The easy bake oven

How the Easy-Bake Oven Has Endured 53 Years and 11 Designs

Like a great number of men before me, I never had an Easy-Bake Oven to call my own; I had to borrow my sister’s. (I know. It’s hard out there for men.) We grew up nine years apart, and so by the time I’d turned eight, meeting the product’s age requirement, the Easy-Bake my family owned was long out of fashion. Hers was a model from the mid-1980s, a bulky, Cheeto-orange beast of a toy the circumference of my head.

The Easy-Bake Oven over three eras (L-R) from 1963, 1978, and 2011.

In spite of its hulking exterior, I used my sister’s Easy-Bake Oven with frequency and enthusiasm. I would spend Saturday mornings tearing open its pre-packaged mixes as if they were small bags of cocaine, concocting one tiny disaster after another. They all came from the Easy-Bake Oven’s trove of suggested recipes—muddy chocolate cakes, dwarf-sized pretzels in the vein of Auntie Anne’s. The Easy-Bake Oven endowed me with a burgeoning sense of independence, along with a dawning self-awareness of my own culinary limitations. More often than not, the resultant dishes ended up tasting like sunscreen.

Honestly, whatever. It’s an accepted social truth that what emerges from the Easy-Bake Oven tends to be objectively inedible; this is embedded in the toy’s ragged appeal. BuzzFeed’s poor Sarah Burton wrote “I Cooked With An Easy-Bake Oven For A Week And Here’s What Happened” one year ago, only to give up her voluntary submission to torture on day four.

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The toy’s imprint on the greater American cultural landscape is sprawling; it has inspired such cookbooks as 2003’s The Easy-Bake Oven Gourmet by David Hoffman with contributions from such confessed lifelong fans as Bobby Flay and Mark Bittman. As of 2006, it’s occupied a place in Rochester’s Toy Hall of Fame. It has even clawed its way into Silicon Valley, with some journalists prematurely christening newer products as “the Easy-Bake Oven for adults.” (“The comparison’s a little simplistic to me,” David Rabie, the founder of Tovala, a smart oven paired with a Blue Apron-style meal delivery service due out this winter, cautioned me last week during a brief chat.)

From the vantage point of adulthood, though, it’s tempting to forget that the Easy-Bake Oven is still around.

In many ways, the Easy-Bake Oven is the forerunner to the idea that has now become ubiquitous in food and lifestyle media—that SEO-friendly ethos that insists that there’s a simple way of cooking a complex dish. It requires minimal labor without sacrificing the self-satisfaction that arises when you marvel at your own creation. With the Easy-Bake Oven, there’s a promise that an endeavor too mammoth for kid brains to process— cooking—can be streamlined. It’s literally in the name.

From the vantage point of adulthood, though, it’s tempting to forget that the Easy-Bake Oven is still around. So many once-ubiquitous toys have become casualties of time and memory, from the Beanie Baby to the Slinky to the Sky Dancer. Even if they haven’t been formally discontinued, it can feel as if they barely exist. But the Easy-Bake Oven has alarming endurance; it is a unique kind of American toy that has stood defiant against changing cultural, economic, and political currents. This begs a number of ontological questions, like: How hasn’t our health food craze and undue fascination with wellness annihilated the Easy-Bake Oven? Hasn’t the Food Babe found some fictitious carcinogen in it yet? How has the Easy-Bake Oven maintained such a stronghold over American consumers for over fifty years?

The original November 1963 model of the Easy-Bake Oven, caked in residue.

The Easy-Bake Oven first made its debut in American stores in November 1963 under Kenner, one of America’s preeminent toy manufacturers. Kenner had arisen in the twilight of World War II, mostly famous for toys like the Bubble-Matic Gun, a bubble-blowing toy gun. The Easy-Bake Oven, created after Kenner Sales Manager Norman Shapiro saw a pretzel vendor outside a store in New York City’s Herald Square and decided to transpose that basic idea to a toy, was fashioned as a bundle of three cubes with a makeshift stovetop and with a carry handle. It first came in one blindingly teal shade, pictured above.

The original Easy-Bake Oven arrived with mixes for cakes, cookies, candies, pizzas, pies, and biscuits, all pre-packaged in polyethylene-coated aluminum foil to ensure they’d last two years. Powered purely by two lightbulbs and equipped with a cooling chamber, the Easy-Bake Oven would reach up to 350° F. The ensuing process was simple: You’d open a mix, add some water, pour the batter into the supplied instrument, and slide it into the oven. You’d wait roughly twelve minutes for it to work its creaky, flawed magic. (I bought this one from a genial man on Etsy who advised me not to try my hand at cooking anything with this machine.) The product’s asking price was $15.95, hefty by the era’s standards, but that didn’t deter buyers. Kenner created half a million copies in its first go-around, and each one sold out that holiday season.

Kenner tripled production next season to meet consumer demands. Starting the following year, the toy would be offered in pasty dandelion yellow. Soon, commercials for the toy began running through kid’s morning cartoons along with primetime programs, endearing parents to their product with a captivating slogan: “just like Mom’s—bake your cake and eat it too!” By 1967, Kenner was acquired by General Mills, who manufactured Betty Crocker. This led to the diversification of the Easy-Bake Oven’s selection of mixes, which would now include cake recipes from the Betty Crocker oeuvre, from Angel Food to Rainbow Chip. A series of acquisitions over the next two decades—first by Tonka in 1988, and then by Hasbro in 1991—eventually led Kenner dissolving into Hasbro, bringing the Easy-Bake Oven under Habsro’s umbrella.

The Easy-Bake Oven’s 1978 model.

