Did Santa leave an Easy-Bake Oven under your Christmas tree?
No? Well, don’t feel bad. I never got one either.
Of course, the reason I never got one was because my older sister beat me to it.
It seems that Santa felt with one Easy-Bake Oven in the house, there was certainly no reason to deliver a second one a few years later.
To be honest, I never remember wanting an Easy-Bake Oven for Christmas, probably because of having used my sister’s (or at least having watched her use it).
But plenty of kids have asked for an Easy-Bake, which is celebrating its 50th birthday this year. More than 30 million of the miniature ovens have been sold since the toy was introduced by Kenner Products in 1963. Hasbro bought Kenner in 1991 and continues to produce them today.
As best we can recall, Santa delivered my sister’s Easy-Bake Oven in 1968. It was the original turquoise blue and operated with the obligatory 100-watt light bulb.
In honor of the anniversary, I thought it would be fun to check it out and see if it would still bake a cake. My sister still has the oven and knew just where to find it in her basement.
It was in its original box, with the original pans and accessories. The only thing missing was the instruction book.
It hadn’t been used in more than 40 years, and while we plugged it in with a little bit of trepidation, there were no sparks and no smoke. Even the light bulb inside was still working, which surprised us both. It heated up perfectly. In fact, it got pretty hot.
“They let us play with this as kids?” I asked.
“Well, with adult supervision,” my sister noted, as we both recalled our mother always being around to plug in the oven and make sure no one burned a finger.
“I’m going to try to bake a cake in it,” I told her, packing it up and carting it off to my office for a few experiments.
I went shopping for some Easy-Bake mixes, but was a little dismayed when I saw the price tag: $7.99 for one mix at a local retailer. That’s one expensive cake mix, I thought. Instead, I headed to the real cake mix aisle and purchased a bargain box for 99 cents.
Without the help of the instruction book, I had to guess at a lot of things — like how much batter to put in the pans and how long to bake it. I filled the three round metal pans and peered in the window watching my cake rise (in a few instances a little too high, making extracting it from the oven a messy business.)
My cake, all three layers, turned out OK, although I could have used a little non-stick spray on the pans. It baked better than it released.
The responsible journalist in me should stop right here and tell you that the folks at Hasbro do not recommend using a 45-year-old Easy-Bake Oven. In fact, they caution against it.
Of course, now I’m as old as the Easy-Bake, and I get to use real ovens any time I want. But there was a certain thrill to be able to use the oven without having to play sous chef to my sister, and without having to listen to our mother’s safety warnings.
That thrill is part of the Easy-Bake’s popularity, according to Kathleen Harrington, senior director of global marketing for Hasbro. “The oven represents a rite of passage for kids,” she explained, one of the reasons for its popularity over five decades. An Easy-Bake oven means they’re growing up.
Harrington recommends that you use only Easy-Bake mixes in the oven, which are formulated to rise, but not so high that they impede the exit from the oven the way mine did.
With all deference to Hasbro, for $7.99, I could buy a cake, not just a mix that makes a tiny cake. But I’m sure plenty of those mixes are being torn open today.
In fact, since 1963, 150 million mixes have been sold.
Harrington said the anniversary has been a big year for Easy-Bake, and Hasbro has issued a contemporary black and silver oven for the birthday year. It also comes in purple. Over the years, the oven has had many incarnations. The turquoise model (which also came in yellow) gave way, in 1971, to an oh-so-stylish avocado green one, to mimic appliance trends of the day.
A later version was red with tartan plaid trim, and in the 1980s, the Easy-Bake was redesigned to look like a microwave oven.
But a major change came in 2011, when the oven stopped using a 100-watt bulb as its heat source. Harrington said with the eventual phase-out of incandescent light bulbs, the company knew change would have to come, and the oven was converted to a heating unit similar to a toaster oven.
The current oven makes a lot more than just cake, too. Now, the mixes can be used to make cake pops and whoopie pies, among other items, Harrington noted.
Easy-Bake has been on trend since it was invented by Kenner product developers in Cincinnati in 1963. The team got the idea from the small ovens that street vendors used to bake pretzels, Harrington explained.
“It has been a cherished favorite for bakers-in-training for 50 years,” she said.
So Merry Christmas to all you lucky kids who found one under your tree today, and happy baking. And when you get to use a real oven, it’s even more fun.