How to Choose the Right Cake Pans

Cake pans are made of metal and come in various shapes and sizes. They can be purchased individually or in sets and should last a long time when properly cared for.

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The most popular pans are made of aluminum or aluminized steel, which conduct heat evenly and prevents cakes from doming. However, some bakers prefer other materials.

Material

There are a few different materials used in bakeware, and each type has its own advantages and disadvantages. Aluminum is lightweight and affordable, but it can warp in high temperatures. It also reacts with acidic ingredients like lemon juice or vinegar, which can leave a metallic flavor in the final product. Anodized aluminum, on the other hand, is thicker and more durable than regular aluminum and prevents warping. It’s also non-reactive and safe for citrus or tomato-based foods.

If you’re baking a delicate torte or cheesecake, look for a springform pan. These round tins feature a flat base surrounded by a notched spring collar that latches onto the bottom and unlocks to release the sides when cooled. Look for a well-constructed collar that ensures a tight seal to minimize leaks.

Tube pans, also called angel food cake pans, are essential for fluffy, light cakes that rise up and climb the sides of the tin. Their hollow center tube helps airy recipes rise evenly and prevents the cake from collapsing as it bakes. They’re usually made from aluminum and can over-brown the top or bottom if you don’t grease them properly.

Color

Many bakers don’t consider the color of their pans when baking — but it’s an important factor. Similar to how dark clothing feels on a hot day, darker pans absorb more heat and radiation from the oven than lighter pans.

When baking cakes, this can cause them to brown and set around the edges of the cake before the center has finished rising. This leads to stunted height and a domed cake.

To counter this, light-colored pans are typically made of aluminum and conduct heat evenly so that the entire cake can finish cooking without over-browning or burning. Dark-colored pans tend to be made of cast iron or have a non-stick coating over steel and are best used for cakes that require a crisp top or bottom.

If you want to bake a cake in a dark-colored pan, King Arthur Baking suggests reducing the recipe’s recommended baking temperature by 25 degrees and checking it for doneness 10 to 15 minutes before the time the recipe states. They also suggest lining the pan with parchment paper or buttering the entire pan before adding batter.

Size

It’s important to know how big of a pan you need. Batter that’s too much for the pan will overflow or bake faster than it should. On the other hand, if the batter is too little, it might not rise enough to fill the pan or the cake will be domed and shallower than expected.

Many pans come in standardized sizes, but the exact volume can vary by manufacturer. For example, a standard loaf pan can have either 6 or 8 cups capacity.

You can figure out the capacity of a pan by multiplying one side by its depth and then converting the result to fluid ounces. For example, a two-inch deep pan has a capacity of 128 cubic inches (or 64 fluid ounces).

Shape

While the shape of a pan may seem minor, it can impact the final outcome. For example, a silicone pan is flexible, and while it can be oven-safe, it does not transfer or retain heat well, which means that cakes baked in such a mold will not brown as evenly.

Round pans, usually made from aluminum, produce tender, even-baked cake layers. They’re also versatile enough to bake brownies and other single-serving desserts. Bundt pans, on the other hand, typically feature fluted or decorative sides and come in a range of sizes.

Rectangle cake pans (often called sheet pans) are incredibly useful for baking large, thin, layered cakes or no-bake desserts or savory dishes, like lasagna. They’re available in a variety of standardized sizes, including full and half-sheet pans.

Another type of multifunctional pan is a springform pan, which has a flat base and a notched collar that latches shut around it. This allows you to remove delicate foods, such as cheesecake, from the pan without inverting it. These are often found in nonstick aluminum or tinned steel designs.

Design

There are many options for cake pans. Most are made of aluminum, although steel and glass are also available. Stainless steel is durable and heat-resistant, but it takes longer to heat up than other metals. It may not conduct heat as well, and it can react with acidic ingredients.

The most common metal pans have straight sides and a small bottom radius. They produce cakes with clean edges and a nice texture, and are easy to frost. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including round and square.

Nonstick cake pans are a popular choice for their convenience, but they need to be used with care. Most need a light coating of cooking spray or shortening to prevent sticking. Silicone is a good option for delicate or intricately-shaped cakes, though it’s best saved for casserole dishes and foods that don’t require high heat. It’s a poor conductor of heat and can lead to over-browning or under-baking. It’s also more expensive than metal pans.