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After leaving the restaurant industry when my kids were babies, I started a home-based baking business specializing in desserts for milestone occasions, from 1st birthdays to 50th anniversaries. Beyond traditional layer cakes, I made heart-shaped cakes, cupcakes, train cakes, cookie cakes, petit fours, fancy tarts, and the list goes on and on. As you can imagine, I accumulated quite a few specialty baking pans, and most of them are now collecting dust in my cabinet. However, there are certain baking pans I still use over and over again for family cooking.
These are the essential baking pans I recommend for all bakers, experienced and new, in order to have a well-stocked kitchen when it’s time to get your baking on.
Round Cake Pans
What They’re Used For: Layer cakes and other cakes
What You Should Know: When we think of birthday cake, most of us think of a traditional layer cake with lots of candles on top – and since most of us need to bake a birthday cake from time to time (even if it’s from a store-bought mix), round cake pans are a home baking essential. I recommend two 8-inch and two 9-inch pans with a reliable non-stick coating. Unless you’re baking tiered wedding cakes, these two pan sizes will have you covered for the great majority of round cake recipes.
❤️ My Faves:
Square and Rectangular Baking Dishes
What They’re Used For: Sweets recipes, like breakfast cakes, snack cakes, sheet cakes, brownies, and bars, as well as savory dishes, like lasagna, baked ziti, vegetable gratins, strata, and casseroles.
What You Should Know: You’ll need several sizes of these baking pans in both metal and ceramic (or glass) versions. Metal heats up more quickly than both ceramic and glass and is great for baked goods that need to rise in the oven; it also gives whatever you’re baking lovely crisp, golden edges. Ceramic and glass are slower to heat up than metal but hold their heat for a long time, making them ideal for savory casseroles and pasta dishes that go from oven to table. Unlike metal, which can react negatively with acid-rich foods, ceramic and glass are nonreactive, so there are no limitations in terms of the ingredients you can use. Ceramic also comes in a variety of colors and designs so if you’re serving something directly from a baking dish, it makes a prettier presentation.
❤️ My Faves: You’ll need 3 different sizes of these pans for the most versatility: 2 quarts, 2.5 quarts, and 3 quarts.
- Metal: USA Bakeware 8-Inch Square Nonstick Cake Pan
- Ceramic: Sur La Table Porcelain Baker (be sure to select 2-qt size) or Emile Henry 8-Inch Square Baker
- Glass: Pyrex Basics 8-Inch Square
- Metal: USA Pan Bakeware 9-Inch Square Nonstick Square Cake Pan
- Ceramic: Emile Henry 10.25×7-inch Rectangular Baker
- Metal: USA Pan Bakeware Nonstick 9×13-Inch Cake Pan
- Ceramic: Sur La Table Porcelain Baker (be sure to select 3-qt size) or Emile Henry 13×9-Inch Rectangular Baker
- Glass: Pyrex Basics 3 Quart Glass Oblong Baking Dish
What You Should Know: It’s important to buy a good-quality muffin pan that will distribute heat evenly and ensure the batter in the center of each well cooks as much as the batter on the outer edges. A good nonstick coating is vital so your baked goods don’t stick; it also makes cleaning the muffin pan much easier.
❤️ My Fave: USA Pan Bakeware Nonstick Muffin Pan
What You Should Know: A springform pan, or round pan with sides that can be released from the base, makes for easy work of removing delicate baked goods from the pan without the need to invert them. You can then either serve the cake directly from the base of the pan or transfer it to a plate. It’s important to get a high-quality pan with a strong seal between the base and the sides; this will prevent leaks (and frustrated bakers!). Springform pans come in a few different heights; I recommend one that is 3 inches deep.
