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Why 350°F is the magic number for baking

Turns out there’s a lot of chemistry in cooking.

If you like to bake, you’re definitely familiar with this instruction: Preheat oven to 350°F (or 180°C). This number dominates recipes, but what is it about 350°F that makes it the right temperature for so many types of foods?

We’ve been trying to maintain a perfect oven temperature for centuries. It wasn’t until the 1940s, when temperature control became popular in ovens, that recipe writers began using numbers. Initially, recipes were fairly vague, instructing at-home chefs to bake in a “slow,” “quick,” or “moderate” oven. “Moderate” eventually became synonymous with “350 degrees,” as both fell somewhere in the middle of the oven temperature range. While that may seem obvious, there’s actually science behind why it’s the right number.

Baking the perfect cookie — or anything — is all about setting off a chain of reactions called the Maillard reaction. To get the right result, you need to balance the rate at which moisture is lost and browning occurs. Check out the video above to learn more about baking the perfect cookie — and science, of course.

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