My gas oven separates my baked goods into layers. Help.
I have an old (maybe 30-40 years old) gas oven. It is constantly screwing up my baked goods, and I'm wondering if there's a reason or an easy fix. When I make certain fruit cakes, such as apple cake or blueberry cake, the fruit all sinks to the bottom (when it's supposed to be dispersed throughout). Paradoxically, when I make a cranberry upside down cake, the cranberries become dispersed throughout the cake, rather than staying at the bottom of the cake pan in one nice layer. Last weekend I made a chocolate pecan pie. I mixed together the melted chocolate and the egg/corn syrup mixture in a bowl, then poured it into the pie crust, and placed the pecans on top. In the oven, it separated into a chocolate layer on top, and the egg/corn syrup layer on the bottom. (Miraculously the pecans stayed floating on top of the chocolate.)
These are all recipes that I've either made successfully in different ovens before, or friends have made successfully before. I'm pretty confident there's nothing inherently wrong with my cooking skills. I think the oven is at fault. (And I live in a rental, so the solution cannot be "Buy a new oven.") I'd appreciate any tips or thoughts you have!
As far as the fruit sinking to the bottom of your cakes, try tossing the fruit with a bit (tbsp or so) of flour before adding it to the batter; the flour acts as glue, keeping the fruit dispersed in the batter. I have to say that I've never had this happen with apple cake, though. How thick is the batter? If the batter is very thin, the fruit could separate out.
When I make chocolate-pecan pie, I put the chopped (unmelted) chocolate into the bottom of the crust, pour on the filling and bake. Perhaps because you mixed the chocolate into the filling, it separated into layers, chocolate being lighter in a melted state than the egg/corn syrup/pecan filling. but if you're oven was temp true, it seems that the filling would start to set up before the chocolate could separate.
The cranberry upside down cake: I haven't made this but I googled a recipe and it seems that the cranberries are cooked first, does your recipe call for that?
I don't think it's your oven, happily, but there's that possibility. You said that you have made all these recipes before, successfully, so aside from some minor baking suggestions I gave you, you should get a thermometer and check the temp. It's a good thing to know how your oven runs when you're baking, especially if it's an older model. Shaogo has offered some oven-related ideas you can check.
I also bought a new stove for my apartment; you should have seen the piece of crap that was here when I moved in. My landlord has no issues with me doing it.
The apple cake (a slight riff on Teddie's Apple cake, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/04/mag... ) has worked perfectly for me before, in the gas oven I had in my old apartment. I could try the flour trick in this oven, I suppose.
The cranberry upside down cake is from Dorie Greenspan's Baking book. (still delicious, even when the layers separate out.) I'd never made it in another oven. She does not call for pre-cooked cranberries.
The recipe for the pecan pie is from my friend Sarah ( http://www.semisweetonline.com/2009/1... ) and she assures me that it's never separated into layers for her before...
I am stumped too!
In the second sentence of your post, you wonder if there's a reason for the baking problems you're experiencing, or an easy fix. The second to last sentence of your post states that the solution cannot be buying a new oven.
Some of the problems you're experiencing with ingredients of different densities might be caused by the inability of your oven to heat sufficiently so that it rapidly cycles on and off. You might want to lift off the floor of the oven (all or part of it should come off) to reveal the gas jet. Are any of the holes clogged? Is it so rusted that all the flame comes out of one, large rusty hole? If the oven can't heat rapidly, the fire stays on -- but at a low level. You don't want this; you want an oven with a really good fire, to avoid hot spots and to get a good "powerful" type of heat, coming up from the bottom of the oven. It's the on/off action of the heat, and the "push" of a powerful flame that gives baked goods some of the "loft" that's so desirable.
It's too bad you do so much baking yet you won't replace a 30+ year old stove. If you're going to be spending more than a year in your apartment, why not invest in a new stove of your own, and take it with you when you go? A landlord I had in New York was glad to remove one of his stoves and allow me to have a much nicer one of my own installed.
Another thought I had was about the Farberware turbo-oven I have. The thing must be 15 years old and still works great. It's tabletop size. There are a few companies who make these countertop-sized, small convection ovens. If you've never baked using a convection oven before, boy will you be surprised! The quality of the baked goods I turn out in my little old turbo-oven is head and shoulders above *anything* I've made in a non-convection oven.
thanks for your suggestions - I will definitely look into some of the oven repair ideas. And if they don't work, I'll think about a convection oven.
The stove-buying issue is basically a non-starter, for two reasons: 1) cost; and 2) my landlord is truly a crazy person who would never go for the idea. Long story. But the rent is reasonable and the location is good and the parking is free. :)
How very curious! Assuming the temperature is true (and that's a BIG assumption), I'd look into measurements. Are you using new measuring cups, or have you changed brands/types of flour perhaps? Even a simple thing like bleached flour rather than unbleached can make a difference. New baking tins? Any change at ALL that you can think of?