In its fifty-three year lifespan, the product has gone through eleven mutations both cosmetic and substantive, alternately resembling a microwave and a printer and a fax machine and an open-and-load stovetop. A few of these models have been wildly imperfect, to put it lightly—the May 2006 model with a front-loading oven led to hundreds of kids getting their fingers caught and burned in the trapdoor, resulting in a full-blown product recall in 2007 of that particular model. Over time, innovation became a legal necessity: 2007’s Energy Independence and Security Act outlawed the use of the 100-watt incandescent lightbulb that had once powered the oven, instead forcing the toy to adopt a more traditional, conventional heating mechanism.

The Easy-Bake Oven’s current avatar, pictured below, is sleek with rounded edges, akin to what you might see on a discarded storyboard for The Jetsons. It’s virtually unrecognizable from its predecessors. It’s been like this since 2011, with a small but crucial change in 2013: 13-year-old McKenna Pope of Garfield, New Jersey sought to rectify the product’s historically female-gendered advertising. (One exception? In 2002, Hasbro experimented with the “Queasy-Bake Oven,” a modest-selling “boy’s” version of the toy that offered such pandering delights as “Crunchy Dog Bones.” It was disgusting.) Pope mounted a public campaign on Change.org urging Hasbro to, in her own words, “feature males on the packaging and in promotional materials for the Easy-Bake Ultimate Oven, as well as offering the product in different, non gender specific colors,” citing her four-year-old brother’s budding aspirations toward being a chef. The company finally issued a corrective at Pope’s urging, creating a black version of the product “for boys.”

The Easy-Bake Oven’s most recent iteration, from 2011.

This anecdote is a testament to the toy’s fortitude: Even as we move past the gender binary, the Easy-Bake Oven will not disappear; it will simply adapt to our shifting mores. Around the time Hasbro rolled out the Easy-Bake Oven’s black design, the toy was coincidentally approaching its 50th anniversary, prompting Canadian toy historian Todd Coopee to write Light Bulb Baking: A History of the Easy-Bake Oven. In the book, Coopee spends 178 pages tracing the lineage of the toy as well as its various remixes over the decades, exhaustive in detail and care.

“The story of the Easy-Bake Oven is a microcosm of post-war America,” Coopee posits in the foreword to his book. “It traces the birth and evolution of a new popular culture that celebrated American invention and playfulness while reinforcing family-oriented values and traditional gender roles.” To him, Kenner was made up of what he terms “a group of enterprising post-war individuals and a toy company that fostered research and development, enabled innovation, and nurtured teamwork to bring new ideas to life.”

The Easy-Bake Oven will not disappear; it will simply adapt to our shifting mores.

I asked Coopee last week what’s shifted about the landscape for Easy-Bake Ovens in the three years since his book came out—whether sales have spiked or stagnated. His answer was straightforward: “Nothing much has changed, really,” he told me. “Most toy companies like Hasbro have staple products in their product line that sell year after year after year, and they don’t have to spend a lot of marketing dollars on them. The Easy-Bake Oven is one of them. There’s not a ton of fluctuation.”

Indeed, finding a few hours to kill, I decided to test his thesis, which I regarded with a dose of suspicion, especially because I hadn’t seen an Easy-Bake Oven in the wild for the better part of a decade. I spent this weekend calling up Manhattan and Brooklyn’s larger chain stores—Toys ‘R’ Us, Sears, Walmart, Target—for signs of the Easy-Bake Oven. (The hard labor of a journalist.) And there it was, in ample quantity and stock at every store in both black and purple. My suspicions suck!

Coopee suggested that Hasbro has effectively learned how to monetize the narrative that has become embedded into the Easy-Bake Oven’s mythos, which is precisely why the product shows no signs of atrophying. “Everyone had an Easy-Bake Oven growing up,” Coopee reminded me. “It’s like rite of passage. Your grandma may have owned one, your mom owned one, and then you did. And your kids probably will, too.”

Ah, yes, nostalgia—that potent capitalist drug. No matter these reinventions, the Easy-Bake Oven’s core objective has always been the same: give kids the confidence that they can cook for themselves, anticipating a time when their parents or caretakers won’t be there for them. There will be a class of American kids creating demand for this product, because this fervent, monomaniacal desire for independence is not an instinct we will outgrow evolutionarily. The Easy-Bake Oven is one of those constants of American culture, always there even when we aren’t looking.

Remember your first Easy-Bake Oven? Never have one? Let us know in the comments!

Easy-Bake Evolution: 50 Years of Cakes, Cookies, and Gender Politics

I have a confession: My brother and I destroyed my Easy-Bake Oven. I had the 1981 Mini-Wave model, the boxy, yellow microwave style, which was, in my 7-year-old mind, the only kind of Easy-Bake there was. One day, my 4-year-old brother had a brilliant idea—to “cook” a green plastic steak from our 1972 Mattel Tuff Stuff Play Food set. After all, we should be able to cook a steak, right? It fit into the slot perfectly, and for some reason, I didn’t try to stop him. The plastic steak, of course, gave off a noxious odor as it melted inside the machine. Goodbye, Easy-Bake Oven. Goodbye, little round chocolate cakes we loved to bake and eat.

“By using light bulbs, something kids were around every day, Kenner convinced parents the Easy-Bake Oven was safe.”

Todd Coopee, who published a book called Light Bulb Baking in fall 2013 to honor the toy’s 50th anniversary, says he’s heard countless stories like mine as he’s toured the country with his book. At his book-launch party, people filled out recipe cards with their anonymous Easy-Bake Oven memories.

“One person said that when he or she ran out of mixes,” Coopee told me on the phone from New York, “he or she would substitute mud and still try to serve the results to his or her younger brother and sister.”

