Every week, baking expert Alice Medrich will be going rogue on Food52 -- with shortcuts, hacks, and game-changing recipes.
Today: Oven rack position can make or break your cakes and cookies. When a recipe leaves you hanging, Alice's rules will save you.
So many finicky details make the difference in baking. The position of the rack in the oven is almost as important as the baking temperature! And pan rotation is important for even baking too. Too many recipes don’t even mention rack position or pan rotation. Go figure.
To bake cake(s) on one rack: Position the rack in the lower third (just below center) of the oven. If baking more than one pan on the rack, rotate the pans from the front to the back a little over halfway through the baking time. Exception: I bake a single thin sheet of cake for a jellyroll, in the center of the oven.
To bake a single sheet of cookies: Position the rack in the center of the oven. Rotate the sheet from front to back a little over halfway through the baking time.
To bake cakes or cookies on two racks: Position the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Rotate the pans from upper to lower and back to front a little over halfway through the baking time.
For electric ovens: I use the same rules, but when the electrical element is exposed in the oven, I consider the bottom of the oven to start on top of the coil rather than under it, and I position my racks accordingly: thus the center of the oven is midway from the top of the coil to the top of the oven and the lower third is one third of the distance from the top of the coil to the top of the oven, etc. Got it?
Alice's most recent book, Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts, doles out delicious dessert recipes that don't take hours of prep (a lot of them don't even require turning on the oven) -- everything from lattice-free linzer to one-bowl French chocolate torte.
Photos by James Ransom