John recalled this childhood memory for Atlanta Journal and Constitution readers in 1998 when he was a food columnist:
By my unscientific straw poll, the Easy-Bake Oven was a hot seller for Christmas 1997. My daughter Rachel, who had long coveted this toy, got one. So did the other two Rachels in her first-grade class, her cousin Sam and the 9-year-old nephew of a colleague of mine.
Not bad for a decidedly low-tech toy whose basic trick —-unchanged in 35 years —-is cooking tiny baked goods with the refracted heat of a 100-watt light bulb.
And though five random children is no basis for a market study, I’d still say that one important demographic shift is revealed nonetheless. More boys seem to be joining the ranks of easy bakers, even though Hasbro spokeswoman Audrey Basso admits that the ovens are still marketed primarily to girls and their mothers.
That wasn’t the case back at Christmas 1970. Back when I wanted an Easy-Bake Oven of my own.
When I told my parents they looked concerned —-nearly aghast. My four older brothers and sisters snickered ruthlessly. I might as well have asked for a set of hot rollers and a jar of Dippity Do.
But on Christmas morning a large, potentially Easy-Bake-sized box appeared under the tree with my name on it. I ripped into it, took it out of its box, plugged it in. Bliss.
I remember the 1970 model came not only with an oven, but also a griddle on top. Right there, under the tree on Christmas morning, I fried a hot dog. The only way my parents could drag me away from my Easy-Bake was an excursion to see “The Aristocats.”
Later on I worked through the mixes that came with it —-miniature boxes decorated with idealized pictures of layer cake that belied the tasteless little hockey pucks they actually produced. Before long the oven was retired to the attic without much fanfare, as doubtless millions of others have been since the fad heated up.
Sales have been steady since the Kenner toy company (now a division of Hasbro) introduced the Easy-Bake Oven in the early 1960s. It was was an immediate success, selling more than 2 million units by 1967. Soon a household word, it begat a number of product-line extensions including the Easy-Pop Corn Popper, the Easy-Bake Bubble-Gum set as well as a taffy machine and a blender/juicer.
The Easy-Bake evolution
Improvements on the basic model, introduced at various times, have included a 20-minute timer and a dual-temperature oven. The “slide-thru baking pan” that keeps little fingers from reaching into hot baking chambers was introduced in 1968 and has remained a feature to date.
But though the basic mechanism inside has remained unchanged, the design of the oven casing has undergone a major face lift. Twenty-seven years to the date after I first laid delighted eyes on my own Easy-Bake Oven, I’m staring at Rachel’s gleaming white model, and I’m in shock.
It looks like a microwave! Right down to the purple sticker bottom panel that flashes a perpetual time of 12:30.
She, however, is entranced. And desperate to get cooking. “Daddy, come sooon!” she implores, tugging on my hand and urging me up and out of an armchair. She had already taken grandpa on a tour through every convenience store open on Christmas morning to find the required 100-watt standard light bulb. She had already cajoled mommy into removing the back of the oven with a Phillips screwdriver and installing the bulb. Now it’s my turn to help her cook.
Cooking Easy-Bake style is not difficult. You select a mix and combine it with a precise teaspoon or two of water, measured from the provided M&M teaspoon. Rachel and I make a batch of seven dime-sized sugar cookies and slide them into the oven with the long sliding stick. After a few minutes we push them through to the cooling rack. They are actually delicious.
Later on we prepared the yellow cake with chocolate frosting and carved it into six itty-bitty wedges that Rachel passed around after dinner. Another winner. Now she’s out of mixes and wants me to pick up more at the toy store. She also wants to melt nacho cheese in the warming cup you put on top of the oven.
The Easy-Bake Oven will celebrate its 35th anniversary at the Toy Fair in New York next month. Cagey sources at Hasbro plan to make a “big announcement” about the toy, but they can’t tell me what it is yet, so stay tuned. Maybe they’re introducing contemporary mixes for creme brulee and tiramisu.
I hope not. With any luck they’ll reintroduce the griddle top. Then Rachel and I can pop “The Aristocats” into the VCR and fry up some hot dogs.
Today, John Kessler is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s chief dining critic. Join him and our entire dining team as they discuss food and dining on their blog: ajc.com/go/foodandmore.