In order to compare the effectiveness of the solar oven vs. electric oven for baking, I conducted a dinner roll experiment. If you’re considering a solar oven purchase, the results of this experiment may be of interest to you!
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! Go to the Sun Oven blog itself to learn how to bake bread in a solar oven.
Here are three of my favorite dinner roll recipes:
- Vintage 1950’s Dinner Roll Recipe from Melissa K Norris
- Amy Fewell from Fewell Homestead Mennonite Dinner Roll
- Sourdough Einkorn Dinner Roll from Victoria from A Modern Homestead
The two batches of basic rolls we prepared together and they did both their rise times together.
I expected some marked differences between the two batches, to be honest. However, apart from where they were baked, they were nearly identical.
Bake Time and Browning
Above is 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 commercial yeast for so long that I forgot how much bulk it creates in breads!)
Here are some observations:
- 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.)
- 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.
To Brown the Tops of Solar Oven Bread
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 read just say to baked the bread until it finally is brown on top and you’ll know it’s completely baked through.
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 roll 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!