With oven real estate at a premium during the holiday baking season, using it efficiently conserves both time and energy. We tapped a few professionals for tips on how to make the most of your heated oven.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy tells bakers to start with a clean oven window so progress can be checked without opening the door and letting out the heat; to keep oven racks clear of foil to encourage air flow; to use high-conductivity glass or ceramic vessels so you can turn down the temperature 25 degrees; and to switch on the convection fan (assuming you’ve got a convection oven) to move hot air around the food being cooked, which lets you reduce the temperature and cooking times by 20 percent.

Stonewall Kitchen Cooking School’s Patricia Roche tells students to know where their ovens run hot. Lay out slices of bread on all oven racks and toast them for 20 minutes. The browner the slice, the hotter the spot, Roche says. This information lets you multi-task your oven, placing items requiring hotter temperatures for better browning (like crisps and cobblers) in the hot spots and keeping those you prefer pale (like cheesecakes) out of them.

Briana Warner, who traded in the commercial ovens at her recently closed Maine Pie Line for an electric home model, says a multitasking baker must be willing to fudge baking times and temperatures a bit. “Baking is a science, but not always a completely exact one,” she said.

If a cookie recipe calls for a 375 degree F oven, and a cake a 350 degree F oven, then a compromise of 360 would probably be OK.

“You do have to keep a closer eye on things to bake that way,” she said.

Some baked goods, popovers, for example, must be placed in a fully heated oven or they won’t, er, pop over. But there are exceptions that allow bakers to use that ramping-up heat, Warner said. A basic cookie crumb crust – made from crushed vanilla wafers (like the version Warner uses in her Maple Custard Pie, recipe below), ginger snaps or graham crackers and melted butter – can set up properly even in a preheating oven.

Home bakers should take advantage of the heat emanating from a cooling oven, as well, said baker Cari Jolin of Forage Market in Lewiston, who uses a wood-fired oven to bake between 80 and 240 bagels every day. Home cooks, Jolin said, can use a cooling oven to proof bread and culture dairy products into yogurt and crème fraîche. For either process, you must open the oven door to drop the temperature to 110 degrees so the yeast and bacteria integral to those processes, respectively, are not killed by the heat.

But if your kitchen is as cold as mine, that escaping heat is certainly not going to waste. It keeps the cook warm.


Don’t hold back – top this seriously decadent pie with mounds of whipped cream and grate a bit of fresh nutmeg over the cream.

1½ cups finely ground vanilla wafers

2 tablespoons sugar

5 tablespoons butter, melted

¼ cup brown sugar

5 egg yolks, lightly beaten

1½ cups heavy cream

½ cup maple syrup

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

½ teaspoon Calvados or other apple-based brandy (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

To make the crust, stir the crumbs and sugar with butter in a bowl until evenly moistened.

Press the mixture into the bottom and up the sides of 9-inch pie plate. Bake the crust 10 to 12 minutes until it is set and slightly golden brown. Cool on wire rack.

To make the filling, combine brown sugar and egg yolks in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Combine cream, maple syrup and nutmeg in a medium saucepan and place over medium high heat. When the cream is beginning to steam, but has not yet boiled, remove it from the heat and very slowly whisk it into the egg mixture.

Once the cream is fully incorporated into the eggs, pour the entire mixture back into the pan and place it over medium heat. Stir continuously (or the eggs may scramble) until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. If they did scramble despite your careful attention, pour the custard through a fine-meshed sieve to strain out the egg bits. Stir in brandy, if using.

Pour the filling into the cooled crust. Chill pie for at least 2 hours before serving.

CHRISTINE BURNS RUDALEVIGE is a food writer, recipe developer and tester, and cooking teacher in Brunswick. She writes about feeding her family Maine seafood at www.familyfish.net. Contact her at [email protected]