Today we are premiering a new FBC column, Kitchen Geekery, with Janice Lawandi. Janice (who just happens to have a PhD in chemistry) will be giving us kitchen tips, tricks and hints with a little science tossed in to explain why some of those maddening kitchen mishaps happen and to help us avoid them! For more great kitchen science and scrumptious baking be sure to check out her blog, Kitchen Heals Soul.
We have all encountered recipes where the baking times/baking temperatures seem incredibly off, resulting in burned cookies, swear words, sadness, and feelings of self-doubt. There should be no tears when it comes to cookie-making. There should only be golden-brown-delicious cookies and joy!
The good news is that you probably didn’t lose your baking mojo. The bad news is that it might be your baking sheets that are messing you up: the color and the material of baking pans affect how your cookies (or cakes or pizzas) bake.
To understand this, we need to look into two of the main ways heat is transferred when you are baking: conduction and radiation.
Conduction is how heat is transferred through direct contact. When you place your room temperature pan of cookies on the hot rack of your oven, the hot rack transfers heat to the cold sheet pan, which then passes on that heat to your cookies, which begin to bake.
Some metals/materials conduct heat better than others. For example, silicone is slower to transfer heat and therefore silicone mats act as an insulator between the cookie sheet and the pan, thus slowing the browning process, making it harder for you to burn your cookies. Heavy gauge pans that are thicker are also slower to conduct heat, but heat is transferred more evenly with heavy-bottomed pans, which is why they are preferred, especially for stove-top cooking.
Radiation is how heat is transferred through the air above a hot surface. You are definitely familiar with radiation if you tend to preheat your fry pans on the stove. You probably check if your pan is hot by placing your hand directly above the pan to check that heat is radiating from the pan. The pan transfers its heat up through the air to your hand and your hand warms up.
Note: your hand is not touching the pan unless you are in the mood to experience conduction, which I guarantee you that you aren’t.
Darker pans on the stove or in the oven absorb more heat than lighter pans, just like a darker T-shirt worn in the summer sun. Darker pans will also emit more heat than lighter pans. This is why, if you are baking with a darker pan and following a recipe that was developed for lighter pans, you may have to lower your oven temperature by 25 degrees Fahrenheit to compensate.
Say the recipe you are baking from suggests to bake your cookies at 350ºF for 10 minutes, but yours burn in that time on your dark cookie sheets: decrease your oven temperature to 325ºF and try again. I bet your cookies will turn out just right and in the correct amount of time.
So, if you are following a recipe and you burn your cookies within the suggested baking time, don’t fret. It’s probably your pans, and not you! Switch to lighter coloured pans or invest in a silicone mat. Or if you want to continue to bake with your darker pans, drop the oven temperature by 25 degrees Fahrenheit.
Of course, this is all assuming that you have an oven thermometer (affiliate link) to double check that your oven is heating to the correct temperature. Right?
Kitchen Geekery is written by Janice Lawandi. Janice is a PhD-chemist-turned-baker, which is why she loves to use science to understand and solve problems in the kitchen. She is currently working as a recipe tester and writer in Montreal, QC. Visit Janice’s blog, Kitchen Heals Soul, for more baking science and inspiration. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.