When Santa stopped by last night, chances are he found a plate of milk and cookies waiting for him.
Some of those cookies may have been baked in an Easy-Bake Oven. Or perhaps they were made with the hands of a child who had this iconic Christmas toy on the wish list and was hoping to find it under the tree this morning.
It’s the 50th anniversary of the Easy-Bake Oven, the toy that has gotten millions of children interested in cooking, so we thought it would be fun to do something special to mark the occasion. We bought three of the ovens and gave them to pastry chefs at three of Portland’s best restaurants to see what they could create using the oven’s limited tools.
The original Easy-Bake came on the market in 1963 and looked like a real oven, complete with a pretend stovetop. It was turquoise, and sold for $15.95. Over the years the oven has evolved to suit the times. Cindy Brady would have felt right at home baking cookies for her five siblings in the avocado green Easy-Bake of the 1970s.
By the late 1970s and early 1980s, the oven had morphed into a bulky microwave with fake keypad and a defrost button.
If today’s version followed modern kitchen-design trends, it would be stainless steel with gas burners on the stovetop and might cook with convection. Instead, it looks like a toaster oven and, instead of cooking with the famous little lightbulb (Hasbro ditched that concept in 2011) it uses a small heating element similar to the kind found in a real oven. It costs $40.
Last year, after a teenager gathered more than 40,000 signatures in a Change.org petition on behalf of her little brother, who wanted one of the ovens but not in pink, Hasbro began making the ovens in gender-neutral black.
The company said the change was already in the works, and pointed out that the ovens have come in a variety of colors over the years, including green and red.
The “Ultimate” Easy-Bake Ovens we bought for our chefs were all purple, and came with one small, rectangular pan, a big purple spatula and a single package of chocolate chip cookie mix.
The chefs were given few boundaries, the better to unleash their creativity. They could use the provided mix, or not. They could include other ingredients besides baked items, but the main part of their dessert had to be baked with the toy oven.
They approached this challenge gleefully, and here are the results:
Kim Rodgers, executive chef, Hugo’s: ‘For Santa’
Rodgers will most definitely be on Santa’s nice list next year after he sees her Easy-Bake dessert, which is a take on the traditional Christmas Eve cookies-and-milk plate.
It’s just like something you would order off the menu at Hugo’s – a dish that teases your brain and its notions of texture and taste.
“There’s a glass of milk, or what looks like milk,” Rodgers said. “I made some sugar cookies and then steeped that into milk and made that into a pudding. But it’s still white, like milk is, so it looks like a glass of milk, but it’s actually pudding in there.”
Rodgers baked the sugar cookies in the Easy-Bake Oven. She was the only one to use the cookie mix in her dessert, carefully sifting out the chocolate chips before adding the mix to the sugar cookie dough.
She made some chocolate straws and candied sprinkles for the plate as well, then used the Easy-Bake as a makeshift dehydrator to create some curled milk skins.
“So essentially you would take the milk skin and kind of dip it into the pudding and then get some of the chocolate sprinkles,” she explained. “It’s like a chocolate chip cookie in milk, but kind of reversed. The milk skin would be the crunchy element, and the milk is actually the cookie.”
Rodgers didn’t want to forget the reindeer, so she made carrots out of carrot cakes baked in the oven. She made four carrot cakes, then layered them with a carrot jam, froze them and carved them into carrot shapes with a knife. For a final touch, she glazed the carrots and candied some celery leaves to use as carrot tops.
The final third of the plate features a gingerbread man made out of gingerbread-spiced chocolate ganache, lying on a bed of egg nog foam and surrounded by molasses cookie crumble – also baked in the oven.
Rodgers already had some practice using an Easy-Bake Oven: She owned one when she was little. But that experience didn’t really help much with this challenge since the oven is so different now.