The fact that the Easy-Bake Oven invokes so many stories is a testament to its staying power. It’s been a hit since Day One, when it made its debut in November 1963. Eventually, adult TV characters started referencing Easy-Bake Ovens on shows like “Friends,” “Fringe,” and “Queer as Folk.” In 2006, the Easy-Bake Oven was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, NY.

Above: Todd Coopee (left) and Donna Henhoeffer, events manager of the Art Is In Bakery in Ottawa, with his collection of Easy-Bake Ovens, just before the book-launch party for “Light Bulb Baking.” Top: A 1981 Easy-Bake Mini-Wave Oven, just like the the one my brother and I destroyed. (Photos courtesy of Coopee)

After seeing the Easy-Bake Oven in the hall of fame, Coopee, a toy collector who already had a dozen different Easy-Bakes, decided he would gather every model ever released for a 50-year retrospective book that offers a visual history of the toy. LightBulb Baking also delves into the history of the toy’s creators at Kenner Products, the cooking technology of the toy, how it fit into pop culture, and the gender-politics battles it inspired.

“I don’t think you can pinpoint one moment in time when the Easy-Bake Oven became an icon,” Coopee says. “After it had been around so many decades, it started to surface in pop culture, such as sitcoms on TV using it as part of the story. There’s just something satisfying about being able to mix and bake cakes on your own without your parents’ help. I think that’s why it’s remained popular for so many years.”

This cast-iron Charter Oak child-size stove, which measures about 24 inches across, could have been a toy or a store display. (Via Antiqbuyer.com)

Working mini ovens go back to Victorian times. Child-size ovens from the late 1800s—which could have been toys or store displays—were made of steel or cast iron and used wood pellets or solid fuel for heat. (These days, collectors have to beware of reproductions.) As electric ovens replaced wood-burning ovens in the 1920s, the toy world adapted, too; model-train maker Lionel, for example, produced a line of electric toy ovens in the 1930s. In the 1950s, little fiberglass-insulated ovens with brand names like Little Lady, Little Chef, and Suzy Homemaker were coveted by kids playing house.

“While the Easy-Bake Oven wasn’t the first working toy oven, it was the first to use a light bulb as the heat source,” Coopee says. “It was also first to become a wildly popular trend, to the point everybody had to have one.”

Brothers Albert, Philip, and Joseph Steiner, who owned a Cincinnati company that made soap and other sundries, founded Kenner Products in 1947, when one of the brothers had an a-ha moment. The legend goes he saw a kid on the street playing with a standard bubble wand, and got a vision of a gun that shot bubbles, which turned into Kenner’s first toy, the Bubble-Matic Gun.

Little Lady and Little Chef electric toy ovens, both from the 1950s.

By the early 1960s, Kenner had become a leading toy manufacturer, with salesmen all over the United States. The executives at Kenner “had an operating principal to make toys that allowed kids to do the same things they saw adults do,” Coopee says. “For example, they made a lot of construction toys, like the Girder and Panel building sets. Mixing and baking a cake would be another example of that.

“Eventually, the Easy-Bake Oven came to be thought of as a girls’ toy. But Kenner was always looking for ways to market it to boys.”

“Kenner also, at the risk of sounding cliché, really wanted their employees to think outside the box,” he continues. “They believed that anyone could come up with a great idea for a toy. So they would have these brainstorming meetings where anyone from the company could attend and pitch an idea. That’s how the Easy-Bake Oven came about.”

In this case, the “anyone” in question was a salesman named Norman Shapiro, who demonstrated toys in the flagship Macy’s store on Herald Square in New York City. Walking outside the store, he “had a stroke of inspiration when he saw a pretzel vendor on the street. His idea was to make a pretzel oven for kids. The Steiners loved his pitch, but according to my research, the thought of making a pretzel oven was quickly replaced with an oven that made cakes and cookies.”

A photo from the 2006 party at the National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, NY, celebrating the induction of the Easy-Bake Oven. (Courtesy of Todd Coopee)

At that point, electric toy ovens didn’t have the best track record for safety, so Kenner’s creative team had to consider how to overcome parents’ legitimate fears.

“You hear stories of getting a gooey, goopy mess. If you actually followed the instructions, the cakes would come out fine.”

“Kenner’s other stroke of genius was to use incandescent light bulbs as the heating source,” Coopee says. “By using conventional light bulbs, something kids were around every day, they were able to convince parents the toy was safe—even though it got up to 350 degrees Fahrenheit inside the oven, which is a pretty standard baking temperature. Kenner wanted to call it the Safety-Bake Oven, but one of the regulatory bodies in charge of print and radio advertising told them, ‘No, you can’t do that, because it implies a safety track record you haven’t achieved yet.’”

In his obituaries, Kenner designer Ronald Howes, not Norman Shapiro, has been credited as the inventor of the Easy-Bake Oven. Coopee says the real story is complicated. “I’ve had the pleasure of talking to two of the sons of the Steiners, the founders of Kenner,” he says. “Through my research, I learned it was more of a group effort. The name on the patent of the first Easy-Bake Oven was James Kuhn, the vice president of Research & Development. Roland Howes was on his team, and from what I’m told, he was essential in the development of the mixes and mix sets.”

The original 1963 model of the Easy-Bake Oven. (Courtesy of Todd Coopee)

The Easy-Bake Oven debuted in November 1963, just in time for the Christmas shopping season. “The first Easy-Bake Oven didn’t look like much of an oven,” Coopee says. “It was this box that came in turquoise or pale yellow, and a handle on the top. It had a slot that you’d push the pan into, and then a window where you could watch the cake being baked. The cooling chamber on the side had this fake range built over it.”

