I’ve been lurking on Rose’s blog and here at the forums, and have recently run into a problem that I’m sure our combined brain-power/cooking prowess can solve.
We’ve just moved into an older apartment with a gas oven, which is pretty depressing for me. I have never had any problems with pie and tart crusts until now. Of course, when I was a pastry chef, I had electric ovens, and every other apartment we’ve lived in had electric too. In this old gas oven, the bottom crusts simply refuse to get crisp and golden brown - the sides and tops of my pies and tarts are as gorgeous as ever, but the bottoms are only pale golden, limp and floury-tasting.
The first casualty was an apple pie which was perfect in every way except for the soggy bottom. This was baked just on the rack, in the middle-upper position.
Then yesterday, I tried baking a sour cherry clafouti tart atop a upturned cast iron skillet. The oven (with skillet) had been preheated at 220C for a full hour, my theory being that the ripping hot cast iron would help to crisp the bottom. But alas, that didn’t work too.
Does anyone have experience with gas ovens, or ideas on how to fix this? I’d love to be able to turn out some pies and tarts, especially as winter begins to set in here in Melbourne. I would be most grateful for any insight anyone can cast on this problem.
I bake pies in a gas oven and haven’t had any problems with soggy crusts. I set the rack to the lowest level and place a pizza stone on it and preheat it. I bake the pie directly on the stone—you can also try baking directly on the floor of the oven. It sounds like you have your pie placed too high in the oven—there is a lot more information about this in the pie and pastry bible if you have it or can get it. I guess another thing to check, since this oven is “new” to you, is that it is actually reaching the correct temperature. The thermostat on any oven, and especially older ones, can be very inaccurate.
The upturned cast iron skillet is a good idea—I wonder why it didn’t work?
I second Matthew’s suggestion to use a pizza stone. I have a gas oven, and I use one every time I bake a pie. Actually, I use a pizza stone anytime I bake, period. It keeps the oven temperature from fluctuating too wildly. One year, my oven quit working while I was right in the middle of preparing my entries for the Los Angeles County Fair. I converted my gas grill into an oven, setting a pizza stone on one side of it. I actually won ribbons for my “grilled” cinnamon buns and scones (although I omitted the suggestion of grilling them when I submitted the recipe.) I also “grilled” my daughter’s chocolate birthday cake when the oven quit again. So, I am a big believer in pizza stones.
Here’s how I do pies. I first put the pie on a foil-lined baking sheet (to catch drips), and then set the sheet onto the pizza stone, which has been preheating for at least 20 minutes, preferably 30. My pizza stone is on the lowest rack in my new oven.
The other thing I often do is bake a pie directly from the freezer. I find that freezing the pie first firms the crust and decreases the chance that the fluted edge will melt away into an indistinct mass. I once baked a pie after it had been in the freezer 18 months, and it was every bit as good as a pie that had been frozen only overnight.
When I bake a frozen pie, I preheat the oven to 330 degrees (that’s right, three hundred thirty—I don’t know what the celsius conversion is), set the pie on the pizza stone, and bake for 2 hours.
I used to have a gas oven, although now I have an electric convection one. Either way, I also bake my pies on the very lowest rack with a preheated pizza stone underneath. No soggy bottom crusts—in fact my sweetie calls me the “Pie Queen!”
The suggestion of checking your oven temperature is also a good one. My new oven was pretty accurate to start, but somewhere over the 4 years I’ve owned it, it has drifted off and is now running low by about 10-15 degrees. Now that I can correct for that, things come out much better. The old gas oven wasn’t too bad—but the cheap electric oven we had “in between” the two was awful, it could be off by anywhere from 25-50 degrees and it didn’t seem to be able to keep a consistent temperature either.
Thank you for your speedy replies! I knew you guys would have answers!
I’ll try having the cast iron skillet on the bottom shelf/oven bottom the next time. I hadn’t tried this as I was working on the premise that heat rises, and higher rack = higher heat being transferred to my pie. I did choux puffs in this oven some time ago and there was a *marked* difference between puffs which I tried on the middle shelf and those on the top - the ones which has been in the middle required extra time on the top shelf to really puff and dry out.
The pizza stone is probably a good idea, but I haven’t got one and really, am sort of loth to go get one when I’ve got a perfectly good cast iron skillet. I figure that it does about the same as the pizza stone, given that they’re both dense, and good conductors and radiators of heat.
I definitely want to get an oven thermometer, specifically the Taylor that Cook’s Illustrated recommends. Just have to find an online retailer who ships internationally and doesn’t charge an exorbitant amount for it…
Matthew, I’d totally forgotten about checking what the Pie and Pastry Bible has to say about this, thank you for reminding me!
Christine, that idea about the grill is excellent…except that I haven’t a grill. Oh well. =) I’m glad to know that your cinnamon buns turned out well, though!
Barbara (or should I say Pie Queen?), thank you for sharing your insight! It’s excellent to know that other people are having success with gas ovens.
You’re right about the top of the oven being hotter than the middle…but the bottom is also usually hotter because it is closer to the heat source. The top of the oven is a great place for things that need to bake quickly like choux puffs, and for things that need to brown more on the top. The bottom area is great if you need to provide lots of heat to the bottom of the item—like a pie! Middle is good for the most even baking.
Barbara, you’re right! It’s occurred to me that I actually know this - we had a gas oven many years ago when I was a teenager learning to cook, and I learnt to take advantage of the finer nuances of gas ovens. I suppose I’ve just been spoilt by a long line of electric ovens.
I may try the sour cherry clafoutis tart again this weekend, methinks…
Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a “standard oven” we could all compare against?
This doesn’t help Paradox but I have been using this technique with my electric convection oven.
The convection fan is in the middle of the back of the oven so I bake my pies with the rack just above the fan. The hot circulating air blows directly across the bottom of the pie eliminating the need for a stone etc.
Gene, would that it were. I’ll save that little tidbit of information for when we have a convection oven.
I’ve also thought of something - I have an Italian countertop pizza oven with a stone base. Tonight when I get home, I’m going to see if a small tart or pie pan will fit in there. I bet that would do the job…
Hi Gene, it certainly is, thank you for posting that!
I mentioned a little further up in the thread that I was keen to get the Taylor that they recommend, but I have to find a place that will ship overseas, and not charge something exorbitant for it! While I’m on a thermometer shopping kick, I’m also going to get myself a Thermapen and a remote probe thermometer (broke my last one last week).
Did you see the Cook’s tip some months back for checking your oven temperature with with a Pyrex jug filled with water? I thought that was quite smart.
Hi Gene, the tip I’m talking about was to put a precisely measured amount of water into a Pyrex jug, then measure its temperature after a certain amount of time to determine if your oven is running correctly. I would post a link, unfortunately, it’s a video and only available to Cook’s members.
If you have a membership to their website, search for “Oven Temperature”, its the first result.