From Scratch: Low Oven Magic

April 26, 2012

Cocoa Pear Crisps
Photo by Sarah Shatz

With April showers giving way to May flowers, who wants to spend a sunny afternoon cooped up in the kitchen? Low temperatures in the form of ambient oven heat can work magic in an unsupervised space, leaving you free to tackle other spring adventures.

The dry heat of a slow oven (around 200 degrees F) gradually evaporates a food’s water content, which serves two distinct culinary purposes: changing texture and concentrating flavor. Dried foods also have a longer shelf life, as moisture in food is often what sends it into the realm of spoilage. Be sure to carefully seal the following slow-baked goods to keep moisture at bay.

Changing Texture
Low oven temperatures can be used to morph the texture of fresh fruits and vegetables from soft and juicy to crisp or chewy.

Chewy
These dehydrated treats have been relieved of most of their moisture content, but enough remains to yield a chewy, flexible product.

  • Oven-dried strawberries or pineapple slices make excellent alternatives to candy for lunchboxes and informal dinners alike.
  • Add homemade dried fruit to your morning cereal, granola, or trail mixes.
  • Wrap squares of fruit leather in parchment paper for your own vitamin-packed take on Fruit Roll-Ups.

Crisp
Extra time in a low oven dries these preparations even further, creating a snappy crunch.

  • Fruit chips are prepared similarly to the semi-dehydrated fruit discussed above, but they are cooked until fully dried and crisp. Apples, pears, and bananas work especially well.
  • Meringues -- smoothed into disks or piped into mounded circles on parchment-lined baking sheets, these airy confections need plenty of drying time to develop their characteristic melt-in-your-mouth appeal.

Concentrating Flavor
As the moisture content is reduced, natural sugars and inherent or introduced flavors are condensed and heightened. Here are two of our favorite examples, which can be applied to other produce and nuts, respectively.

Slow-Roasted Tomatoes 

  • Choose tomatoes for this purpose that have a higher flesh-to-seed ratio -- Romas are perfect.
  • Tomatoes should be sliced (grape and cherry tomatoes can be halved) to allow for maximum air circulation. Arranging the tomato slices on a finely grated roasting rack will also help in this regard.
  • Cook the tomatoes until shriveled and pliable, and use in any recipe calling for sun-dried tomatoes.

Crispy Spice-Brined Pecans

  • This recipe calls for an extended brining period, which not only aids digestion, but also allows the nuts to soak up the flavors of cinnamon, orange peel, and mace until completely saturated.
  • Gentle oven heat evaporates the brining water but leaves the seasoning, resulting in impossibly crisp, warmly spiced pecans with a longer shelf life (or so we've heard -- they disappear quickly).

meringue
A baked meringue disk (photo by Sarah Shatz)

Recipes

Chocolate Swirl Meringue Cookies
Cocoa Pear Crisps [FOOD52]
(pictured at top)
Pistachio Meringue Stack with Rose Cream and Stawberries [FOOD52]
Crispy Spice-Brined Pecans [FOOD52]
Slow Roasted Tomato Pesto [FOOD52]
Slow Roasted Tomato and Mozzarella Galettes [FOOD52]

What sort of low-temp baking do you do? Have you ever used your oven as a dehydrator? Share your cooking tips and techniques in the comments section below.

Like this post? See last week's From Scratch topic: Homemade Nut Milks.

1 Comments Add a Comment
  • 003

    susan g says: I read (somewhere) about a low cost food dehydrator. On a sunny day, put trays of food to be dried in a car. In a day (or more) the heat of the "greenhouse effect" will dehydrate your food.

    about 1 year ago Reply to this »

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