But its strange appearance didn’t prevent it from becoming the must-have toy of the season. “They only had time to manufacture half a million of them before November, and they sold out immediately,” he says. “It was one of those Christmas toys that people would fight over in the store.”

Kenner made the Easy-Bake Oven its top advertising priority, placing ads with taglines like “just like Mom’s—bake your cake and eat it, too!” in women’s magazines and Archie comics. On television, Easy-Bake commercials appeared not only during Saturday morning cartoons, but also during prime-time programs like “I Love Lucy” and “Hogan’s Heroes.”

This early Easy-Bake set, which let kids make their own candy bars, showed a girl and boy playing together on the package. (Courtesy of Todd Coopee)

Just as quickly as it released the oven, Kenner put out 25 different mixes and mix sets that could be bought separately. Because they were packaged in aluminum foil laminated with polyethylene, the first cake mixes could last two years—a long time for a cake mix. But Coopee wouldn’t recommend you try them now. “If you go on eBay, you can find not only vintage Easy-Bake Ovens, but also vintage mixes. But they always say don’t try to use them.”

Many people who remember making and eating Easy-Bake Oven’s hockey-puck-shaped treats, about 3.5 inches in diameter, recall that they tasted bad. Coopee says that’s not exactly fair.

“You know, kids are not very patient, so they tended to push the cake out before it was done cooking,” he says. “If you hear stories of getting a gooey, goopy mess, that’s probably why. Ten or 15 minutes is a long time to wait when you’re a kid. But if you actually followed the instructions, the cakes would come out fine.”

An Easy-Bake hockey-puck-shaped chocolate cake. (Posted by looneytunesfan on Food.com)

The Easy-Bake Oven came out in a time when America was in love with technology, particularly appliances and other innovations that made day-to-day chores faster and easier. Thanks to electric freezer-refrigerators, frozen dinners could be heated and served on a TV tray; thanks to developments in food processing, cakes could be whipped up in a jiff with boxed mixes.

“Engineers at Kenner were constantly attempting to improve the light-bulb cooking technology.”

Coopee’s parents even owned a bakery, but they did not poo-poo this toy as a shortcut to true baking. Instead, it was a way for their kids to do what they did. “We were always around baking, so we wanted to have something we could do on our own,” Coopee says.

“We could mix these little cakes and cook them ourselves and give them to guests to eat, as we’d seen our parents do. Whether or not they thought our cakes were any good, I don’t know.”

Interestingly, Kenner did not discourage families from coming up with their own recipes for the oven. For the 40th anniversary of the Easy-Bake Oven in 2003, David Hoffman talked to top chefs, including Food TV’s Bobby Flay. He compiled their memories of playing with the toy as well as recipes for their own Easy-Bake creations—including jalapeño corn cakes, wild mushroom flan, and ham-and-spinach quiche—in a book called Easy-Bake Oven Gourmet.

An Easy-Bake Oven from the late 1960s, featuring Betty Crocker branding, faux-wood paneling, and the kitchen color du jour, avocado green. (Courtesy of Todd Coopee)

“In the early Kenner models, the instructions said you could use the mixes or recipes from your own kitchen,” Coopee says. “Which was nice, if you’re a kid, and you didn’t have to beg or convince your parents to take you to the store and buy you another mix.”

That said, Kenner did tempt children with every kind of mix under the sun. Aside from a wide variety of cakes and cookies, over the years, Easy-Bake mixes offered ways to make your own candy bars, fudge, pecan brittle, pretzels, pizza—and even bubble gum.

“They tried all sorts of things—they even came up with a way you could pop popcorn in the Easy-Bake Oven,” Coopee says. “But they always went back to cookies and cakes. When you’re a kid, your parents might give you a piece of pizza for dinner. But they might not give you a cookie or cake, especially one or three you can make and eat when they’re not around.”

These popcorn poppers for the original 1963 Easy-Bake Ovens were marketed to boys. (Courtesy of Todd Coopee)

In 1967, four years after the Easy-Bake debuted, General Mills acquired Kenner Products, and immediately saw the cross-branding opportunity. The company’s Betty Crocker brand cake mixes were adapted for and sold with the Easy-Bake Oven: Now, kids could make 3.5-inch cakes in popular flavors like Angel Food, Devil’s Food, German Chocolate, Yellow, Butter Pecan, Strawberry, Rainbow Chip, and Lemon.

Twenty years later, Tonka Corporation bought Kenner Products, and then in 1991, Hasbro acquired Tonka. Hasbro also saw the Easy-Bake Oven as a marketing opportunity for other toys, characters, and brands they licensed or partnered with. Instead of making plain mini-cakes, in the early 1990s, kids could also decorate them.

In the 1990s, Hasbro incorporated co-branding into Easy-Bake bake sets, like this one that let kids make McDonald’s fruit pies. (Courtesy of Todd Coopee)

“You could make a Scooby-Doo-themed cake or a pizza from Pizza Hut,” Coopee says. “You could make a cake like an Oreo cookie or a McDonald’s apple pie. They had a My Little Pony mix, which was basically a chocolate cake, but they had a little pony figure you could put on top of it. I guess they thought kids would be bored just mixing and baking a plain old chocolate cake, so they let you put Scooby-Doo on it, because kids like the characters they recognize from TV.”

The look of the Easy-Bake oven changed quite drastically over the years. “At first, it was all about the colors that were trendy in the kitchen,” Coopee says. “In the ’70s, they had the burnt orange, the avocado green, and the harvest gold. My family’s kitchen was done in harvest gold, so that’s the Easy-Bake Oven we had. In the late ’70s and ’80s, microwaves were all the rage, so the Easy-Bake Oven came to look more like a microwave. More recent Easy-Bake Ovens have less to do with the kitchen and more to do with what colors and designs would kids like, which is how they came to be pink and purple in the 1990s.”

