Many new Airstreamers opt for the convection microwave instead of a traditional oven when they buy their Airstream. But although most people use the microwave a lot during travel, few use the convection oven. In fact, we're often asked, how does the convection microwave work, and what can we cook in it?
The convection microwave that came in our 2020 Globetrotter.
I asked these same questions when we bought our new Airstream last summer. I've had home ovens with a convection setting and never figured out how to use them. So truth be told, I only used our Airstream's convection microwave as a microwave.
That is, until a few months ago - when I tracked down the instruction manual and decided to figure it out for myself. I then tested the instructions by baking an American classic in our Airstream kitchen: Nestle toll house chocolate chip cookies.
What I learned is that using the convection oven is WAY easier than I thought. The instruction guide made it more complicated than it needed to be. Honestly, you have to do a tiny bit of math to modify the cooking time, then push a few buttons.
I've explained all this in the blog post and video below. I hope it inspires you to try your convection oven - and bake chocolate chip cookies on your next trip.
Microwave vs. convection cooking: what's the difference?
A microwave oven produces microwaves that are reflected within the metal interior of the oven and absorbed by the food you put inside. When the microwaves are absorbed, they cause water molecules inside the food to vibrate and produce heat, which cooks the food.
A convection oven uses a heating element to raise the temperature of the air inside the oven. A fan in the oven circulates the heated air up, over, and around the food, cooking it from all sides. That's one reason why a convection oven browns the outside of food and a microwave oven doesn't.
Convection technology has another characteristic: it cooks food approximately 25% faster than a conventional oven. That means you'll need to adjust all recipes to a shorter cooking time than they call for.
The convection microwave that came with your Airstream contains both of these technologies - so you have the best of both worlds.
Here's how to to use the convection oven to bake chocolate chip cookies.
1. Make the cookie dough before your trip.
Lugging a mixer and ingredients with you in the Airstream takes up space. It's easier to make the dough ahead of time and have it ready in the frig when you're ready to bake. I used the Nestle toll house cookie recipe for this example, shaping the dough into logs for easy storage and transport in your Airstream refrigerator or freezer. The dough log is a trick I learned from my mom and I do it at home all the time. Simply make a batch of dough, separate it into about four dough logs, wrap them in plastic wrap, and store them in the freezer. When you crave fresh baked cookies slice 6-8 off the log and bake them.
2. Take the round, metal tray that come with the convection microwave, on your trip.
This tray has a rubber backing, which keeps it securely on the turntable as it turns. It's also the right shape and size for the oven, and won't impede the turntable's movement. The turntable must be able to turn freely during cooking, or your cookies and other foods, won't bake correctly.
UPDATE: After originally posting this blog, we learned that the manufacturer (CONTOURE) provided this round metal tray along with each microwave for a limited time. So, your Airstream may or may not have come with this tray. If yours didn't, contact CONTOURE about how to get one.
This round metal tray came with our convection microwave.
3. When you're ready to bake on the road, take a dough log out of your Airstream frig or freezer and let it warm a bit.
For best baking results, you want the dough to be slightly cool - not warm - but not too cold.
PRE-HEAT the convection oven, just as you would pre-heat your oven at home. Here's how:
- Push the CONVECTION button to turn on the convection oven feature
- Push the button that corresponds with the oven temperature in your recipe. In the case of chocolate chip cookies, that's 375. You'll see the oven temperatures in smaller font, underneath the number keys. ("8" is the 375 degrees button.)
- Push the Start/+30 seconds button. The display will show the baking temperature (in my case, 375), along with a progress bar underneath. The progress bar grows to the right, indicating pre-heating. When pre-heating is complete, the oven will beep and the temperature will flash. This indicates you can open the door and put your cookies in, then set the timer for baking them. TIP: Let the oven pre-heat completely. If you don't, you won't be able to set the baking timer.
4. While the oven is preheating:
When pre-heating is complete, the oven beeps, and the temperature number flashes.
- Slice or pull off chunks of the dough log, and put them onto the round, metal tray. I use about a heaping teaspoon size. The tray is non-stick so you don't need shortening/baking spray. One less thing to take with you.
- Convert the baking time from your recipe into a convection cooking time. Remember, you need to cook food for about 25% less time in the convection oven. My cookie recipe called for 9 minutes of baking time. So I set the timer for 7 minutes.
- Open the door and put the cookies inside.
- Push the numbers that correspond to convection baking time. For my 7 minutes, I entered 7,0,0.
- Push the Start/+30 seconds button.
6. When the oven beeps, it's cookie time!
Our cookies turn out slightly brown on the edges and a bit gooey inside - just like we like them. We baked a second batch about 45 seconds longer for an even browner finish. Both tasted delicious.
TO BAKE SUBSEQUENT BATCHES: Follow steps 3 - 5 again. You'll notice that after having baked the first batch the oven stays quite warm – which reduces the amount of time the oven takes to "preheat."
This batch was lightly browned on the edges and soft on top. Yummy.
If the cookies are underbaked - This happened to me only once. I closed the door, repeated the pre-heat steps, and left them in for about another minute. They were perfect.
If the cookies are overbaked - This never happened to me (so far). My guess is there was too much time set on the timer. Redo your math, ensuring you baked them at 25% less cooking time than the conventional oven recipe. If they are still overbaked, reduce the number of minutes and try again.
Now that I realize how easy it is to bake in the Airstream, I plan to do more of it. Next up: roasted root vegetables with garlic and rosemary (I call that dish Root-a-bake-a). Rich and I are also eager to try the Air Fry setting. Onion rings on the road, anyone...?