When we bought our house 17 years ago, we inherited a Whirlpool double wall oven... black glass front, very 1980s. We never had two ovens before so we thought it was great. Well, within a couple of years the upper oven failed. The repairman disconnected it and signed its Death Certificate and amputated its umbilical cord from its still breathing lower brother. It's been so long since we used two ovens at the same time that we couldn't even remember what it felt like.
Ok, fast forward to the last few months. We started getting error messages. Some were for overheating (I think), others were for Lord knows what, and still other warnings would beep furiously with the oven on, while it refused to let me shut it off. Things were getting scary. Visions of burning the house down were not pleasant. As each week went by, and with each pizza I baked, I got more and more paranoid about the situation!
Then I did some exploration to see what would be involved in replacing the ovens. I hated the whole idea since it was a premature and only partial dip into replacing our entire kitchen, which we desperately need to do (it needs a total rip out from the joists on up). Ok, so I'll see if I can fit a 27" oven into a cabinet designed for a 24" oven. It looked like I could, by a margin of 1 inch. Then I checked out the electric and discovered that some idiot--besides having installed an old glass fuse box inside one of the kitchen cabinets--had tapped the oven cables directly into the back of the fuse box sub panel for the kitchen. A real no-no, against Code and a fire hazard! In case there was a problem with the oven, I'd have to shut the entire kitchen subpanel down. Sigh. More reason to move forward urgently.
So, being the way I am (a pretty good DIYer with a "do it right" attitude), I figured this project just got bigger... I now had to install a brand new subpanel for the kitchen just so I could kill that old electric feed and connect the new wall ovens to a brand new 100 amp subpanel with breakers and not screw in fuses. I would never jeopardize my family's safety by tying it into the old electrical setup. No way.
This involved lots of planning (I've done all my own electric for over 40 years, but never installed a subpanel before), parts purchases, running very stiff, thick cable through a fairly complex cellar ceiling from one cellar into the other (our house used to be a two family... so we have two cellars)... and somehow fish the cable under the 6" of "crawl space" that was under our kitchen floor, and up and into the back of the cabinets.
Well, I did it all, over the course of a week. I got a friend to help lift the new wall ovens over a radiator and window stool which were against the right side of the cabinet--a very grueling and awkward install indeed. Thanks, Denny!
So, we got it up and running, tested the ovens by heating them up and burning off the factory oils (they sure do smoke a lot when you first turn them on) and was ready for the first real test... Pizza!
Ok, so the first fiasco was caused by me using a lower oven exclusively for years since I've been making my own pizzas. When I slid my metal pizza peel into the upper oven and pulled back, the rear of the pizza over-shot the back edge of my pizza stone and hung down and dripped toppings all over the back wall and bottom of our brand new, spanking clean, cobalt blue sparking oven interior! Che cazzo, I was mad at myself. Brand new oven with baked-on pizza toppings within the first hour! When I thought about how it happened, I realized that my arm was held a lot higher than I was used to and my shove-and-pull-back pizza peel technique was way off. Stupido, I thought to myself. (You can't believe how long it took for me the next morning to clean the mess and put the oven back into factory showroom condition.)
The second problem was my timing for the pizza was way off. My first try was a flat pizza cooked right on the stone... in the old oven it would take 3-5 minutes on 550 F. In this oven it took 18 minutes! Very frustrating.
So that was three pizzas ago (in our house, 1 week = one pizza since I make one every Saturday evening). The last two pizzas I did in my large round rimmed pan. Typical cooking time in the old oven was 15 minutes at 425 F. The first time I tried the pan pizza it wasn't baked until 35 minutes! The second time (last night) I thought,"Ok... preheat the oven longer so the pizza stone gets very hot." (I always bake pan pizzas sitting on a stone to help brown the bottom crust). The old oven would preheat within 35 minutes or so. I preheated the oven to 425 F for over an hour before putting the pizza in. I even used my new handy-dandy laser guided, instant read, digital thermometer to make sure the stone was hot enough. Yep... readings of 418 to 440 across the top of the stone said things were A-OK for pizza blast-off.
I expected the pizza to cook in my normal 15 minutes... but it took 25 minutes!
Sigh. This is frustrating. But I think I figured out what's going on. The old oven had an exposed lower heating element. This new fangled oven (both top and bottom) has hidden elements. The steel of the oven is masking and diffusing some of the heating elements effect on food. The other reason is the old oven required a 50 amp circuit breaker (lots of electrical juice going through the wires), while this one, being more efficient (it will save $$$) requires only a 40 amp breaker (less juice)... the end effect being that there is less electrical current converted to radiant heat in this oven. Less power means it's less efficient for baking.
So, I'm still learning how to use this oven. My next test will be to use the upper oven on convection mode (the lower one is a traditional radiant heat oven). Yet another test for pan pizza will be using one of my darker colored pans. I'm also going to read up on how to calibrate my ovens so I know that the temperature I set them to is as accurate as possible. The other ideas I've had is to try using my Emile Henry red ceramic pizza tray to bake on. If that doesn't work, I'll look for a dark colored pizza stone or have one made (slate? soapstone?) or buy a black steel plate I've seen some use for baking pizzas on.
Meanwhile, yesterday, Lisa baked two types of cookies for the very first time in the convection upper oven and (of course) her stuff came out beautiful. (sigh) She's in love with the oven! She's especially loving the fact that she could bake two half sheet pans of cookies at the same time in one oven without even having to turn them.
I'll give another report when I get things going a bit smoother for pizza baking... Gotta go. I'm a bit depressed so I'm getting out a cup of milk and one of Lisa's black and white cookies and a raisin oatmeal cookie... washing my cares away...
--Jerry Finzi, former Pizza Maestro
If you enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends and laugh behind my back.... I can take it. (sniff)
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