An early 1970s Easy-Bake Oven featuring popular kitchen colors of the time. (Courtesy of Todd Coopee)

Engineers at Kenner were also constantly attempting to improve the light-bulb cooking technology. “Originally, the Easy-Bake Oven used two 100-Watt incandescent light bulbs, one on top and one on bottom, so it would heat the cake evenly on both sides,” Coopee says. “An engineer there, Charles Cummings, figured out how to design the inside of the Easy-Bake Oven so it worked like a convection oven, and they only had to use one light bulb. Then, they could make the Easy-Bake Oven a lot smaller and it was easier to produce and ship. In the late ’70s, they came out with the Super Easy-Bake Oven, a larger version of the toy that came with two pans, a regular-size Easy-Bake cake pan and a larger one.”

Because the toy was rated as safe for children 8 and older, Kenner also hoped to find a way to market it to kids as young as 4. “Also in the ’70s, they came out with the Warm-Bake Oven, which used hot water,” Coopee says. “There was a tray your parents would fill up with hot water, and then you put the cake batter in this sealed container and slide it in the oven, dipping it into the water. The hot water would then cause the dough to rise. They came out with another version—the 3 Minute Cake Baker—that vibrated to help the dough rise. Who knows how well it worked.”

The large, late 1970s Super Easy-Bake Oven, let kids use two different size pans. (Courtesy of Todd Coopee)

The questions about how gender roles influence play and how toys are marketed to boys and girls has come up repeatedly throughout Easy-Bake Oven’s history. When the product launched in 1963, American women were still largely expected to take on all the household chores, including cooking and baking. But Coopee says Kenner valued the bottom line more than upholding tradition.

“In the beginning, Kenner tried to market the Easy-Bake Oven as a toy for both girls and boys, which makes sense, if you think about it—if you could double your market, why not do it?” Coopee says. “The early ads often showed both boys and girls baking with the oven. Eventually, the Easy-Bake Oven came to be thought of as a girls’ toy. But Kenner was always looking for ways to market it to boys. When they came out with the popcorn popper, they showed a boy using it. When they released with the Queasy Bake Cookerator in 2002, that was marketed exclusively to boys.”

The 2002 Queasy Back Cookerator was marketed exclusively to boys. The mix names are meant to sound disgusting, but they actually just make normal cakes and candies. (Courtesy of Coopee)

The Queasy Bake Cookerator offered disgusting-sounding recipes—Mud ’n’ Crud, Worms ’n’ Bugs, Dip ’n’ Drool Dog Bones, or Delicious Dirt—but they were actually just cake, cookie, and gelatin mixes. “They were hoping this would interest boys,” Coopee says. “It wasn’t a big success for them, but they tried.”

The following year, instead of going for gross-out humor, Hasbro tried a different approach: An oven that would let boys and girls make masculine, savory snacks. “In 2003, they came out with the Real Meal Oven, which was the first Easy-Bake Oven to use a heating element instead of a light bulb,” Coopee says. “That let kids make things like pizza, mac ’n’ cheese, nachos. It was much larger than the regular Easy-Bake Oven, and it basically worked like your typical toaster oven. Kenner and Hasbro had tried to sell things like pizza sets before, but this oven cooked them more effectively.”

An early Easy-Bake pizza set, with Betty Crocker branding. (Courtesy of Todd Coopee)

By 2012, though, the only Easy-Bake Ovens on the market came in shades of purple and pink, and the commercials only showed girls playing with the toy. In December, McKenna Pope, a 13-year-old girl in Garfield, N.J., launched a petition on Change.org asking Hasbro to offer a gender-neutral version of the Easy-Bake Oven so that her 4-year-old brother, Gavyn, would feel comfortable asking for one for Christmas.

“It was one of those Christmas toys that people would fight over in the store.”

In her petition, Pope stated, “I want my brother to know that it’s not ‘wrong’ for him to want to be a chef, that it’s okay to go against what society believes to be appropriate. There are, as a matter of fact, a multitude of very talented and successful male culinary geniuses, i.e. Emeril, Gordon Ramsey, etc. Unfortunately, Hasbro has made going against the societal norm that girls are the ones in the kitchen even more difficult.”

Pope got support from many of those big-name male chefs, including Bobby Flay, Jose Andreas, Jeff Mahin, Joshua Whigham, and Manuel Trevino. She gathered 45,000 online signatures, as her story got picked up by CNN, “Time,” The Associated Press, MSNBC, “Good Morning America,” “The Washington Post,” and “The Los Angeles Times.” Hasbro responded by invited Pope to its headquarters, where the company revealed its plans for a new, silver-and-black gender-neutral Easy-Bake Ultimate Oven.

The most recent Easy-Bake Ultimate Oven, which cooks with a heating element instead of a light bulb, is available in gender-neutral silver-and-blue coloring. (Courtesy of Todd Coopee)

That said, if you search “Easy-Bake Oven” on Google today, the title of the top result, Hasbro’s page, is “Easy Bake | Cooking & Baking Games for Girls,” and the commercial shows girls with flowers in their hair and pink polka-dotted aprons dancing around a purple Easy-Bake Ultimate Oven, and decorating pink-frosted cupcakes with sprinkles.

“Boys have always played with Easy-Bake Ovens,” Coopee says. “Since my book has been published, quite a few men have told me that they always wished they had one, or that they had one that they shared with their sisters and they always loved baking with it. For Easy-Bake Oven Gourmet, the author interviewed a bunch of chefs who remember playing with Easy-Bake Ovens as a kid, and nearly half of them are men.”

