Burned sugar firmly stuck on oven surfaces is common result of baking pies and other sweet treats. This burned sugar must be removed so that it does not become a smoke and fire hazard. Fortunately, it is possible to quickly and effectively clean up burned sugar from your oven without using any toxic household chemicals.
Pound Cake Catastrophy
My children and I baked our first pound cake this weekend. We modified the recipe by adding a generous amount of chocolate chips and I did not consider how the addition would impact the volume of the cake, especially as it started to rise in the oven. As I placed the pan in the oven I wondered if I needed to put a baking sheet underneath it, in case of cake overflow. I decided to skip this step since the recipe did not explicitly call for it.
The cake had been baking for about 30 minutes when I first started smelling smoke. I opened the oven door to investigate and found that the cake was overflowing the pan and sugary batter was burning up on the heating element of the oven. Because the burnoff seemed to be happening so rapidly and harmlessly that I allowed baking to continue but kept a more watchful eye on it, kind of like a controlled burn.
A few minutes later flames were shooting up from multiple sugary sites on the oven floor and I began to panic. That's when I made a bad situation potentially much worse. Instead of taking the proper action of removing the cake, turning off the oven and shutting the oven door, I decided to suffocate the fire with salt first. Except I did not grab the bag of salt. I blindly grabbed the bag of sugar instead and threw generous handfuls on the flames. The sugar flared up and then melted down into a brittle, glued on mass.
The fire was out and my heart rate dropped down to normal. It was time to survey the damage. The floor of the oven was nearly covered with large diameter, thick and extremely hard areas of burned on sugar. The oven could not be safely used in this condition and I honestly thought that it was quite possibly ruined. There went dinner, not just tonight's dinner but possibly every dinner in the foreseeable future.
I had no idea how I would clean the oven in a reasonable amount of time without causing damage to the oven surface. My husband went out and bought a can of commercial oven cleaner but I was concerned about using it since the label stated that it was not safe for convection ovens. Husband claimed that our oven was only a convection oven when it was actually "convectioning" but I was not willing to take a chance on causing further damage so I nixed the commercial oven cleaner.
I researched alternative methods and picked what I thought was the most sensible. It turned out to be remarkably effective and here is my modified version.
- Boiling water
- Oven mitts
- Ice scraper or similar item
- Wet/Dry shop vac (ideal) or large quantities of paper towels
- Turn off the oven, open the door and allow the oven to cool to approximately room temperature
- Heat water until it boils
- Pour a small amout of boiling water directly onto the burned sugar patches
- Let the water set for a minute or so
- Put on the oven mitts and scrape at the spots with the ice scraper
- Vacuum or towel up the water from the floor of the oven
- Pour more boiling water, scrape and vac until the sugar is gone
- You only need a small volume of boiling water, just enough to soak the spots. You are going to repeat this step several times until all the sugar dissolves so it is not necesary to use a lot of water each time. Also, you do not want to flood the oven floor and risk getting water into the electrical components of the oven.
- Do not use a fork, knife or other metal scraper because you may slip and gouge the floor of the oven.
- Hold the edge of the plastic scraper parallel to the surface of the oven when scraping the sugar.
- A wet/dry shop vacuum helps further loosen the sugar while removing the water and any chunks of loosened sugar. Also, the hard plastic tip of the vacuum could also be used for scraping can also be used for scraping. Although a vacuum is not required, the suction did seemed to add extra "oomph" to the sugar removal process.
Clean Oven Restored
It took about 1-2 hours of boiling water and vigorous scraping to remove the burned sugar from the bottom of my oven. I have to admit that the results exceeded my expectations. I expected to have an oven that was only marginally cleaner and I would have to take a chance on the commercial oven cleaner anyway. However, my oven was perfectly clean, cleaner than before I started the great pound cake overflow adventure.
Burned sugar can be more than a smoky inconvenience; it can also be a fire hazard. Use the boiling water method to quickly clean up small sugar spills before they become out of hand. That way you can avoid serving up a side of catastrophy with your pound cake.