The importance of good baking pans for the commercial kitchen cannot be overstated. The success of baked goods correlates directly to the shape, size, and material of the pans you use, and choosing the most appropriate pans for the tasks at hand will lead to the superior results you seek.
Cakes Are Complex
Baking the perfect cake is a complicated task. Even when you start with a wonderful, tried-and-true recipe, factors ranging from mixing techniques to the temperature of the ingredients you use can affect how the cake turns out. There is little room for error in baking; therefore you should always try to use the exact baking pan size and type called for in a recipe.
The incorrect size pan may cause your creation to run over, burn around the edges, fall in the center, or simply appear unsightly and uneven. The ideal cake pan, on the other hand, will conduct heat to the batter consistently, so the cake can rise flat and even, and it will be large enough to give the batter room to expand, which will give the cake a delicate and thin crust. Knowing how each type of pan will affect your recipe and the end results will ensure the best outcomes.
Just like with pots and pans, it’s important to know what kind of material your bakeware is made from. Most commercial cake/baking pans are made of metal: aluminum, stainless steel or silicone.
Metal: High Heat, Good Results
Metal bakeware is the ultimate heat conductor; metal baking pans heat up and cool down quickly, which makes them ideal for baking cookies and cakes. Metal pans come in various types, each of which can have a different effect on the outcome of your baked goods.
Anodized Aluminum Bakeware
Anodized aluminum is a nonreactive baking-pan material. This type of pan, which is light in color, keeps the bottom crust nice and light, with less wrinkling than what you get in darker pans. By reflecting heat rather than absorbing it, anodized aluminum reaches the proper baking temperature more quickly and cools down quickly too.
There are two types of anodized bakeware: silver anodized and hard anodized.
Silver anodized bakeware is made of aluminum that has gone through a process that hardens its outer layer. This process gives the aluminum a scratch-resistant, non-stick surface that will not rust, peel or blister. The aluminum maintains its ability to conduct heat quickly and evenly; in fact, cooking times may need to be reduced when using anodized bakeware. It is recommended to check for doneness about two-thirds through the suggested baking time. Although anodized aluminum is scratch resistant, do not use sharp knives to cut food that is baked in these pans to prevent damage to the surface.
Hard anodized bakeware is similar to silver anodized, except that the aluminum is processed for a longer time, which produces a hard finish that is about 10 times thicker than that of silver anodized bakeware. Metal utensils, other than the sharpest knives, can be used on hard anodized bakeware without causing any damage to the surface. Hard anodized bakeware has a dark surface, which can also affect the baking time required when using this type of bakeware.
Aluminum is a good material for bakeware because it is a good conductor of heat, which results in even baking, but the shiny surface of the aluminum may prevent proper browning. Aluminum bakeware is durable and will not rust. For best results, look for bakeware made of heavy-gauge aluminum rather than thinner, flimsy aluminum, which, while less expensive, may warp when exposed to high temperatures, causing uneven baking.
In the words of the Cookware Manufacturers Association, “Aluminized steel is steel that has been hot-dip coated on both sides with an aluminum-silicon alloy. The silicon provides adherence of the aluminum, which then protects against corrosion, allowing for the use of the product without worrying about rust. The aluminum in the coating forms aluminum oxide, which is transparent and not noticed, but which protect the underlying surface from reactions with the atmospheric oxygen. The aluminum is also non-reactive to foods and is therefore favored for baking applications.”
Aluminized steel is seen most commonly in bakeware such as baking sheets (also known as jelly roll pans), bread/loaf, cake, pie and muffin pans. Aluminized steel pans are solidly built and most often come with rolled edges covering internal steel wires for extra support, which prevents warping in high temperatures. The aluminized steel bakeware has a thick, solid feel to it; it will cost more than other bakeware, but is worth the added cost when its long life and performance is taken into consideration.
Stainless steel is a durable and safe metal that is used for a wide variety of purposes in the commercial kitchen, but because it is a poor heat conductor, its usefulness in bakeware is limited to items such as sheet pans or pie pans. Stainless steel is especially resistant to corrosion and rusting compared to other metals. It is dishwasher safe and maintains its shiny glow even with tough commercial use, and it can be found in many other types of commercial cookware including stock pots, skillets, fry pans, sauce pans and more.
Silicone: Non-Stick Newcomer
Silicone baking pans of all shapes and sizes – from tube pans to muffin tins – have grown in popularity in recent years. They do not require additional non-stick sprays or oils, and they tend to heat quickly and evenly. Silicone is great for dealing with sticky baked goods that won’t release easily, and it virtually eliminates a leftover mess once the food is cooked. However, silicone is a poor heat conductor: it takes a while to heat up and can impact the appearance of your baked goods by failing to brown the food sufficiently. However, silicone is a good option when you’re doing some light baking; for instance, if you’re making muffins, fluffy cakes, or bread, silicone can eliminate residue that might stick during the baking process.
Glassware and Ceramic
Although glass and ceramic bakeware are both attractive and functional, we won’t be discussing them here, as they are not used at all in the commercial kitchen.
Many specialty baking pans and dishes exist – more than can be covered here – but we’ll talk about the ones that are the most commonly used in restaurants and other commercial kitchens.
