I haven’t done a lot of baking in my solar oven since I mostly use it for dinners. Although we don’t eat a lot of baked goods anymore, I sort of lost my head and decided to make yeast rolls for Easter dinner. Yeah, actual yeast – I haven’t used that stuff in awhile! I did a batch in the solar oven and a batch in my electric oven to see what the resulting differences might be.
Basic Dinner Rolls – Not So Basic for Us
To make this a simple test, I decided to use a yeast roll recipe – I even used a white baking flour from Bob’s Red Mill to keep them light. I don’t bake with yeast much anymore since we made the switch to sourdough because it tends to cause some stomach upset. However, the ingredients were all of very high quality for what they were. Bob’s Red Mill makes the best commercial flours I’ve ever used and they’re free of all gunk – no bleach, no “enrichment” – they’re just ground up grains. In the case of their white baking flour, they remove the bran from the wheat in order to get a light flour. I also used sea salt with farm, fresh eggs; as well as raw, whole milk and grass-fed butter. If you’re going to make a yeasty, white flour dinner roll, you may as well do it with the best ingredients you can manage. To help you with that, have you tried Thrive Market?
One last word on these rolls – I don’t consider them bread. Neither would my family. Homemade bread for our family is naturally leavened, or at least pre-soaked, and is something we eat occasionally as toast or maybe as a grilled cheese sandwich. Sometimes I’ll buy a sprouted wheat flour bread for sandwiches and you’d think it was Christmas morning, my kids are so happy! Bread is not a food group (grains as a whole are a food group), and our family needed to cut way back on how much of it we were consuming. I make several sourdough products a week, like pancakes and tortillas, but bread is just not something we eat as “snack” food anymore. It was necessary for the health of our tummies and, after an adjustment period, we’re all pretty much used to it. I still have bread loving children (and a few who can take or leave it) but they’re accustomed now to consuming grains in a variety of ways and via various methods of preparation.
So, this recipe, for my family would not be called a bread. This is a treat; one we only have on special occasions where we celebrate with familiar comfort foods from our family’s history. Alright, back to the point of the solar oven vs. the electric oven.
Solar Oven vs. Electric Oven
Use your favorite recipe for dinner rolls if you want to recreate this experiment or simply try using your solar oven to bake anything! For a quick tutorial on baking bread in a solar oven, please click here. I prepared two batches of basic rolls and they did both their rise times together. The only difference between the two was that one was baked in a solar oven and one was baked in an electric oven. To be honest, there weren’t many differences.
Bake Time and Browning
Here’s a picture of two center (of the pan) rolls, one from each batch. The shape of the solar oven one is different only because I over-stuffed the pan – I really should have reduced the roll size by about 1/3 and left a bit more space between the rolls. (I haven’t baked with yeast for so long that I forgot how much bulk it creates in breads!) The main difference between these two is that the electric oven roll is slightly darker on top which doesn’t really show up in the photo (my camera and I were arguing today).
The electric oven baked the rolls at 375 for 16 minutes. The solar oven baked the rolls for about two hours since I completely forgot they were out there. I lost my solar oven thermometer awhile ago and have yet to replace it so I can’t tell you the exact temperature but it was probably somewhere between 250 and 300, where it normally is. One of the things I really like about solar oven baking is that you really can’t burn anything; if you forget a dish long enough, it will eventually desiccate and not be worth eating but even I’m not that forgetful. If I have a mental lapse for an hour, the solar oven is usually there to cover my error.
This same feature can mean that, in order to get a baked good browned on top, you’ll need to leave it in the solar oven longer. Those rolls were probably done baking in the solar oven after about an hour because I actually remembered to preheat the oven and it was a nice, sunny day. However, they wouldn’t necessarily have been brown on top by then. No worries because leaving them a bit longer didn’t dry them out at all. A lot of solar oven bread recipes I’ve seen just say to baked the bread in the solar oven until it finally is brown on top and you’ll know it’s all the way baked through. There’s so much moisture in a solar oven moving around and keeping this soft that I couldn’t tell a difference in texture between the solar oven rolls and the electric oven ones.
Here’s a picture of two center (of the pan) rolls, one from each batch. The solar oven roll is about an inch shorter than the electric oven roll. It was only the one in my solar oven pan that didn’t rise as well; all the others did just fine. I looked around the internet but couldn’t find an explanation as to why that might have happened – anyone know? The others, though, were comparable to their electric oven counterparts.
Here’s a shot of the different bottoms – the darker one belongs to the electric oven roll. See? Hard to burn stuff in a solar oven and that’s a big part of why I like it for baking. Never mind how many times I’ve burned a batch of this or that in my electric stove because I got involved in something else. Yes, you would think after nearly forty years on the planet, I would have learned to set a timer and then listen for the timer but…
Well, I can’t really answer that for you, but I tend to favor my solar oven a lot of the time. Here are some things to consider about baking with a solar oven:
Takes more time
Works best if you remember to pre-heat it
Smaller than an electric oven – and this really, really annoys me since I cook for seven people
Can’t use it on a cloudy day
Need a place to store it
Requires practice to learn to use – but you could say the same thing about my electric oven
Free of charge to run
Harder to burn food
Works as an oven, slow cooker, dehydrator and even a place to raise bread before you bake it
Easier on the earth
Portable – that’s a huge benefit, in my opinion
Can build your own with simple parts – that’s what I’m going to have to do to solve the problem of the solar ovens being too small for my family
What do you think? Do you like your solar or your electric oven better? Or your gas oven? Or propane? What a wonderful time of options we live in!
For a solar oven blueberry banana mini muffin recipe, please visit this link by Homestead Honey.
To get you started on your solar oven journey, you may need these fine products: