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When you are baking a cake, the placement maters. One sure way to improve the taste and texture of your cake is to put it on the correct rack in the oven.
The middle rack is the ideal rack within the oven when baking a thin cake, (such as a 1 – 2 inch cake) because the cake will burn if it is too close to the bottom. When baking a thicker cake (4 inches or more), it is best to use the lowest rack of the oven because it will more evenly bake the cake.
Though placement in the oven is very important, the type of oven you are baking with will affect the way in which your cake will bake as well.
Does Oven Type Affect Which Rack to Use?
There have been many types of ovens made throughout history, but the most common ovens we use in the 21st century are conventional-ovens, convection-ovens, microwave-ovens, and toaster-ovens. When baking a cake, however, you are more likely to use a conventional oven or a convection oven.
These ovens provide the space you need for baking something big, like a cake. The two ovens are quite unique, however, in the way they heat and bake contrasting things.
Conventional ovens are heated and maintain heat through the use of a fan. When you use an oven, the temperature does not remain the same while it is cooking. The oven temperatures fluctuate between degrees just around the preheat setting, so the average heat of the oven is the preset temperature. Because of this, the heat is not distributed evenly throughout the oven. Since heat rises, the highest part of the oven will be the hottest when cooking something in it.
The top rack of the oven is not a great place to put a cake in a conventional oven because it will experience extreme temperatures the entire time it is baking. If it is put on the top rack of the oven, the cake will cook unevenly and burn quickly.
The bottom rack of the oven is a better place to bake a cake in a conventional oven. The bottom rack will cook everything more evenly, but if the cake is not very thick, it will become brown on the bottom before the middle of the cake can cook, making the cake crunchy opposed to soft and fluffy.
Though the bottom rack is a better option, the middle rack is the optimal place for a cake to bake in a conventional oven. Since the heat is able to circle around the cake, it will be able to cook evenly and at the time described in a recipe.
You will begin to notice that the cake will be slightly brown on the bottom because the outsides of the cake bake first, but do not worry. The cake is not burning. Much like how a loaf of bread has crust, a cake has a slightly more tan outside.
Convection ovens are designed to avoid the problem presented in conventional ovens of heat not being distributed evenly. While a conventional oven may have heat pockets, a convection oven brings heat in from all sides, allowing what you are cooking to be heated evenly. Placement in convectional ovens does not affect the cooking of your food as much as it does in a conventional oven.
Though the placement does not affect the end result as much as it would in a conventional oven, it is still best to bake the cake in the middle. Doing this allows the cake to receive direct heat from all around it at the same time.
Which Rack for Different Types of Cakes?
Cakes come in multiple shapes and sizes, and the size of the cake does affect where it should be placed in the oven.
Thin cakes refer to a cake ranging from 1″ to 3″. When these cakes are not exposed to more even amounts of heat, it is easy for them to burn or become brown on the bottom. To avoid a burnt taste of a thin cake, place the cake on the middle rack. Doing this will make the cake soft and fluffy.
Thick cakes refer to cakes that are 4″ or more. A great example of a cake of this height is an average bunt cake.
It is best to put the cake in the bottom third of the oven. This allows for the cake to cook evenly.
The cake will not burn on the bottom because it is thicker. The cake will also not be too soupy when you remove it from the oven because the heat will be able to cook the cake evenly.
Rack positioning changes depending on what you are cooking. The racks should be separated enough to have room to place what you are heating in the oven. The lowest rack should not be too close to the bottom of the oven, so having the racks divide the oven into thirds is a great way to make sure the racks are spaced enough, yet not too close to the top and bottom of the oven.
Remember to move the racks before you preheat the oven. The racks retain heat rather quickly because they are metal, so grabbing them after you have preheated the oven, even with oven mitts on, can burn you.
Can you Move Between Racks During the Bake Time?
There is no rule that says it is bad to move what you are baking from one rack to another. In fact, it may be beneficial to move what you are baking to another rack. With a cake, if you are noticing that it is cooking unevenly on the middle rack, you can always change which rack it is on, or even turn the pan around.
I have noticed when I bake desserts in my oven, they do not necessarily cook evenly from the front to back. I began turning the pan around in the oven at the half way point to make sure one part would not cook more than the other.
Applying these tips will greatly help you in your baking adventures.