Book's tips may keep you from overheating over convection oven

September 24, 2005|By Knight-Ridder/Tribune

You have a new convection oven, but you don't know how to use it. You're not alone.

But bypassing an oven's convection feature means missing out on faster cooking times and being able to bake several dishes or a whole batch of cookies at the same time, said Beatrice Ojakangas, author of Cooking with Convection (Broadway Books, 2005) and more than 20 other cookbooks.

"I tried to keep things pretty basic so people could make their own alterations on their own similar recipes," said Ojakangas, who lives in rural Duluth, Minn.

The cookbook offers recipes for standard fare like old-fashioned meatloaf, banana nut bread and apple pie as well as roasted ratatouille, dilled salmon souffle and salade nicoise.

Ten percent of all ranges and wall ovens shipped to dealers in the United States in 2004 were convection, compared with 5 percent in 1999, said Jill Spiekerman, a spokeswoman for Jenn-Air and Maytag, quoting data from the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers.

In a convection oven, a fan distributes heat rapidly throughout the oven. With heat circulating evenly around the food, cooking time is typically reduced by 25 percent to 30 percent. Food is almost always baked at a lower temperature. Dishes don't have to be rotated for even baking and several dishes or sheets of cookies can be baked simultaneously.

"You can bake on two racks with a standard oven, but air doesn't circulate so it doesn't cook as evenly," Ojakangas said. "With two racks of cookies, halfway through you have to move them around. But with convections, you don't have to do that switching around."

When Ojakangas got her first convection oven seven years ago, she was more confident than most cooks. But it was still an adjustment, she said.

In time, Ojakangas realized she could cook just about everything in the convection oven and have a better result than with a standard oven.

Roasts and poultry brown quickly while the insides remain juicy and flavorful. The tops of foods get crisp without the bottoms burning. Breads get crusty; cakes are moist and tender. Because the heat quickly seals in juices, flavors and smells aren't transferred to other dishes cooked at the same time.

The most common mistake, Ojakangas said, is cooking food at too high a temperature and for too long, which results in dry and overcooked foods.

"The whole thing is reducing the cooking time and cooking temperatures," she said. "People don't understand that. People tell me they tried it once and burnt everything."

To convert recipes, Ojakangas' rule of thumb is to set the temperature 25 degrees lower than with a standard oven and to cook for one-third less time.

Some convection ovens now have a feature that converts the time and temperature at the push of a button.

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