15 years ago, when I moved to my current building, an elderly fridge and cooker came as part of the deal. Last year, as they were all getting a bit long in the tooth (about 30 years old), the management company “gifted” them to the tenants – by which I mean saddled us with the inevitable replacement and removal costs!
I never used the fridge, it was badly sited – the compressor was – unbelievably – up against the heating and hot-water pipes; and it was noisy. So it was turned off and used as a cupboard, especially as I had my own fridge-freezer, together with a lack of built-in cupboards.
The oven turned out good bread – or, rather, I did, and the oven managed not to ruin it! But there was a snag – I normally bake two loaves at a time, not least so that I can make the dough using a stand mixer, as it’s too painful doing it by hand now (also means too much time on my feet), and I had to rotate the loaves, front to back, after 20 minutes. Not a great hardship for most people, but I’m disabled, as regular readers will know, and eventually it became a job I really could do without.
Anyway, August was double DLA month (it’s paid every 4 weeks, and once a year it falls twice in one month), so this year I took the plunge and bough a new cooker. I wanted solid rings, for ease of cleaning and, yes, I knew all about their drawbacks compared to radiant rings or gas (no gas in the building anyway). Ease of cleaning matters – a lot. I also wanted a fan oven, and self-cleaning would also be good (it gets used almost solely for bread, but if I have a roast, I want to be sure nothing will drip on the bread afterwards, as cleaning it manually just isn’t possible).
I immediately ran up against the law, in that nobody is allowed to connect their own cooker any longer – an act of sheer lunacy. Anyone can connect an electric cooker – just three wires, if you can wire a plug, you can wire a cooker; it’s a breeze. Even gas cookers come with a self-sealing bayonet connector these days for pity’s sake.
I connected my first gas cooker at the age of 13 in 1957, when you had to do it the hard way – nobody got gassed, nobody got blown up. Over the years I must have connected half a dozen cookers (my ex was a bugger for moving – still is!), gas and electric. Unless you’re the sort of numpty that can’t change a tap washer, there’s no danger in connecting a gas cooker, and if you can’t connect an electric cooker then words fail me.
To add an extra layer of aggravation, all electrical appliances have to be recycled. So it wasn’t just the cooker I had to sort out, but a company that would connect it and take away the old one, for a sensible fee (one firm wanted 50 quid to connect it, and leave me with the old one!).
To cut a long story short, only Sainsbury’s met my requirements (almost – I wanted a single oven, but it soon became clear that, with my budget, that was never going to happen).
So I got my cooker, free delivery, £9.99 to take away the old one, and £19.99 to connect the new one – I had to disconnect the old one. I think those charges are wrong, by the way – they’d make more sense the other way round.
And that, as far as I could tell after spending two days on it, was the best package available (please don’t tell me Curry’s have a better deal – I know – they didn’t then; they were one of the worst!). All together it came in at just a tenner more than my “spare” DLA.
A word of warning – modern cookers are absurdly light! The first time I pulled on the bottom oven door I dragged the thing across the kitchen floor! Easily got used to bracing the cooker when opening the bottom oven, and as the catch breaks in, it’s less of a problem.
So, making bread. I knew about fan ovens’ reputation for turning out charcoal, and I was also warned, so I set up my baking stone 2 notches up from the bottom, preheated the oven to 200C (just a few minutes against almost half an hour for the old one – impressed), and bunged in a loaf, setting the timer for 37 minutes (the normal time). And 37 minutes later
The loaf looked good, golden rather than deeply browned. Turned out of the tin, it still looked OK (NB: tapping the bottom of a loaf just teaches you to treat hot bread with caution!). I inserted a long needle into the middle – it came out clean and very hot. All was well.
Except, it wasn’t. After 20 minutes on the wire rack, I noticed a puddle under the loaf – water** – god knows how – was dripping out of the bottom of the loaf. OK, fire up the oven and put it back in for another 15 minutes, upside down.
All was well, except that the loaf was somewhat over-baked! Wonderful light, crisp, crust though.
What went wrong? Didn’t take long to figure out – the loaf was too low in the oven, and – more importantly, the baking stone was blocking circulation – which matters rather a lot in a fan oven.
So, today, with two loaves to make, I raised the shelf a notch, and took the stone out. I also forgot to toss in half a mug of boiling water (about which more later), the steam from which helps crust formation – counter-intuitive I know, but steam gives a crisp crust (so much so that French baguette ovens are fitted with steam injectors). I have a small baking tray on the floor of the oven, into which I toss the water as the loaf goes in – reduces the mess you get just tossing water onto the bottom of the oven, and reduces the potential for rust.
I decided I would not turn the loaves at half-time, set the timer for 35 minutes this time and waited for the
Turned out the loaves – absolutely perfect, golden and crusty. There’s a downside though, Because I forgot the hot water, crust formation, while looking good, is actually poor, and softened quickly while cooling – not a mistake I’ll make again. What distracted me was the oven shelf which, when you pull it out, tips, a really shit and potentially dangerous design that used to be all too common; clearly it’s still around.
It’s not that big a deal – the crust softens when it’s bagged anyway – but I do like to eat some while it’s still crusty.
Once the loaves were cold, I cut one in half, and cut into an unexpectedly perfect crust (it had crisped up once cold), as was the bread within. A very light, open texture, and tastes great. I ate a third of a loaf at one sitting, as sausage sandwiches, plus simply slathering hunks of it with Clover because it was so damn good. It’s very close to being the best loaf I’ve made so far.
So, next time I’ll not forget the water, and I should get an even better crust, thought to be fair it would be difficult. This time I put them in the oven crosswise, one near the back, the other in front of it. Next time I’ll put them in lengthwise, and both closer to the front. They should then both cook evenly, especially if I revert to the original 37 minutes.
** That water. I can understand a loaf being underdone, with semi-raw dough in it. But here’s the kicker – there is no free water in bread dough, it’s locked up in the flour. No matter what you do with it, that’s where it stays. So what weird alchemy took place that freed the water from the dough and allowed it to run out? Buggered if I know!
Footnote: My new oven consumes 0.79wkWh of electricity, Not sure what a kWh is worth these days, but at a guess it costs about 20p to bake 2 loaves – can’t be bad. When I can raise the enthusiasm, I’ll check out my online bill, and see what a kWh costs me. (1kWh is equal to a 1kW electric fire run for 1 hour.)