I'd like to think my culinary career started off in the halls of the French Culinary Institute, where I learned to bake effortlessly light souffles under the tutelage of fierce, French-speaking instructors. But really, it took flight in my mom's brown-speckled kitchen as my 6-year-old self impatiently waited for puny vanilla cakelets to puff up (and sometimes burn) under the light bulb of my Easy-Bake Oven. This happened not under the watch of a Frenchman, but my mother, who was in constant fear that it would burst into flames.
So it saddens me to hear that, starting in 2012, the classic Easy-Bake Oven will be no more. Because of environmental regulations, the 100-watt incandescent light bulbs that have served as the toy's heating element since 1963 will no longer be on the market. And the new compact fluorescent bulbs that are saving our planet just aren't hot enough to bake a cake.
Plans are underway to develop a new, juiced-up product called the Easy-Bake Ultimate Oven that utilizes a high-tech heating element, but will the experience really be the same?
In a press release about the 2011 model, Hasbro says:
"This brand new oven has a stylish look and modern functions perfect for today’s tweens! Girls will love to gather with their friends to create and decorate sweet and savory snacks in this new oven which features a heating element, similar to a conventional oven and that does not require a light bulb."
Hasbro also goes out of its way to mention: "Adult participation and electricity required."
So to summarize, the Easy-Bake Ultimate Oven is a small conventional oven that tweens can use with parental supervision. What's the difference between this and mom's big-girl oven (except for the possibility that the Easy-Bake version might be pink)?
The new oven will also put its old recipes in the dust, promising "an extended menu that includes cookies, red velvet cupcakes, checker cakes, pizza, pretzels, cinnamon twists and brownie sticks." And considering the new heating element, everything will likely bake to perfection.
But isn't there something to be said for the magic of sliding a shoddy metal cake pan into a slot, throwing all your hope into rickety technology, and believing, despite all logic, that an edible cake will pop out at the other end? With a new and improved Easy-Bake Oven, little girls and boys across America may never experience the character-building disappointment of an undercooked cake, or know what it feels like to burn their fingers on a retro toy oven. So is that a good or a bad thing?
Kristen Aiken is iVillage's senior food editor. Follow her on Twitter: @kristenaiken