The Magic Password

350.

Miss NiNi would note this number as the magic password into elite membership of the Baker’s Club of America.

Why is that so, Dear Readers? Most recipes request the oven to be preheated to 350 degrees If you are an avid baker, this number is an automatic go-to setting on the dashboard of your range or oven.

350 is etched into Miss NiNi’s brain right next to the files that include my telephone number, mailing address, and social security number. Might it be inscribed in your brain that way also?

Believe me, this number is not a one-size-fits-all temperature setting in the baking world. No siree! Why, a soufflé baker would be totally upset to see that her preheated oven only registered at the moderate setting of 350 degree! “Puff” is part of the ultimate soufflé. It takes a higher heat to obtain that ultimate rise in finished product.

Shortbread cookies need a baking temperature lower than 350 degrees in order to prevent carmelization and yet still produce a thoroughly baked crisp cookie. 325 degrees is where Miss NiNi’s ovens are set for baking these scrumptious cookies.

Even centuries ago, the momma of the home wrestled with getting an outdoor fire stoked to that perfect baking temperature. Her unleavened bread was not always consistently the same. But she might have thought nothing of it and was happy to have provided sustenance for her family. She more than likely relied on her eyes and nose as the best temperature indicators.

My mom was a fantastic bread baker! I was an infant at the time she used her wood-corncob-stoked cook stove. There was not a temperature gauge on it. I know that fact because I have her well-loved relic of time sitting in my food lab. But, how did she know when the baking temperature within the cavity was hot enough? Did she dust a little flour on the bottom of the oven and wait for the flour to turn black without catching fire? Many bakers did according to this article.

Another ‘practical’ measure of correct oven temperature for the time was the arm-in-the-oven method. Sweet Sister recalls having seen Mom check the oven temperature in this manner. Mom would put her arm in the oven until it became intolerable. Ouch! With that ‘scientific’ method, counting to 30 became the norm. The oven wasn’t considered hot enough for bread baking if the arm could stay inside the oven longer than that.

Standardizing baking temperatures began long before you and I were born, Dear Readers! But why was 350 degrees chosen as the norm?

During the 19th Century, technological limitations were at hand. The initial “squeaky” start of getting a handle on controlling the temperature within a baking box was more artsy-craftsy than science. Your ancestors might have only known of three baking temperatures: ‘slow’ for thin and delicate foods with low water content, ‘moderate’ for muffins and cookies, and ‘hot,’ for crusty breads.

Then along came industrialization of home appliances during the 1900s when it was discovered that many recipes required a more specific temperature number in order to have a standardized baked good come out of the oven cavity time after time. After all, if Cousin Gladys proudly took a scrumptious frosted chocolate cake to the church picnic, she might have request for the ‘receipt’ from Neighbor Hazel. With shared recipe in hand and excitement within her baking fingertips, Neighbor Hazel would expect her chocolate cake to turn out the same as that of the recipe’s gifter. A specific oven temperature was included in that recipe to help achieve similar baking results.

I chat about this topic with you today, Dear Readers, as the Miss NiNi baking team and I have been playing with oven temperatures at Miss NiNi’s Desserterie where we have the luxury of using both home ovens and a rotating rack commercial convection oven. With the introduction of a commercial oven, a new set of challenges has been unveiled in the world of standardized baking temperatures for Miss NiNi’s recipes.

But rest assured, Dear Readers, any dessert you purchase at Miss NiNi’s Desserterie is prepared by hand with the utmost of care especially for you. After all, Miss NiNi desires to be your Personal Baker!

Nonetheless, for home baking at a temperature 350 degrees Fahrenheit, chemical reactions take place within the dough/batter–the recipe’s liquid turns to gas, and carmelization occurs allowing a golden brown color and a well-developed flavor—all in an efficient manner.

Miss NiNi has discovered that there is a library of baking experimentation that can be catalogued in the world of baking science. However, Dear Readers, for the most part, appliance manufacturing, food scientists, and the home baker have learned to work hand in hand to help the baking novice and professional achieve consistency of products.

If 350 is your password into elite membership of the Baker’s Club of America, you are a kindred spirit with Miss NiNi. It is time I conclude this baking chat and turn my oven dials to that password.

Happy Baking!