An ad for the original 1963 model of the Easy-Bake Oven shows a boy watching it bake. (Courtesy of Todd Coopee)

Another big change for the Easy-Bake Oven has been brought about by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which goes into effect this year. It requires all light bulbs on the market to be at least 25 percent more energy efficient for the amount of light they produce. This will spell the end of the standard 100-Watt light bulb, the long-time heat source for Easy-Bake.

Even earlier in the decade, Hasbro engineers were experimenting with alternative heat sources for the ovens. In 2003, the light-bulb-free Real Meal Oven sold alongside the traditional light-bulb Easy-Bake Oven.

“In early 2006, I went to the American International Toy Fair in New York City, and Hasbro was making a big deal of declaring it the end of the light-bulb cooking era,” Coopee says. “They were no longer going to use incandescent light bulbs. They debuted a smaller front-loading oven, with a heating element. It came with tongs that kids were supposed to use to pull the cakes out of the oven. But after the toy was released, Hasbro started to get reports of safety concerns.”

This 2006 front-loading Easy-Bake Oven with a heating element was completely recalled after Hasbro received reports of kids getting their fingers caught in the opening. (Courtesy of Todd Coopee)

The new Easy-Bake Oven debuted in May 2006, and by February 2007, at least 29 parents had reported their children getting their fingers caught in the oven, and five of these incidents led to burns. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and Hasbro announced a recall, which would allow parents who purchased the oven to receive a free retrofit safety kit.

Several months after the retrofit kits were issued, the reports of fingers getting caught numbered 249. Sixteen of those reports also documented second- and third-degree burns. One burn even led to a 5-year-old girl receiving a partial finger amputation. In April 2007, the CPSC and Hasbro asked customers to return all 985,000 units sold, just six months after the Easy-Bake Oven had been inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame.

“For the retrofit, they issued this pink grill cover to put over the opening,” Coopee says. “I think if the oven had just come with a fixture like that already installed, that would have solved the problem. But when they sent that fix out it was already too late. After that, they went back to an early design that cooked with a light bulb.

The 2003 Real Meal Oven was the first Easy-Bake to use a heating element instead of a light bulb for cooking. (Courtesy of Todd Coopee)

“Finally, in 2011, Hasbro retired its last light-bulb cooking oven and issued a new Easy-Bake Ultimate Oven with a heating element,” Coopee says. The new toy, however, is priced at $49.99, $20 more than the previous light-bulb-cooking version, which went for $29.99. Still, Coopee says, “I would have been disappointed if the phasing out of incandescent light bulbs meant the end of this toy, so I’m glad Hasbro came up with a way to continue it.”

It’s good news for both little girls who want to make mud pies and little boys who want to become chefs. Just keep the fake plastic food away far, far away.

(To learn more about the history of the Easy-Bake Oven, read Todd Coopee’s book, “Light Bulb Baking.” To find unusual recipes for the toy, check out David Hoffman’s cookbook, “The Easy-Bake Oven Gourmet.”)

Easy-Bake Oven

Synopsis of Toy

Mom didn’t always welcome your presence in the kitchen, and occasionally, she even had the gall to claim your old pots and pans symphonies—performed in wooden spoon G-minor—weren’t quite the delicious aural treat you remember them to be. Some people don’t have an ear for the classics. The point is, if you had a domestic urge, a toy could often fulfill it. And if you just had to bake something, there were a couple of different toys for you. You had your goopy Creepy Crawlers, for example, which came out of their oven in wiggly solidish forms. But infinitely more appetizing were the goodies that daintily emerged from the Easy-Bake Oven. Renowned pastry chefs got their start here, tea parties for your dolls were supplied here, and your lifelong love affair with chocolate icing…well, that has its roots here too. Exit the pots and pans, enter the oven.

The Easy-Bake was introduced in 1963, and though there isn’t any specific inventor lore surrounding it, some say that the idea behind it came from the purchase of a warm pretzel from a street vendor. Perhaps if your mom baked and you wanted to be a chip off the flour-coated block, or if she didn’t bake at all and you wanted to become the dessert provider for the family…the Easy-Bake was for you.

Back in ’63, a 60-watt bulb powered the oven, and smart bakers arranged for a back stock of these bulbs in their family’s utility closets. There was nothing worse than racing home from school, all set to create your latest cake tour de force, and then watching helplessly as your Easy-Bake’s light bulb fizzed out. And no, shining a flashlight into the oven hatch won’t get the job done, though we commend your resourcefulness.

Each Easy-Bake came with a couple of different mixes and cake pan options. The pastry-chef-in-training would stir together the mixing powder and water, pour the result into one of the pans (about four inches wide), and let the light bulb work its magic. The ten or fifteen minutes which followed were invariably tough because a chef could watch and smell the cake’s progress through the oven door—growing hungrier all the time. But when the cook time was finally up, the chef would remove his or her work from the baking slot and place it in the cooling chamber for another ten minutes or so (though if the chef was hungry enough, this step was curtailed, or sometimes just skipped altogether). And now, for your best doll or your best friend, for you or Mom, Dad or dog…drum roll please…now it was time for dessert.

