A man and young girl taking something out of an oven.

For most of the year, chances are good that the top of your range sees more action than your oven. But come holiday time, that ratio tends to change, particularly if you’re baking cookies or other sweets for an exchange or to give to friends and family.

More on Baking

The secret to getting great results? Well, it’s not that much of a secret, really—you need a good oven. At Consumer Reports, we put ranges through the ringer.

And our range ratings of nearly 150 models include more than a dozen that earn top marks for even baking. We've included ratings and reviews for a number of those models below.

If you’re happy with what you have, or you can’t splurge on a new range or wall oven now, these tips—gathered from professional bakers, industry experts, and CR’s in-house food team—will help you get the best results possible. CR members can also read ratings and reviews of four ranges with great ovens.


Go to Consumer Reports' 2018 Holiday Central for updates on deals, expert product reviews, insider tips on shopping, and much more.
 

Prepping Dough and Batter

It’s said that cooking is an art and baking is a science. And any good science experiment is both controlled and repeatable. Weigh your ingredients whenever possible. “But if you don’t have a scale, make sure to use dry measuring cups for dry ingredients and liquid measuring cups for wet ingredients,” says Ellen Klosz, who oversees CR’s food testing. “It really does make a difference.”

Klosz also advises other best practices, such as thoroughly dusting your work surface, dough, and rolling pin with flour when rolling out cookie dough, and making sure the dough is chilled before starting to work it. Additionally:

  • Use fresh ingredients, even if they’re things you typically think of as having an indefinite shelf life. This holds especially true for leaveners like baking soda and baking powder, which lose some of their potency after six months. The same goes for the flavor of dried spices.
  • If you measure dry ingredients rather than weigh them, use a spoon to dish ingredients like flour out of the bag and into your measuring cup—that’s how the pros do it. Scooping flour directly into a measuring cup can pack it in more densely, leading to a finished product that’s dry or crumbly.
  • Always grease or dust pans to prevent sticking. For white or yellow cakes, dust with white flour. But for chocolate cakes or pies, you can dust the pan with cocoa powder so that your dark-brown cake isn’t flecked with fine white specks.
  • Use floss (yes, floss) to slice delicate yeast dough, like what you’d use for cinnamon rolls. Don’t cut it with a knife, because that can pinch the dough and create irregularly shaped rolls. Instead, loop floss around your pointer fingers and, holding one hand on either side of the dough, pull the floss down to make a clean cut.

Getting the Most From Your Oven

There’s no substitute for a fantastic oven, the best of which can bake two racks of cake or cookies evenly without requiring additional time. “In ovens that don’t do as well in our baking tests, we’ll see big differences in browning when we bake sheets of cookies on two different racks,” says Tara Casaregola, who leads CR’s testing of ranges, cooktops, and wall ovens.

Must-follow rules include allowing the oven to preheat fully and never baking on the floor of the oven or buying and adding extra racks to try to squeeze in more sheets of cookies than your oven was built to handle, even if you’ve committed to making 100 lemon bars for a school bake sale.

  • Read the manual. Really. Don’t assume that your oven was built to bake simultaneously on three racks, even if three are included. Some recommend baking only a single sheet of cookies at once, and others advise baking cakes on multiple racks when possible, for the best results. Same goes for selecting rack positions. If your owner’s manual doesn’t make specific recommendations, bake on no more than two racks at once, with one rack in the lower third of the oven and the other in the upper third.
  • Consider bakeware carefully. Most baking recipes are developed with standard, reflective aluminum bakeware. If you use dark, nonstick bakeware, drop the oven temperature by 25° F.
  • Enlist extra bakeware when necessary. If you’re baking a pie and worried about the bottom crust coming out soggy, heat a cookie sheet or pizza stone on the rack where you’ll bake the pie, then place your pie pan directly on that surface. The hot sheet or stone will transfer heat immediately to the bottom of your pie pan, helping firm up the lower crust. Bonus: It’ll catch any filling that spills over before it lands on the floor of your oven.
  • Long live parchment paper. It’ll prevent cookies from sticking to bakeware, and if you’re making multiple batches, you can cut your parchment paper and place the rolled cookies directly onto it. If you find that the parchment blows around in the oven, tack down the corners to your cookie sheet with dots of extra dough.
  • Move items from front to back and rack to rack to ensure the most even results. Unless you know your oven delivers perfect results in every spot, it’s a good idea to rotate any baked goods halfway through the cooking process.

4 Top-Notch Ranges With Great Ovens

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Cooling, Frosting, and Storing

There’s nothing worse than pulling beautiful cakes or cookies from the oven only to ruin them when you try to transfer or frost them too quickly. Having multiple sets of bakeware on hand will get you through the holiday crunch without being tempted to remove items prematurely. Here's how to ensure a beautiful finished product post-baking:

  • Always allow cookies and cookie sheet to cool fully before transferring them. Moving cookies while they’re still warm can cause them to break, and placing dough for your next batch of cookies onto a warm cookie sheet can cause them to spread too thin and scorch.

  • For layer cakes, invert the baked cake onto a cooling rack as soon as it’s out of the oven. That will help press the center of the cake down, keeping each layer level.  

  • Frost cakes in stages. Rather than putting a big glob of frosting onto a cake, apply a thin coat—often called the crumb coat—just to seal in any loose crumbs. Once the first layer sets, apply a second, thicker frosting layer without worrying about loose cake crumbs mixing into the frosting.

  • Make use of your freezer by freezing cakes and finished cookies and defrosting them a few days before you need them. You can also make cookie dough in batches, roll it into a log wrapped in parchment paper, and thaw the dough just before you start to bake.