As important as it is to properly mix your ingredients, it’s just as important to properly bake them. This means using the right temperature and the right length of time. Most baked goods, like cakes and cookies, are easy to bake; You just stick them right in the oven. Others are a little more difficult because they are delicate. They usually require a little more precision and care – and some even require a water bath. Read on to find out why. Also on this page is a list of temperatures commonly used in baking. The list of temperatures goes beyond oven temperatures.
Slow baking is a term that refers to baking desserts in the oven for a long amount of time at lower temperatures. Slow baking is used to make sure products are baked evenly throughout and to make sure they aren’t cracked or curdled. Several desserts require slow baking. The typical temperature range for slow baking is 300 – 325 degrees F.
Wet slow baking refers to products being baked in the oven in a water bath. A water bath is used to protect delicate ingredients, promote even baking, prevent the product from drying out, and to prevent curdling and cracking.
The most common desserts baked using the wet slow baking method are custards. Custards are egg heavy desserts that do not typically contain any flour. The egg proteins in the custards when set create the desired firm texture. Eggs are considered to be the delicate ingredient in custards. If they are cooked too quickly or at too high a temperature they can curdle and turn into scrambled eggs. If they are cooked without a water bath they could cook unevenly. Custard desserts include crème caramel, flan, crème brulee, pots de crème, and bread pudding.
Souffles are another common dessert that use the wet slow baking method. Souffles are made using a base that is lightened with whipped egg whites. When the product is heated the soufflé puffs up due to a couple of reasons. The air in the whites expand from being heated while the moisture in the base turns into steam. Souffles are very delicate and require the oven to be at the proper temperature to make sure the soufflé rises properly. If the oven is opened during the baking process the soufflé will collapse. This is because the cold air outside the oven causes the air and steam in the soufflé to contract. If the structure has not formed yet (structure forms from proper baking) then the weak structure will collapse when the air contracts. Souffles are so delicate that even after proper baking they will collapse in about 3 minutes after removed from the oven. Souffles that don’t collapse when taken out of the oven were most likely over baked. Not all soufflés use the wet slow method of baking and molten lava cakes (soufflés with a crisp outside and a creamy inside) are baked at very high temperatures.
Another dessert that is commonly baked in a water bath is cheesecake. Cheesecakes are usually baked in a water bath to prevent cracking and drying out of the cheesecake. To help prevent cracking make sure the cheesecake batter is lump free. To make the batter lump free mix the butter and cream cheese together until smooth and slowly add eggs to the batter while scraping the bowl constantly. Do not over mix your cheesecake batter. Over mixing will incorporate too much air which will result in holes and cracks in the finished product.
Dry slow baking typically refers to meringues. Meringues are baked in a very low temperature oven to remove as much water as possible from them. This makes the meringue crisp and solid. Meringues are usually piped into the desired shapes and baked at 200-225 degrees F for an hour or so. This method is fast but it browns the meringue slightly. You can also bake a meringue in an oven with just a pilot light (gas oven only of course) over night. This method takes a long time but the meringue stays white. Because of the high sugar content in meringue it is very susceptible to moisture (sugar attracts water in the air). Keep your meringue wrapped tight in plastic wrap and stored in an air tight container to prevent them from becoming mushy and soft.
All temperatures are in degrees F
32 – Water freezes
32 – 34 – Yeast is dormant
40 (and below) – Keeps food from spoiling (prevents food-borne illness)
50 – Yeast becomes active
60 – 70 – Room temperature best for icing cakes
75 – Icing temperature that makes icing cakes easiest
78 – 82 – Ideal fermentation temperature for yeasted doughs
80 – Butter is very soft / melts
86 – Tempered white chocolate
88 – Tempered milk chocolate
90 – Tempered dark chocolate / butter is completely liquid
98.6 – Human body temperature
100 – Temperature for staling bread in the oven
100 (and higher) – Shortening melts
110 (and higher) – Egg whites are heated in Swiss buttercream
115 – Max temperature to be used for melting milk and white chocolate
120 – Yeast fermentation slows, yeast starts to be killed
122 – Max temperature to be used for melting dark chocolate
140 (and higher) – Microbes killed (prevents food-borne illness), Yeast is killed
178-180 – Nappe, custards are set without curdling
200 – 225 – Baking/drying meringue
212 – Water boils
212 – 220 – Simple syrup is thick
235 – Simple syrup is like corn syrup in consistency
250 – Simple syrup used to make Italian Buttercream
275, 300, 325 – Slow baking temperatures, baking cookies
320 – Sugar+water mixtures has all water boiled out
335 (320 – 340) – Sugar caramelizes
350 – Most common used baking temperature for cookies and cakes, pate a choux (éclairs)
375-400 – Some cakes are baked at this temperature
400, 425, 450 – Bake puff pastry (apple turnovers) and start pate a choux (éclairs)
Remember that these temperatures are only a guide. Always refer to the recipe or the manufacturer’s directions especially when working with chocolate.
Some important things to take note:
Notice that butter melts below body temperature while shortening melts above body temperature. Butter has a nice creamy mouth feel that leaves a clean feeling in your mouth. Shortening has a creamy mouth feel but can leave a film feeling in your mouth.
Notice that puff pastry and pate a choux bake at very high temperatures. This is because these doughs need to leaven by steam and not by baking soda or baking powder. The hot temperatures make the steam very hot very quickly allowing the doughs to be leavened before the starches and egg proteins cook, setting up the structure.