Are you getting the best from your oven? Whether your ambitions centre around perfect pastry or succulent roast dinners, modern appliances have functions and settings to help you get the best and most reliable results. Here's a guide to some of the most common options.
Heat from above and below
A square with lines at the top and bottom means that both heating elements will operate. This is the most conventional of setting and perfect for roasting meats or baking cakes.
Lower heating element only
The square representing the oven has only had one line, at the bottom. This means that only the lower element will heat up. This is the setting to use when you want a pizza to have a nice crispy base, it's also a good choice for slow roasting a stew or casserole.
If the fan symbol is surrounded by a circle it means the fan has its own heating element. Alternatively, you may see a fan symbol without the circle and with a line beneath or above it. This indicates that the fan spreads heat from the bottom or top element.
Using a fan means that the heat is spread more evenly around the oven, so this is a good option when you're using more than one shelf for baking and want all your goods to cook at an even rate. A fan that spreads heat from the bottom element is used as an alternative to blind baking or can be used to keep the top of a dish moist while the bottom bakes.
A half grill is indicated by a single zig-zag line at the top of the square. This generally means that only one part of the grill, generally the centre will get hot, perfect if you just want to grill a couple of slices of bacon. Just make sure that what you're cooking is directly underneath the active part of the element.
Indicated by a double zig-zag line the full grill provides you with a larger cooking area. Apart from using your grill for bacon, sausages or toast, it's also useful to brown off the top of a lasagne, pizza, or any other dish that needs a bit of colour to make it look done.
Not every oven has this. If yours does the symbol is a snowflake with a drop of water beneath it. No heat is introduced but the fan switches on to circulate cold air away from your frozen food, speeding up the defrosting process.
Not every oven offers a self-clean function and since this is a relatively modern feature symbol vary. A series of black circles or diamonds of decreasing size from top to bottom of the square is commonly used to indicate self-cleaning. Alternatively, you may have a setting that shows a P which stands for pyrolytic (meaning heat) cleaning.
While eliminating the need to manually clean an oven sounds like a blessing, it's not an unmixed one. Heating an oven to 500°C puts a lot of strain on the elements and any experienced technician will tell you that using the self-clean feature is a common precursor to calls for oven repairs. That's not to say that you should avoid it totally, but do check your appliance handbook, follow the instructions carefully, and don't be tempted to use the self-clean feature just before a big party when you really need your oven to be operating properly.