Cooking

Why So Many Recipes Call for a 350-Degree Oven

It's not just a random number Betty Crocker came up with
Why Do We Bake at 350 Degrees?
Photo: Rebecca Siegel via Flickr

If there are any cardinal rules of the universe we've come to accept as fact, it's that there's no limit to what you can pumpkin spice, bringing up politics at the dinner table is always a bad idea and the cookie recipe you're making is probably going to call for a 350-degree oven.

That last rule isn't just some random number divined by Julia Child: There's actual science behind why everything from banana bread to mac and cheese calls for this magic temperature. 

Ask any Good Eats nerd fan, and they'll tell you about the Maillard reaction, the phenomenon responsible for browning protein and sugars. This creates a new set of complex flavors (or, what Alton Brown lovingly refers to as "golden, brown and delicious") and, according to Mental Floss, occurs between 300 and 350 degrees. Bake your foods at lower temperatures, and you'll end up with bland, pale cookies and crustless loaves of bread.

Early baking lore also suggests that before the age of exact temperature knobs, most recipes called for baking in a "moderate oven." Take a look at your oven's temperature range, and you'll find that 350 falls pretty close to dead center.

Of course, that doesn't mean everything should be baked at 350 degrees. Certain foods like piecrust and puff pastry benefit from higher temperatures, so they can become extra flaky, and roast chicken would overcook before its skin becomes crispy and golden. But for those times when you accidentally throw away the directions on a boxed cake mix, 350 degrees is always a good, well, golden rule.

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