The first Easy-Bake model was turquoise, and a few years later, the 1969 Premier Oven hit homes in its memorable avocado green hue, featuring even more dials and a fake clock. In 1978, the Easy-Bake Mini-Wave made its debut—sleek, modern, and microwave shaped! There were Barbie and Betty Crocker brand name spin-offs…though the standard Easy-Bake still sells the best. Nowadays, it’s called the Easy-Bake Oven & Snack Center. It has a snazzy white, pink and purple color scheme, boasts a digital cock and requires a bigger-and-better 100-watt bulb. There’s a whole lot more in the way of mix choices too…the Easy-Baker can assemble vertically impressive cake sandwiches, assorted candies and tiny pastry turnovers. And thanks to deals with sweet-toothed corporations like M&M’s, Oreo and Dunkin’ Donuts, patented toppings and ingredients can be incorporated if your baking muse so dictates. Upwards of sixteen million ovens have been sold since the Easy-Bake’s 1963 induction.

Remember, it’s still important to maintain a bulb cache: the ovens still don’t come with one, and it’s just as heartbreaking as it used to be to have a burnout with no back-up. Hasbro bought Kenner in 1991, and took over the Easy-Bake reigns. Unlike the models of old, it’s not marketed toward just girls anymore—baked goods know no gender bounds these days, and given the joy that comes from producing a perfect palm-sized delectable, that’s a good thing.

Hasbro holds a ‘Baker of the Year’ contest every year in which kids aged 8 to 11 can submit their best recipes and, hopefully, come to New York to compete in the bake-off finals. The days when we patted down mud pies in the sandbox and dared each other to eat crayons? Those days are over.

Release History of Toy

1963 – Easy-Bake Oven
1969 – Premier Oven
1978 – Easy-Bake Mini-Wave

Sub Categories of Toys

arts & crafts
hobbies

Toy and Game Manufacturer

Kennar, Hasbro

Easy Bake Oven

Published: Stuckin80s
staff writer

How many people can say they baked their first cake all by themselves at the age of 7? If you grew up in the 80s, and owned an Easy Bake Oven, you just might be able to!
The Easy Bake Oven was a staple in many households with little girls. This “mini microwave” allowed youngsters to create treats ranging from cakes, to brownies, to cookies. I remember the days of loading my mixed batter delicately into the side of the oven and waiting patiently as it moved across the little conveyor belt and magically popped out the other side warm and ready to eat!
Truth be told, the original model was created decades before our beloved 80s. Kenner Products, an Ohio based toy company, first introduced the mini cooker in 1963. This version used an ordinary incandescent light bulb to rapidly cook the bit sized treats. Years later Kenner became a division of Hasbro and the oven continued to evolve and change.
Although the model and style of changed throughout the years the appeal still remains. Children love mixing their own dessert creations and then gobbling them up! The newest model was released in 2011, but I will always fondly remember this 1981 model! Bon Appetit!​

(AP)

PAWTUCKET, R.I. – This is not the Easy-Bake Oven you remember.

The latest version of the famous toy oven first marketed in 1963 with a carrying handle and a fake stove top is now all curves and purple and snazzy graphics. And — perhaps most shocking of all — it comes with a new instruction: No light bulb necessary.

Chalk it up as an unintended consequence of the federal government’s move to phase out the incandescent light bulb. The compact fluorescents that are becoming the new standard for household use are so energy efficient that they’re useless in baking a brownie — or any of the other miniature treats the Easy-Bake has been cooking up for nearly 50 years.

Initially, news of the death of the 100-watt bulb prompted rumors that the Easy-Bake might be going the same way. Instead, the toy got its 11th redesign, at the heart of which is a new heating element much like that of a traditional oven.

The forced re-engineering also handed Hasbro an excuse to give the Easy-Bake — which in the 1960s and 1970s came in the era’s popular kitchen décor colors — its most modern makeover yet.

“This gave us a reason to do it completely differently,” said Michelle Paolino, a vice president of global brand strategy and marketing at Hasbro.

“We wanted it to look more like a real appliance, not a plastic toy,” she said.

About the size of a big bread box, the Easy-Bake Ultimate Oven is clearly designed to fit on any kitchen counter, assuming a parent is willing to shell out $49.99, a steep hike from the last model’s price tag of $29.99.

“It looks sort of like an Art Deco toaster with wings — a purple one,” said Patricia Hogan, curator at The Strong, which includes the National Museum of Play and the National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, N.Y. “It’s just so cool.”

The oven targets girls between 8 and 12. The beauty of the oven, the company and users say, is that children can mix and bake mostly themselves — the food gets pushed in one end of the oven, cooks, then comes out the other side. Still, Hasbro says parental supervision is required.

The company says the cooking chamber temperature of the new model can reach approximately 375 degrees; the outside of the oven remains only warm to the touch.

Hasbro says the product, voluntarily recalled in 2007 because of reports of burns, meets all safety regulations. Nearly a million ovens were recalled after reports of children getting their fingers or hands stuck in its opening and suffering sometimes serious burns; a 5-year-old girl was injured so badly she had to have part of her finger amputated.

Inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame in 2006, the Easy-Bake Oven has become something of an icon, spawning at least one “gourmet” cookbook that includes recipes from Food Network chef Bobby Flay. Some families, to be frugal, would use regular, less expensive cake mixes than the Easy-Bake ones, or create their own.

Jenn Romig, 31, of Denver, got an Easy-Bake for Christmas in the 1980s and loved it. Her favorite was the heart-shaped pan, which she used to make little cakes that she served to her two brothers.

“I think they wanted to” use the oven themselves, she said, “but it seemed girly. So they just would eat whatever I made.”

She didn’t know at first what was behind the oven’s magic — until one day the bulb needed changing.

“It was kind of sad for me,” she said.

Joe Cacciola, president of Fuzion Design Inc., the Pawtucket-based firm that worked with Hasbro on the Easy-Bake’s redesign over the last two years, says having to eliminate the light bulb has been something of a blessing.

