"What temperature do I bake at?"... one of the most common questions that we are asked, and it's the hardest question to answer. Baking temperatures depends on numerous variables, such as the ingredients, altitude, pan size and oven performance, etc. You get the idea... there just isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer. Instead, we must go through a list of questions to help determine the answer. Because the pan heats faster, we are trying to avoid the sides from baking faster than the rest of the cake creating a thicker, darker crust than may be desired. Remember, baking is science and we must experiment to achieve great results.
What temperature do I bake this?
OVEN TYPE: Are you using a standard electric oven, a gas or a convention oven? The oven type and the age of your oven play a large part in your temperature determination. At the Fat Daddio’s Test Kitchen, we have an industrial convection oven that bakes much faster than my electric oven at home. We have learned to adjust the time and temperature for recipes for both ovens. Here is an interesting article (Bake at 350) that explains more about how oven temperature really works.
PAN SIZE: The general rule of thumb when baking is “the bigger the pan the lower the temperature”. You bake a chocolate 9″ round cake for about 30-35 minutes at 350 F. But, if you were putting the same recipe in a 14″ pan you need to lower the temperature to 325 F for 50-55 minutes. Also, if you put that same recipe in a standard cupcake pan then your would bump the temperature up to 375 F and bake for 15-20 minutes (Learn more about converting a cake recipe to cupcakes). For larger pans, you may need to use a heating rod.
ALTITUDE: This may be one of the most complicated variables. The higher the altitude, the lower the air pressure, which greatly affects baking. Not only do you need to adjust the time and temperature, but also the sugar, liquid and flour. See High Altitude Baking.
INGREDIENTS: If you add any ingredients that add liquid to your recipe (such as an extra egg), the baking time may be affected as well.
What is the best solution then?
Honestly, the best solution is to follow your senses. Of course, follow all the guidelines listed above, but pay attention.
Make sure that you check the cake when you first start smelling it. Set the timer for a few minutes at a time to check it again and repeat as necessary. The most important thing is to keep track of all the things that you have done and WRITE IT DOWN for the next time. Remember baking is science... record your results!
See Baking Instructions for more information.