Why Recipes Always Tell You to Preheat the Oven to 350°

Ever wondered what makes "350" the magic number for cookies, cakes and casseroles? We tracked down the answer.

“Preheat oven to 350° F.” This is the first line of the majority of baking recipes in print. Be it for cookies, cakes or casseroles, the oven temperature rarely changes. Have you ever wondered why?

The Maillard Reaction

Chances are, if you have a passion for cooking, you’re familiar with the Maillard reaction—whether you know it by name or not! This is the chemical process that causes the proteins and sugars in your food to turn brown. Think of it as the difference between plain and toasted bread. Apart from colour, this reaction creates hundreds of flavour compounds, making many foods much tastier.

Browning cookies in ovenPixel-Shot / Shutterstock.com

Temperature’s Role in Baking

The Maillard reaction is known to happen at some point between 300° and 350°. Because ovens often fluctuate (or are incorrectly calibrated) a setting of 350° essentially ensures that the browning temperature is reached. Read: It’s a clever way to make sure that all of those glorious flavours are formed.

Anything Else?

Not everything bakes at 350°. Cornbread, pies and muffins often require higher temperatures, while granola and meringues don’t need such high heat.

While it isn’t a foolproof number, 350° is a moderate temperature that will cook your food without burning it (if baked for a reasonable amount of time!). Since it’s high enough for browning reactions to occur, your food will taste more complex and undoubtedly more delicious.

Grace Mannon is currently a stay-at-home mom with an M.S. in food science. She loves baking and cooking and writes about her endeavours on her blog, A Southern Grace.

Next, find out what you can tell about maple syrup from its colour.

Taste of Home
Originally Published on Taste of Home