He says the new heating element allows for more consistent heat — no hotspots near the bulb — and an overall better bake. There’s also no need for parents to open the insides to screw in a bulb.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the redesign has also brought an up-sizing of portions. Cacciola says the heating chamber is about 50 percent larger, and the new rectangular cooking pan, a departure from the traditional round one, can hold more and bigger snacks.

Cacciola knows a thing or two about the Easy-Bake, having worked for Hasbro himself, including on that toy line. (He also helped launch the Queasy Bake Cookerator, an ill-fated attempt to get boys in on the fun by allowing them to bake grossly named edibles like Chocolate Crud Cake and Dip ‘N Drool Dog Bones.) He says the approach designers took on the new Ultimate Oven was a blend of evolution with revolution.

The first Easy-Bake, manufactured by Kenner, now a division of Hasbro, came on the market in 1963. It was turquoise, boxy and cost $15.95; parents bought 500,000 in the first year alone. The oven has always reflected the times, at least in part: In 1965, Hasbro introduced TV-dinner-like trays that were split into three sections. The kid-cooked mini-meal consisted of beef and macaroni, peas and carrots.

By the 1980s, the oven was white and had a high-low setting switch. By 1993, it had gone pink.

In 2003, Hasbro introduced a version of the oven without a light bulb, called the Real Meal Oven, which looked less like an oven and more like a microwave. But it opted to go back to the light bulb with the next redesign.

Along with the latest model comes a new line of Easy-Bake mixes; Paolino says they’re trendier snacks. There’s a pink-and-brown “checkerboard” cake, for instance, along with whoopie pies, party pretzel “dippers” and cinnamon twists.

The cook time is about the same with the new heating element, about 15 minutes on average.

Though NewsFeed’s childhood would suggest that cookies taste better with burnt fingers, society seems to have come to an impasse with dangerous kiddie cooking.

This week, Hasbro announced that its iconic Easy-Bake Oven would abandon its nefarious light bulb, a byproduct of toy’s 11th redesign. Understandably, we’re shaken by this news and as you search for blame, point your finger at the environmentally conscious set. As we began to phase out traditional light bulbs for the more energy efficient compact fluorescents, the death of the 100-watt light bulb was imminent – as was our childhood culinary experience. (At least we didn’t let something as frivolous as safety concerns to alter our favorite childhood hazards.) “This gave us a reason to do it completely differently,” Michelle Paolino, a vice president of global brand strategy at Hasbro, told the Associated Press. “We wanted it to look more like a real appliance, not a plastic toy.”

LIST: The 100 Greatest Toys of All-TIME

Still, it’s hard to believe that from now on, American youth won’t know what it’s like to learn about cooking (or burn units) by way of plastic ovens and light bulbs. Introduced in 1963, Kenner Inc.’s Easy-Bake Oven was the original chemistry set for confection. Children followed painfully simple cooking instructions – mostly of the “Add water. Stir” variety – to yield miniscule cookies or brownies. The updated version, the Easy-Bake Ultimate Oven ($49.99), features a warming unit closer to a traditional oven that can climb to temperatures of about 375 degrees while the outside of oven “remains only warm to the touch,” according to the AP.

Allie Townsend is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @Allie_Townsend,on Facebook at Facebook/Townsend.Allie or on Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

How Easy-Bake Ovens Work

The Easy-Bake oven was hardly the first oven designed specifically for children. In the 1800s, metal models burned wood pellets as fuel. After the turn of the century, tiny electric ovens appeared.

Although kids had fun playing with them, none of these early toys ovens elevated themselves to cult status. They also had spotty safety records that made parents wonder whether these were the smartest toys for antsy little hands.

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For reasons rooted in safety concerns and convenience, Kenner seized on the concept of using twin 100-watt incandescent light bulbs to heat the oven. One bulb installed above the food tray; the other screwed in below. The idea was that recipes would cook more quickly and more evenly if heat originated from both sides of the food.

If you scoff at the idea of light bulbs as heating components, don’t doubt the effectiveness of an incandescent bulb’s waste heat. Inside the confines of the oven, temperatures ratcheted up to more than 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 degrees Celsius) .

Thanks to some nifty engineering, later models used only one bulb. Better interior heating dynamics leveraged that one bulb’s heat to create a convection effect that cooked just as well as the two-bulb models.

The light-bulb-powered design was vital for marketing purposes, too. For most parents, light bulbs simply seemed safe and harmless.

Kenner representatives were so concerned about safety perceptions of their product that they initially wanted to call it the Safety-Bake Oven. Regulatory authorities, however, thought that name was a stretch considering the oven had yet to even hit store shelves and insisted that the company use a name that didn’t include the word safety.

Kenner introduced its first Easy-Bake oven at $15.95. That holiday season, Kenner sold every oven it produced, amounting to more than half a million units. The next year, they cranked out three times as many, and sales continued rocketing upward.

At the same time, Kenner unveiled 25 various mixes for use in the oven. These mix kits made for steady revenue from kids who wanted to try every premade recipe. When General Mills bought Kenner in 1967, it launched Betty Crocker-branded mixes to make the kits even more tempting. In later decades, there were even branded mixes from the likes of McDonald’s and Pizza Hut. Of course, once they realized they couldn’t make a Big Mac in their ovens, many children decided to concoct their own recipes.

There are no limitations on what you can cook in the oven. It is just an oven, after all (although Hasbro’s accountants would obviously like you to buy their mixes instead). There’s even an “Easy-Bake Oven Gourmet” cookbook made expressly for adults. Gracing those pages are recipes featuring capers, Grand Marnier and other grown-up ingredients. There are also hundreds of other do-it-yourself recipes strewn across the Internet, offering up tiny tastes for every palate.