Baking in an Aga is straightforward if you can remember (or refer) back to the core principles of Aga cooking; our guidelines specific to baking are below. The guiding principle is to keep in mind is Richard Maggs’ quote about ‘finding the heat’.
Without wishing to state the obvious (Mary Berry and Lucy Young, you can look away for a moment), finding the most efficient position in which to bake your cake (depending on its composition) is crucial. So much so in fact we thought it useful to put together a diagram quickly showing the best cooking zones for each item. This is based on a 3-oven cooker but the same is true of a 2-oven Aga; these models don’t have a dedicated baking oven but you can create the perfect heat environment (a pseudo baking oven, if you will) by using the cold shelf.
A general rule of thumb is that more dense items which need longer, slower cooking (for example a fruitcake or baked cheesecake) are created in the simmering oven which cooks on a much lower heat; both of these work well placed on the grid shelf. The roasting oven is useful for smaller, dense items like scones which can be cooked in the hottest part of the Aga ie towards the top of the roasting oven.
If you have one, the baking oven really comes into its own if you are cooking larger sponge cakes or fairy/cupcakes which need a consistent moderate heat in order to rise. This oven is useful for fruit crumbles too which need not to get over-browned on the top but enough heat and time to allow the fruit to break down and caramelise (with a little crunch!).
A word about the Cold Shelf
A little Aga anatomy which you may not be familiar with is the steep heat gradient between the ovens (and therefore the need in some instances to ‘shield’) due to an Aga cookers radiant heat. Conventional fan-ovens create heat at the back of the unit and use a fan mechanism to keep the hot air circulating to heat the food; the Aga works by using a top-down approach to heat by distributing the stored energy held within the unit from the top of the roasting oven - which is why food placed high up in the roasting oven is browned very quickly!
To create a cooler environment this heat needs to be physically deflected by placing the cold shelf above the item thus shielding it from excessive heat; this technique can be used for up to 40 minutes.
The shelf’s other purpose is to provide an even, flat surface to cook scones and biscuits on.
To conclude, an overview of the general Aga baking guidelines we’ve discussed:
We were tempted to add a 6th point of ‘eat cake!’ but that would be silly, wouldn’t it?!