In order to be successful in baking, one must study the oven and know all its peculiarities. If it is hotter on the side next the fire box, procure a piece of tin, bend it into the required shape, and wire into place as a protection. If it is too hot on the bottom, set the iron shelf on the bottom, or put a layer of sand an inch deep in the oven, or use some other means to raise the article a little from the bottom.
An article of food to be risen in the oven, such as muffins, biscuits, etc., should begin to bake on the bottom first, because if baked on the top before the bottom, a crust is formed which is apt to weigh down and make the food heavy, instead of light and fluffy, as it should be. To prevent too great heat on the top of the oven, sprinkle a little sand or some ashes over the top, or lay a piece of tin or sheet iron to fit on the iron shelf inside of the oven. When a range has been used for a time, it often ceases to be hot enough on the bottom and top. In that case, brush the ashes off from the top, and scrape them from the bottom with the iron which comes with every range for that purpose.
The following general rules will aid in learning to use ovens of different kinds of stoves and ranges:
In a hotel range, there is a fire between two ovens. In such ranges, the article to be cooked will do best on the bottom of the oven, provided the fire is right for baking, but if the ranges have been kept very hot for a long time in order to keep kettles boiling on the top, the ovens will become too hot, and a grate will be needed. In a brick oven, if well regulated by use of dampers, food will bake evenly in all parts of the oven, except very near the fire.
In an ordinary range in the home, the food will usually bake best on the bottom of the oven. In stoves which have ovens above the fire, as gas, gasoline, and kerosene stoves and ranges, the article to be cooked should be placed on the grate. The heat in such ovens is controlled by raising or lowering the flame, rather than by the use of dampers. When you can control the oven, see that the fire is such as to give right heat when you are ready to use it; but if you are compelled to use the oven when the stove is fixed for something else, set a pan of cold water in to cool it a little before putting anything in to bake. When the water is hot, take it out and put in the article to be baked. If cold water is put in after the article begins to bake, the heat is checked too suddenly, and the loaf is prevented rising as it should. If the hot water is left in the oven, the steam will prevent the crisp crust liked by many. The oven door should always be closed gently. It is evident that the jarring caused by carelessness in this regard may break the delicate cell walls which surround the air bubbles.. These cell walls are swollen by the heat before they become hardened and set, and the omelet, cake, etc., will fall if jarred much.
Expensive oven thermometers, such as are used on brick ovens and large bakers, have a long tube so that the mercury extends far into the oven. The dial on the outside thus registers the degree of heat at the center of the oven. The small, index thermometer used in the home range is inserted in the oven door (by drilling a hole through), and can extend but a short distance inward. Such a thermometer is some help, but must be carefully used, as it is intended to register a certain number of degrees, and when heated beyond that it is apt to be injured. It does not extend into the interior of the oven, and so is probably less accurate than the larger ones. Nevertheless, it is a benefit to the painstaking woman, as she can get a good idea of the heat of the oven without allowing it to escape by holding the door open.
For angel cake, sponge cake, pound cake, and kisses, have the oven so cool that it will require five minutes to turn a piece of white paper light yellow. For all butter cakes, have the oven so as to color the same kind of paper dark yellow in the same length of time.
For bread, have the oven hot enough so that there will be little specks of brown on the bread in ten minutes. For rolls, have the oven just a little hotter than for bread.
In baking bread and rolls, allow the heat to increase a little during the first twenty minutes. After that, let it decrease a little, but keep a good steady heat until the bread is done. The dough takes heat from the oven during the first half of the time; after that the dough is hot, and merely needs its heat kept up.
Baking powder biscuits, soda biscuits, and other articles of food which are made light by the gas liberated on heating an acid and an alkali in the presence of moisture, should have an oven as hot as possible without burning the article baked. Gems and such things as have no leavening agent, but depend on the expansion of the cold liquid and air beaten into the flour, should have an oven nearly as hot. When things have risen, the heat should decrease a little to bake them through.
References: Science & Art of Bread Making - Jago - pp. 362, 363.