Can it be--an oven that is perfectly even?! Over the years I have baked in many an oven. I even drove several hours deep into Connecticut, with cream puff pastry ready to pipe, to try out a Gaggenau oven that promised to be perfectly even. It was from top to bottom but not from front to back. Resigned to this disappointing fact that ovens are just not perfectly even, I have written solutions into recipes, such as turning a cake two-thirds of the way through baking, or bread half way through baking, but when it comes to cream puff pastry or sponge type cakes such as génoise, opening the oven door to move the pan would spell disaster as the baked item would deflate like a balloon stuck with a pin.
A few years ago I happened to speak to someone at the Breville company about another one of their appliances and the representative told me about their Smart Oven saying it was "an oven with a brain," and that I had to try it. I was intrigued and then disappointed when it never arrived. Many months later I met Julia Leisinger, the delightful manager of Sur La Tabla Soho store, and noticing that they sell the oven, asked her what she thought of it. She told me that she has one and that not only is it even, its size makes it ideal for small apartments. Julia is a baker so now I was really determined to try the oven so that I could know whether I could recommend it.
A year passed and to my surprise and delighted I heard from Julia that she had met with the Breville people and reminded them of their promise to me. Shortly after the oven arrived and then, I must confess, sat reproachfully on my dining room table for months while I waited for my schedule to clear to approach this promising new appliance. Finally I bit the bullet and gave it my standard acid test: I piped a spiral of cream puff pastry on parchment set on the 15-inch pan that comes with the oven, placed the rack at the bottom position as recommended in the booklet, and set the oven on bake, convection, but using 425˚F/220˚F for the first 10 minutes of baking instead of lowering the temperature the usual 25 degrees for convection baking. Then I lowered the temperature to the usual 350˚F/175˚C and continued to bake for the usual 15 minutes.
As you can see from the photo, the proof is in the puff--it was perfectly, effortless, evenly golden brown. Next I piped little 1-1/2 inch cream puffs. They blossomed from 3/4 inch high to 1-1/2 inches and again were perfectly evenly golden-brown.
This is a beautifully designed little oven that does just about everything except microwave. I moved it into permanent position in my apartment. How many ovens do I have? Four are in NY and 2-1/2 in Hope, NJ. (The half is the GE toaster oven I've had for 44 years and still performs perfectly for toast, baked potato, and other small items, taking up minimal space on the counter.)
As a cookbook author, it is important to test recipes in different types of ovens as the oven is the common denominator of success or failure in baking. Here is my recipe for cream puff pastry which can be filled with whipped cream, or ice cream (profiteroles) or a savory filling.
Cream Puff Pastry (Pâte à Choux) Makes: about 24 Cream Puffs
Preheat oven to 425°F/220°C
Bake 25 to 30 minutes
Make the Cream Puff Pastry
Sift the flour onto a piece of parchment.
In a medium saucepan, combine the water, butter, sugar, and salt and bring it to a full rolling boil. Immediately remove the saucepan from the heat and add the flour all at once. Stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture forms a ball, leaves the sides of the pan, and clings slightly to the spoon. Return the pan to low heat and cook, stirring and mashing continuously, for about 3 minutes to cook the flour.
Food Processor Method Without scraping the pan, transfer the mixture to the bowl of a good processor. With the feed tube open to allow steam to escape, process for 15 seconds. With the motor running pour in the eggs all at once and continue processing for 30 seconds.
Hand Method Without scraping the pan, empty the mixture into a bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating vigorously with a wood spoon after each addition.
For Both Methods The mixture will be smooth and shiny and it should be too soft to hold peaks when lifted with a spoon. If it is too stiff, add a little extra water. (The dough can be stored in an airtight container and refrigerated overnight up to 2 days.) Beat the mixture lightly with a wooden spoon before piping.
Shape the Puffs Dab a small dot of the dough in each corner of the cookie sheet under the parchment and press it lightly to make it adhere. Scrape the cream puff mixture into the pastry bag. Pipe puffs about 1-1/2 inch in diameter and 1/2 to 3/4 inch high, about 1 inch apart. (Alternatively use a teaspoon, lightly coated with nonstick cooking spray to scoop out the dough. With a fingertip push the dough off the spoon and onto the cookie sheet.) Dip a fingertip into water and smooth the top.
Bake the Puffs Spritz or brush the puffs lightly with water. Bake for 10 minutes. To prevent the puffs from collapsing do not open the oven door. Lower the heat to 350˚F/175˚C and continue baking for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Turn off the oven. Remove the puffs to a rack and return them to the oven.
Use a wooden spoon covered with foil to prop open the oven door and allow the puffs to dry for 10 minutes. Close the oven door and leave the puffs in the oven for 1-1/2 hours to dry out completely (or continue baking at 200˚F/90˚C for 45 minutes). Test a puff by cutting it in half horizontally. The dough inside should not be soft to the touch. If it is still soft, allow the to dry for a little longer. Allow the puffs to cool completely on the rack and then store them in a plastic bag or airtight container until ready to fill.
Store: Room temperature, 1 day; refrigerated, 1 week; frozen, 6 months.