Straight-Sided, Anodized-Aluminum Cake Pan
Standard rectangular, square, or round baking pans are must-haves for baking. But let the baker beware: size is critical. In most recipes, a nine-inch round (layer) pan is not interchangeable with an eight-inch round pan. When you’re working with a round pan, an extra inch diameter represents a substantial increase in volume. So, when you’re using the same amount of batter in a too-large pan not only will the cake be thinner, it will not rise as well or bake as evenly in a bigger-than-required pan. Under-filling also means the batter will set faster than it can rise, leading to bubbles, cracks, and blemishes in the crust. In other words, use the proper size pan, as specified in the recipe, for foolproof results every time.
If you own a bakery, restaurant, or cafe, the versatile sheet pan or baking sheet is indispensable. Sheet pans, cookie pans, or baking sheets are shallow, rectangular pans, perfect for baking rolls, cookies, and just about anything you would need to simply heat in the oven. These pans are available in a variety of edge styles, including wire-in-rim, open bead, curled rim, and rimless to suit your business’s needs. Metal cookie sheets with a dark, dull surface will absorb heat more quickly than those with a shinier surface, which could lead to cookies with burned bottoms and unbaked tops.
The sheet pan of choice for the commercial kitchen should be made from durable materials like aluminum or aluminized steel. For an added touch of convenience, look for dishwasher and freezer safe products that make cleanup and advanced food prep a breeze. You can also find perforated pans that allow you to create delicious crispy or doughy baked goods.
Springform pans come in diameters that range from 4 inches to more than 12 inches; they are composed of two separate pieces – a flat base and a notched spring collar that latches to close tightly around the base. Once you are finished baking in the pan, you can open the latch and lift the collar away. They are best for foods that cannot be easily removed from the pan by simply turning it upside down, like cheesecake.
Like most other bakeware, springform pans come in a variety of materials including anodized aluminum and heavy-gauge steel. Other features include a non-stick surface, which precludes the need for greasing the surface, and a waterproof seal around the base (important for when immersing the pan in a water bath).
Bundt Pans and Tube Pans
Bundt pans and tube pans (also referred to as angel-cake pans), are circular pans with an opening in the center. Tube pans share one distinction: the tube down the center. Most tube pans are made of metal, but their capacity, width, depth, color, material, density, and weight vary greatly.
Angel food cakes and chiffon cakes are always baked in tube pans, because these pans actually help delicate cakes rise. Because egg-white-based cakes contain very little flour, and therefore very little gluten (which helps build structure), the batter needs something to cling to as it bakes, or it will collapse. As the egg foam heats up, it will climb up the tall sides (and conical center) of a tube pan; however the pan’s tall sides won’t keep the cake sturdy until it cools, so angel food and chiffon cakes are often cooled upside down on the pan’s tripod feet.
Bundt pans are tube-type pans that usually feature fluted or decorative sides and, like all tube pans, Bundt pans vary in size. When using a Bundt pan, be sure to cover every nook and cranny with non-stick cooking spray; certain recipes require that you flour the pan as well, which increases the likelihood that the whole cake will be released when you want it to. (A nonstick finish is a convenient option.) Flexible silicone Bundt pans are available, but they tend to lack stability and are less tried and true.
A loaf pan, also called a bread pan, is not only used for bread, but also for coffee cakes and other baked goods, as well. Most loaf pans are the shape of a loaf, i.e., a long, narrow rectangle, and loaf pans can be made of metal (with or without a non-stick coating), or single-use paper that sticks to the dough but is easily removed, once cooked. Loaf pans come in different sizes, and they’re perfect for bread, cornbread, and banana cake.
A muffin tin or cupcake pan is a type of baking mold, with cup-like openings that hold 3 to 4 ounces of batter each. They are perfect for cooking muffins and cupcakes, but can also be used to create any single-serving dessert – like miniature cheesecakes or individual brownie-type cakes. They are best when used in combination with paper liners that can easily be removed from the pan, but they also work with non-stick spray. Silicone muffin tins in various sizes are becoming increasingly popular as they are convenient and eliminate the need for both paper and spray.
Pie pans are round and shallow with sloped or angled sides, which help to hold a pie’s shape along with its fillings. The edges are often fluted, allowing bakers to easily create pie crusts with scalloped edges. Pie pans come in all materials – metal, glass, and ceramic (although the latter aren’t used in the commercial kitchen).
Baking Pan Size Matters
When baking, it’s essential to use the pan size specified by a recipe to achieve optimal results. Using the right size baking pan is important, because baking times are designed for a specific batter thickness. If a recipe is meant for a 10-inch pan and you pour the whole batter into an 8-inch pan, it will be much thicker and the middle won’t get done before the top burns.
That said, if you must convert from the specified pans to pans that are readily available in your kitchen, it is possible (though not ideal):
- Two 8-inch round layers = 18-24 cupcakes
- Three 8-inch round layers = two 9-inch square pans
- One 9-inch round layer = one 8-inch square pan
- Two 9-inch round layers = one 13 x 9-inch pan, two 8-inch square pans, or 30 cupcakes
- One 9 x 5-inch loaf pan = one 9-inch square pan or two dozen cupcakes
Baking – especially commercial baking – adheres to the old and well-worn cliché that asserts that cooking is an art, while baking is a science. The ingredients in baking recipes have a chemical reaction when combined and heated, but they also react with the pan you choose to cook them in. Metal pans – in their various incarnations – are the professional baker’s material of choice, and once you know the right kinds of bakeware to use for preparing your baked delights, you can count on consistent and impressive results. It’s all a matter of making the right choice based on the item you’re baking, the temperature at which you’re baking it, and just how you want it to look, taste, and feel when you’re done.