Most recipes that use the oven call for preheating it to a certain temperature, which can take a little while. If you, like me, are a rather absent-minded sort of cook, there will inevitably come the time when you finish prepping your dish and go to put in the oven, only to realise that you forgot to heat it ahead of time.
When that happens, is it OK to go ahead and stick your dish in the oven right away? Or do you need to take the extra time to let the oven heat beforehand?
As it turns, it depends: Some dishes need the oven to be fully preheated, while for others, it’s not nearly as critical. The answer depends on the properties of what you are baking. Some dishes need a full blast of heat right away in order to set properly, while others just need a long, slow infusion of heat.
For these dishes, you need to pre-heat the oven
If your dish has flour and/or eggs, there’s a strong chance that it needs a fully preheated oven. Quite simply, if it’s a dish with some sort of leavening agent, such as yeast, baking powder, baking soda, or eggs, then it will need a blast of heat right away in order to set properly. Otherwise, the dish will collapse, leaving you with a flat, dense texture.
Examples of dishes that need to go into a fully pre-heated oven include breads, cakes, quick breads, muffins, pies, soufflés, and meringues.
For these other dishes, you don’t need to stress preheating as much
If you have a dish that doesn’t need any lift, but instead needs low, slow heat, then preheating your oven isn’t as necessary a step. This includes a lot of dishes with wet ingredients that need to bake long enough so that it’s fully cooked, and the flavours have had enough time and heat to develop. For these types of dishes, you can stick them in the oven, turn the heat on, and come back later when it’s done. If you forget to turn the oven on before starting those, don’t worry, you’ll be just fine.
Examples of dishes that don’t need a preheated oven include casseroles, lasagnas, roasts, macaroni and cheese, and roasted nuts.
If you forgot to preheat the oven, you can speed it up
If you’re making a dish that requires a pre-heated oven, and you forgot to turn it on before you started, you can speed up the process. To do it, turn on your broiler for 3-5 minutes to heat the oven quickly. Then, once the oven has had a few minutes to heat up, turn the broiler off and set your oven to the desired temperature. This will cut down on the preheating time significantly, helping you get your dish in the oven sooner.