Laura Zoeller

Look before you bake

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On Sunday afternoons, I generally try to relax with my family. That often includes watching some television or baking some desserts or breads to enjoy for the week. It means that my kids and I have spent some time together each week that is not schoolwork-, chore- or chauffeuring-related. It is usually just what we need to reset before another busy week begins.


This Sunday, it started off just as planned. Before church, I had mixed up the dough for molasses crinkle cookies and put it in the fridge to chill for a few hours. After dinner was well on the way, I called the kids to the kitchen to help roll the dough into cookies and drop it into a bowl of sugar before baking. While they gathered the pans and other tools, I preheated the oven.


A few minutes later, it all went wildly wrong. Suddenly, I could smell something horrible and smoke started pluming from the stove. For a moment, I couldn’t grasp what was happening. We hadn’t even put any cookies into the oven yet, so how could it be on fire?


I opened the oven door to peek. I could barely see through the dense smoke, but what I could see told me all I needed to know. Someone had put a large plastic container of muffins into the oven when they had done the dishes. I had failed to check before turning on the stove, and clearly, Ziploc storage containers are not oven safe.


A molten pool of red and clear plastic had formed under the heating element. More plastic dripped off the baking racks. The muffins were encased in plastic as though bronzed for future display. And smoke – a lot of smoke – poured into the kitchen.


We quickly opened the back door to draw it all out. I turned off the oven and pulled the racks out. I set them outside to cool, and then reached for a metal spatula. I began to scrape the gooey mess off the oven floor. It cooled quickly and came off the bottom with relative ease. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all.


The racks cooled even faster since they were outside, but they didn’t clean up so easily. The plastic encircled each bar on the rack, and when it cooled, the plastic regained its former strength. It would not come off. We actually had to light it back on fire to get it soft enough to scrape off.


After nearly an hour, during which time no cookies were baked and half of my fingers were burned, we got the last of the plastic removed. After another half hour or so, during which time the back door and the front door had to be opened to remove the smoke, the oven finally returned to normal.


We finally got to eat dinner and bake the cookies, but the relaxation factor was gone. But, a little thing like a fire won’t stop us from trying again next week.


It has, however, taught me to look inside the oven first.


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