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I have just moved into a new apartment, and am learning the ins and outs of this new oven. But being new to cooking/baking in general, I find that everything comes out burnt, one way or another. Cookies, frozen pizzas, etc.

I find that the bottom of everything I put in the oven winds up burnt to a crisp. The edges wind up overdone and burnt, basically, while the center tends to be slightly undercooked. I am trying to experiment with the times and temperatures, to get it right. However, being inexperienced, I am wondering if my oven just cooks hotter than the temperature I'm setting it to.

For instance, my cookie dough says to cook at 350 in a preheated oven for 10-11 minutes. Cooking to 10 minutes, the center is still undercooked, and the edges are nearly black. (The bottom tends to be all black)

Aside from the obvious "get a thermometer" response, does this seem to show signs of cooking too long (without preheating long enough), or cooking at too high of a temperature?

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when you do get "dialed in", many oven knobs can be pulled off the oven, adjusted via a hidden screw to show the right temp. and remounted. –  OpenID-test2 Jul 30 '11 at 18:43
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2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

It's definitely a sign that the oven is cooking too hot somewhere; the under-done tops and middles are the give-away. I suspect your oven has a malfunctioning thermostat, which is quite common. Try setting temperatures 50 degrees below suggested, and see if it solves the problems. Failing this, purchase an oven thermometer to check it.

Another possibility is that there is poor airflow within the oven. In this case, hot air is heating the bottom of the pan, but cannot get around the edges of the pan to heat the top of the baked good. The solution to this is usually to use a smaller pan, and ensure only one pan at a time is loaded into the oven. My oven has problems of this nature when I try to bake in both racks with half sheet pans.

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Thanks for the advice. So I was right in my assumption. After I made that post, I actually tried the other half of the same batch of cookies, at 25 below the recommended temperature. Still burned, but it definitely got BETTER. The centers were more thoroughly cooked, and the outer edges/bottoms were less burned. I was also able to let it cook longer (closer to the recommended time) before it looked ready and before it got TOO burnt. So I'll try -50 then. Thanks for the tip Bob! –  Tux Jul 28 '11 at 13:33
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Mine is about 75 degrees F hotter. I discovered this by trial and error. If you do get a cheap thermometer, get 2. I don't think you can trust a cheap one. –  OpenID-test2 Jul 30 '11 at 18:39
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I know you don't want to hear a "get a thermometer" answer, but you probably should. A poorly calibrated oven thermostat is a prime suspect. Using an oven thermometer, you can get a delta between your oven setting and the thermometer's readings.

The other likely cause is uneven heating in the oven. You can test this by placing the thermometer at different points in the oven.

The difficult challenge is then to remedy the situation. Some people use heat sinks to try to even out the heat in the oven. For example, you could put a pizza stone or some fire bricks (FIRE bricks, not regular bricks) on the rack above your food. Or you could put similar thermal mass between the heat source and your food in order to diffuse the radiant heat. Unfortunately, it will be a bit of trial and error before you settle in on your optimal solution.

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As has been said, food + heat = cooking. Knowing what temperature you're applying to food is essential, I really don't understand people's reluctance to using thermometers. –  overslacked Jul 28 '11 at 21:12
    
I think uneven heating is unlikely to be the culprit (unless it's vertically uneven due to impeded airflow rather than horizontally). Why? Well, in that case it would manifest as burned cookies in some spots on the pan, and underdone ones in other spots. However, I second the suggestion of buying a pizza stone because it helps hold a steadier temp, and can deal with thermostats allow for too much temperature range. –  BobMcGee Jul 29 '11 at 16:04
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