Baking goodies, casseroles, breads and other foods can be a rewarding experience for the senses, with yummy smells drifting throughout the house, the sight of golden brown foods coming out of the oven and the taste of perfectly intermingled flavours. With all other factors being even, knowing how to place your oven shelves can be the difference between golden goodness and blackened food headed straight for the trash.
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Darker on top
If you notice your foods coming out too dark on top, you probably need to place your rack lower in the oven. Pies are especially sensitive, with top crusts and edges burning to a black crisp when they are placed on the top shelf. Try lowering the shelf one or two notches to direct more heat to the bottom of the dish and slow the cooking on top.
Darker on Bottom
If your cookies, casseroles and other foods come out with perfectly golden tops but bottoms that are burnt to a blackened mess, your oven shelf is way too low. Consider placing it higher and trying again. The bottoms of your foods cook more slowly and evenly when they are not so close to the heating element at the bottom of the oven.
In the Middle
Some foods such as pizzas are particularly sensitive to being positioned too close to the top or bottom of the oven. Pizza on the top rack will brown before the bottom crust is finished cooking, resulting in a soggy pie. Pizza on the bottom rack will burn on the bottom before the cheese has a chance to melt. In these instances, and in the case of roasts and other meats, position the shelf in the middle of the oven.
Several oven-rack placement tricks help to produce perfect results. A pie that has a burnt top crust on the middle rack but a burnt bottom crust on the bottom rack can be cooked on an air-bake baking tray on the bottom rack at a slightly lower temperature. The air-bake sheet will spread the radiant heat more evenly, while the lower temperature lengthens cooking time. Cookies that brown slightly too much on top can be placed on the middle shelf, with a metal pan placed above them on the top shelf, reducing how quickly they brown. If you need to cook large batches of food and cannot select the proper shelf, adding two layers of air-bake baking trays to the bottom shelf and putting foil over foods on the top shelf can help you cook foods more evenly on all shelves of your oven. You can also move foods between shelves partway through the cooking time.
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