Brownies are probably the most difficult baked good to determine the doneness of. They’re very dark in color, so you can’t look for tell-tale signs of browning. Most recipes are also intended to produce brownies that are fudgy and they’re supposed to be very moist in the center even when they are ready. Brownies are also very easy to make and are the kind of thing that an experienced baker shouldn’t have a problem with. One of my most embarrassing kitchen mishaps involved a simple batch of brownies – and one very unreliable oven.
This was my parents’ motto as I was growing up was “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Generally speaking, it served them very well – and continues to serve me well. We often replace things – large and small – long before they need replacing. But it is also true that sometimes this philosophy can lead you to hang on to things much longer than you should, and that definitely was true for the appliances in the kitchen I learned to cook in.
I don’t know exactly how old the appliances were, but I do remember when they started to break down. The oven – my favorite appliance – was my biggest problem. The thermometer lost accuracy over time and the oven started to run 20-50 degrees hotter than it should. I started to use an oven thermometer, but it could be difficult to check at a glance. The timer was the next element to go, so I often tried to bake by the clock if I didn’t have another timer handy. As you can imagine, an oven with a faulty thermometer and no timer meant that I needed to stand near the oven and do my best to keep an eye on whatever I was baking to try to make sure it didn’t over bake.
Brownies were undoubtedly one of the worst things to try to bake because there are so few visual clues from a batch and you really have to go by the baking time for guidance. One day, we invited our new neighbors over for a get-to-know-you barbecue and I decided to whip up a quick batch of brownies to serve along with some ice cream and fresh berries. I mixed up the batter, put the brownies in the oven – and then made the mistake of stepping out of the room for a few minutes. Before I knew it, I had completely lost track of how long the brownies had been in the oven. I had compensated for the oven thermometer by turning the temperature down by about 30 degrees and figured that I could just estimate when the brownies would be done.
To make a long story short, that was the day that the oven decided to run relatively accurately – and I was baking my brownies in an oven that was much too cool for the first 30 minutes or so. When I checked them for doneness, I found a pan of raw batter. I turned up the temperature a few degrees and the oven shot up by about 80 degrees. The brownies went from under baked to burned in a small window – and what was supposed to be a simple, foolproof recipe that I could put together quickly for our new neighbors turned into a small disaster that made the kitchen smell like burning chocolate for the rest of the night.
We ended up eating just ice cream with our neighbors, and my parents decided that it might be a good idea for them to invest in a new oven.
I learned to be a better baker because of that oven, but for years I also forgot how amazing it is to have an appliance that actually makes life easier rather than harder. My “trusty” old oven, which got me through a lot of holiday baking over the years in spite of its flaws, has now been replaced with a much newer range. Not only does it have an accurate internal thermometer, it has a convection feature and a fantastic array of burners on the range top. My favorite feature is the oven drawer, located beneath the oven that is a mini oven with a full 140-450F range. I really appreciate it when I am doing a lot of baking, since my kitchen was never set up to accommodate two full size ovens.
It took me a long time to trust the new oven’s built-in thermometer and timers after putting up with my old oven for so long, but I definitely appreciate them every time I go to preheat the oven. I also realized that even though things aren’t “broke” (since my old oven continued to function right up until the very end, 20+ years later), that doesn’t mean that you can’t at least take a look around and see what else is out there. New technology can inspire you to do even more in the kitchen because it helps you see how easy things can be, and struggling with old tools and appliances can sometimes make you lose sight of that.
To see what new technology is out there, and to get an idea of what some shiny new GE Appliances could do for your kitchen, visit GE Appliances’ virtual Kitchen Reimagined. It just might give you a little wakeup call if you, like me, were struggling with appliances that barely got the job done. GE Appliances spends countless hours studying consumer insights about appliances – looking to improve the design and functionality of each one.
To inspire you even more, we’re giving away a $100 Visa gift card to one of Baking Bites’ readers that you can spend on anything you want (or save towards that new appliance). To enter the giveaway, answer the following question in the comments: If your kitchen could study you, what would it learn?
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