Other than a little trial and error with the carrot cake batter, she said, the hardest part of using the oven was timing. Normal cookies take about 10 minutes to bake in an oven; hers took 40 minutes or more in the Easy-Bake. “I was also rotating it every five minutes because the oven cooked unevenly,” she said.
Another difficulty was not having an indicator to tell her when the oven was up to temperature. On her first attempt at a cookie, she put it in too early.
But overall, Rodgers said, the experience was “pretty straightforward.”
“A lot of the technique and components I’ve done before,” she said. “Some are new. I hadn’t done milk skins or candied leaves before, so that was fun. I got to play around and try new things in that respect that I can use later.”
Addie Davis, pastry chef, Five Fifty Five: ‘Buche de Noel’
Davis did not own an Easy-Bake Oven when she was a girl, but she coveted the toy.
“I always wanted one,” she said. “I’d go to my friend’s house and say, ‘Can we use the Easy-Bake Oven?’ ”
Her friend, who had tired of it, was unenthusiastic but always obliged.
For this challenge, Davis worked with the oven for three days. She began by baking chocolate chip cookies from the Easy-Bake mix, which the kitchen staff promptly gobbled down. They tasted, Davis said, like brown sugar oatmeal.
Like Hugo’s pastry chef Kim Rodgers, Davis found it difficult to work without temperature settings. “It’s just on and off, and it’s always 10:15,” she said, laughing, referring to the pretend digital clock on the oven.
“The things that were difficult about it were things that I was not anticipating,” Davis said. “The new style of the oven doesn’t allow for any expansion of anything you’re baking. There’s a slot on the side. So you can’t bake anything that rises, basically. You have this tiny little pan, maybe half an inch tall, and you can’t bake anything taller.”
She baked her gingerbread cake three times, scraping the top off each time, trying to figure out just the right amount of batter to fill the pan but not overflow it. The cake took about 15 minutes to bake.
Davis used the oven to make a traditional buche de Noel, or yule log. The log was made from gingerbread sponge cake filled with chocolate buttercream. She made the moss with cake batter put through a professional cream whipper. It came out of the cannister almost like foam, then went into the oven for baking. Usually moss is popped into the microwave for a few seconds; in the Easy-Bake, it took six minutes.
The “dirt” on the plate is a chocolate crumble made with cocoa powder and other dry ingredients and a little butter.
Davis added six meringue mushroooms and two candied black trumpet mushrooms to the plate, along with some macerated cranberries and a chervil garnish. She made the meringue mushrooms the traditional way because they need a controlled, low temperature to come out correctly.
The entire plate took Davis about two hours to make. It came out well enough that she’d feel comfortable serving it as a dessert at the restaurant.
Davis won’t be getting rid of her Easy-Bake Oven right away. The sous chef, apparently, wants to try making Easy-Bake scallops.
Brant Dadaleares, pastry chef, Fore Street: ‘Maple Creme Brulee Napoleon’
Dadaleares wanted to make souffles in his Easy-Bake oven, but it didn’t get hot enough. After trying a couple of desserts and failing, Dadaleares grabbed his laser thermometer and stuck it inside.
The temperature was around 275 degrees.
“That’s perfect for custard,” Dadaleares said. So the chef made six custards, topped them with some turbinado sugar and torched them. (It took 15 to 20 minutes for each custard to bake.) He chose the three best, and layered them with vanilla rice pudding, caramelized Rice Krispies, candied pecans, port-poached pears and cherries. He topped his Easy-Bake napoleon with sweetened whipped cream.
Dadaleares also made a persimmon pudding with the oven. It worked, he said, “but I liked the flavor combinations of this (the napoleon) a little bit more.”
Asked if using the oven was harder than he thought it would be, Dadaleares laughed and said “Yeah.”
He, too, had to rotate pans to get the oven to cook evenly, and worried about whether or not there would be enough room for things to rise.
“I made a mess of the inside of that thing,” he said.
He also did something none of the other chefs managed to do: “I burnt myself on it – not badly, but I did.”
Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: