Welcome to the world of incandescent cookware. In 1963, Kenner Toys (now a subsidiary of Hasbro) introduced the Easy-Bake Oven to a generation of young girls eager to experience the wonders of home-style baking. The original Easy-Bake Oven was a scale model of a 1950s oven, with two 100 watt light bulbs as heating elements. Some say the Kenner engineers were inspired by the small ovens used by New York City pretzel vendors.
By using the heat generated by incandescent light bulbs deep inside the unit, Kenner hoped to minimize the possibility of accidental burns caused by standard heating elements. Young users of the Easy-Bake Oven only needed to turn on the oven unit for a few minutes for preheating. Because of the variable heat generated by the light bulbs, however, the cake mixes included with the original Easy-Bake Oven had to be modified for low-temperature baking. This is why many young bakers' experiences with Easy-Bake Oven recipes was so variable. Under-cooking was a common occurrence, and the original cake mixes were not as flavorful as one may have hoped.
The Easy-Bake Oven did become a success for Kenner, and later its parent company Hasbro. By the late 1960s, the toy oven took on even more decorative elements of its full-size cousin, including the popular avocado green color of its surfaces. Cake mixes and other desserts became even more sophisticated as brand name companies such as Betty Crocker began offering their services and product lines. The flavor and consistency of Easy-Bake Oven offerings improved significantly, and young girls often used their Easy-Bake ovens to create tea cookies or other treats for afternoon parties.
By the 1970s, the Easy-Bake Oven had succumbed to the new decorative trend called Harvest Gold. For the first time, toy ovens also featured simulated digital numbers and other modern elements. The recipes and mixes also evolved throughout the 1970s and 1980s, making it possible for young bakers to make a few recipes from scratch. Improvements in the design of the Easy-Bake Oven also minimized any possible exposure to the heating elements. A special tool actually pushed the batter-laden cookware into the oven, and the bakers could observe the cooking process for better results.
The use of incandescent light bulbs as heating elements raised a number of safety concerns over the years, especially among parents who feared a child would be burned during the changing process. Leaving the bulbs burning after a cooking session could also be a waste of energy and a potential fire hazard. In recent years, however, Hasbro has largely replaced the incandescent light bulbs with other heating elements largely hidden within the unit.
In 2007, Hasbro recalled a million Easy-Bake Oven units because of a perceived design flaw. Young users could potentially receive burns if they attempted to retrieve a trapped cooking plate with their fingers. The potential for accidental burns or electrical shocks has always been a concern for manufacturers of toy ovens, although such incidents are very rare. An Easy-Bake Oven is still a good way to introduce the art of cooking and baking to children, but adult supervision and guidance is very important.