some battery operated device, and then turn to me to say “There you go, ma’am.”

It turned out that recalibrating the oven — a phrase that I’m familiar with mostly through reading old cookbooks and household manuals — is something that current oven manuals discuss. I was, in fact, able to track down my oven’s model number and through the wonders of Google find the manual for it online. It turns out that I didn’t have to pay a big burly man anything to come go boopboopboop and no battery operated device was necessary at all. I was able to recalibrate our oven myself — well, mostly. It’s still running about five degrees cool, I think. I want to put a little more effort into getting it as correct as I can — but I can do that.

I want to assure you: I am probably the least mechanically-minded person in the world. While it’s true I’m not afraid of disassembling a vacuum cleaner to see why the suction’s all stopped up, it’s also true I’m really afraid of tinkering with computers and I certainly don’t want to mess with something that might, theoretically, explode (cf. gas ovens in my apartment). But I figured if the household manual says I can do this, then I can do it. Here’s one thing to bear in mind, when you go to recalibrate your oven: you want to have at least one, and probably ideally three oven thermometers on hand so that you can arrange them in different parts of the oven and see for yourself what the temperature(s) is(are) in the different parts of the oven. We experienced bakers get that ovens have hot spots and cool spots — but you ideally have a sense of where they are. I’ve never had this information in my head; I’m just someone who keeps a close eye on things when I’m baking, or else relies on the fact that it’s almost impossible to overcook a braised dish.

Believe it or not, I do not own three oven thermometers, but I do own two of them. (One is better than the other — easier to read.) So it was easy for me to place two of them in the oven  — one way to the left, one way to the right, one on the upper middle rack and one on the lower middle rack — and set the oven for 350° and see what would happen. What I found was that one dial moved up to 345° and the other one went to just a smidge past 350°.   If I had a third and fourth thermometer, I’d scatter them about, too, and see where they landed. My guess is that the middle of the oven is, in fact 350°, or close enough for government work anyhow, and I’m ok.

But isn’t it funny: we’ve been using this oven for five years, and I’ve never had any trouble with it, and then suddenly it’s out of whack. What happened to cause this? I have no idea. I don’t know what (other than just sheer mechanical failure of some oven part) causes an oven to go out of whack. I’ve now spent enough time reading up online about oven functioning and what I’ve decided is that a) I’m going to keep both of these thermometers in the oven and b) when I preheat the oven, I will not assume that things are ‘correct’ just because the oven display says it is so: I will wait a little longer, and check the thermometers before putting food in. If I have to preheat twice (moving the setting up or down, as needed), so be it.

On that note, I’m going to go roast some beautiful red peppers I bought the other day. Maybe I’ll make pimiento cheese this afternoon.

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