Using Paper to Determine Oven Temperature When Baking Cakes

A hundred years ago most people had wood or coal stoves – and ovens didn’t have thermostats. Here’s advice in an old home economics textbook about how to determine whether the oven was at the correct temperature for successfully baking cakes:

Baking Sponge Cakes [Cakes without Fat]: A practical test for the temperature of the oven is the placing of a bit of flour or white paper in the oven. If at the end of 5 minutes the paper or flour is slightly browned, the oven is of proper temperature for sponge cakes or cakes without fat.

Baking Layer and Loaf Cakes: If a bit of flour or white paper is delicately browned after being placed for 2 minutes in the oven, the oven is of proper temperature for layer cakes containing fat. For a loaf cake the oven should be cooler, since a longer time for baking is required. It is especially important that a crust does not form over the top of a cake before the cake has risen, or before it has been in the oven one-fourth of the time required.

A Textbook of Cooking (1915) by Carlotta Greer

33 thoughts on “Using Paper to Determine Oven Temperature When Baking Cakes

  1. It’s amazing what we so easily take for granted. There are reasons to appreciate the values of “the old days,” but I certainly appreciate the technologies of today.

  2. Did you fire up the old stove and give it a try?!😁 I’m tempted… we have an old stove in the wood shed that we want to get up and working for butchering days so we can handle the big kettles better. It has an oven….πŸ€”

    1. I thought so, too! I was thinking that it would be 1 thing to test the temperature, but you really have no way of controlling the temperature throughout the baking process. I’m sure that as you baked/cooked 3 times a day, 365 days a year, you would probably develop all sorts of tricks and strategies…

      1. Cooks probably just developed an intuitive sense of whether the temperature was too hot, too cold, or just right. (This is starting to sound like the Goldilocks and the Three Bears.)

      1. Taking pictures of food is the hardest part of a food blogging. Learning how to stage a shot takes some real practice. I pick up cookbooks at thrift stores with large glossy pictures for ideas. I also look for dishes that are unusual shaped at thrift stores. It also helps to get someone to look at the pictures and pick one they like.

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