For bake-a-holics there is no greater pleasure than the irresistible aromas wafting out of the oven. The heavenly scent of baking bread, the hint of vanilla flavour in the air or the butter-garlic-cheese trail that gives scrumptious clues to today’s menu — what will life be without baking?
However, like all good things, when the food has been enjoyed and digested, you know you’ll be left with a dirty, greasy oven that is crying out to be cleaned. Not the best ending to the day, is it? But a baker’s got to do what a baker’s got to do, and if you want your oven to behave itself and not infuse unwanted smells in your food, you have to keep it happy and spruced up. So let’s roll out those cleaning agents, don a pair of gloves and get started.
First thing first: cleaning an oven is not as difficult as it is made out to be. There are self-cleaning ovens as well, which, when left at a very high temperature clean themselves automatically. But in our part of the world, most ovens require some level of elbow grease. However, with just a few cleaning agents, which you would probably find in your kitchen cupboard, you will have a sparkling oven with very little effort.
Begin with removing all the racks and trays, and dusting away any crumbs or pieces of food that you find inside the oven. Soak the racks in warm soapy water and let them be for a few hours, preferably overnight. This way, it will be easier to scrub off the grease later with the help of a scrubbing pad or a fine steel wool.
Don’t put off cleaning your oven, it is not as difficult as it seems
Now for the magic ingredient: good old baking soda. Who would have thought that this innocuous little powder will have the strength to fight the most stubborn grease and grime? But it does. And guess what other ingredients partners soda in this war against dirt? Vinegar and lemon juice. Just take some baking soda — the amount can vary from half a cup to one cup depending on the size of your oven — and sprinkle it all over the oven floor. Then pour some vinegar or lemon juice in a spray bottle, and squirt it over the sprinkled baking soda.
Alternately, you can mix the two ingredients in a bowl into a paste and then coat the oven floor with it. If opting for this method, be careful to pour vinegar slowly on to the soda, or it may bubble over the container edges.
Ideally, you should let the oven sit overnight with the soda-vinegar / lemon juice paste. This will mean less elbow-grease for you, and the grime will come off smoothly. If time is a crucial factor, then check after an hour to see if the dirt can be scraped off with ease. Be sure to use a plastic or silicone scraper or spatula that does not hurt the oven floor or leave scratches on it. For exceptionally stubborn bits of dirt, douse them in soda-vinegar / lemon juice solution again and try removing them after another hour or so. You can even use ammonia as an alternative. Once the dirt is removed, carefully sweep it out of the oven using a brush and a pan.
Now that you are satisfied that all the dirt has been scraped out, take a damp cloth and wipe away any leftover bits and pieces, along with soda solution. Finally, do another wipe down to give a spick-and-span, shiny look to the oven. Replace the washed and dried racks and step back to admire the beauty.
The trick with oven cleaning is to do it regularly, especially if you use it a lot. The more frequently you clean it, the less effort it will take. More importantly, as a preventive measure, always keep a large tray or foil at the bottom rack to catch any juices that may spill from the baking utensil above. Try to wipe off the stains the same day so that they don’t solidify further.
Like all things mechanical, this piece of kitchen equipment demands regular maintenance to work properly. So remember, the next time your oven starts giving off weird smells, you know it’s time for an oven bath. Happy cleaning!
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, March 15th, 2015