❤️ My Fave: Nordic Ware 9-inch Springform Pan
What They’re Used For: Breads, quick breads, pound cakes, no-churn ice cream
What You Should Know: Whether it’s to bake a quick banana bread for your family or to whip up no-churn ice key-lime pie cream on a hot summer day, your loaf pans will get plenty of use. It’s important to purchase pans that have a reliable nonstick surface so you can easily remove your baked goods. For the most flexibility, I recommend two different-size loaf pans: 8½x4½ inches, and 9×5 inches. These loaf pans are not interchangeable; although the difference in size may seem minimal, recipes don’t usually translate well to a smaller or larger loaf pan.
❤️ My Faves:
- USA Pan Bakeware 8.5 x 4.5-Inch Steel Loaf Pans (I recommend 2)
- USA Pan Bakeware 9 x 5-Inch Steel Loaf Pan (I recommend 1)
Deep-Dish Pie Pan
What It’s Used For: Pies, cakes, quiches, egg dishes
What You Should Know: Whether you’re making a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving or quiche for family brunch, a pie plate is a must in your kitchen. There are two different depths of pie plates: standard and deep-dish. A standard pie plate is typically 1.25 inches deep; a deep-dish pie plate typically measures 1.5 to 2 inches deep. All of my pie-pan recipes call for a deep-dish pan, so this is what I recommend having. Of course, if you make standard-size pies, you’ll need one of those pans too.
❤️ My Faves:
What It’s Used For: Denser cakes, like coffee cakes and pound cakes, as well as gelatin fruit molds
What You Should Know: Bundt pans, known for their decorative sculpted sides and inner tubes, have thicker walls than most other baking pans, which helps cakes bake more evenly. Additionally, the hole in the middle of the pan lets heat rise through the center of the cake, ensuring even rising and baking. There are a wide variety of designs available, from simple ridges to decorative flowers. Because bakers sometimes have problems with Bundt cakes sticking to the pan, I strongly recommend purchasing one with a simple design. In my experience, the more complex the design, the more likely the cake is to stick. I also recommend buying a pan that has a light interior. Pans with darker interiors conduct heat better and can over-brown the exterior of your cake.
Baking Sheet/Half Sheet Pan
What They’re Used For: Baking cookies, breads, and sheet cakes; roasting vegetables and meats; making full (sheet-pan) dinners; carrying foods to and from the grill.
What You Should Know: You’ll find yourself pulling these babies out over and over (and over), so I recommend having at least 2 baking sheets. Some may refer to sheet pans as jelly roll pans or cookie sheets. While technically cookie sheets are a bit different (they have a raised lip on 1 or 2 sides but don’t have the higher edges all around), baking sheets can be used for all cookie recipes. When purchasing a baking sheet, choose a heavy-duty pan that won’t buckle under high heat. It’s also important to select one that is light in color. Darker metal conducts heat better than light metal, which can cause the bottom of your baked goods to burn.
❤️ My Fave: USA Pan Bakeware Half Sheet Pan
What They’re Used For: Cooling racks aren’t just for cooling! While they’re primarily used to cool cookies and cakes after they’ve been removed from the oven, they’re also great for cooking. For example, you can place one on top of a baking sheet to cook meat. This allows any excess fat from the meat to drip down onto the baking sheet. Additionally, they’re useful for ensuring that items with a crispy coating come out crisp on all sides; putting the food on a rack over a baking sheet lets the hot air circulate all around it and keeps the bottoms from coming out soggy.
What You Should Know: There are a few important things to keep in mind when buying a cooling rack. First, make sure you purchase one that is oven-safe. This gives you the flexibility to use it in all the ways I’ve described above. Additionally, it’s best to buy a cooling rack that has a grid pattern (instead of the bars going just one way), as this helps prevent food from slipping through.
❤️ My Fave: USA Pan Half Sheet Bakeable Cooling Rack
Whether you’re baking brownies for your local bake sale, creating a festive layer cake for your child’s birthday, or making muffins for your family to grab-and-go in the morning, having the right baking pans will give you the results you’re looking for. It’s so disappointing to have baked goods stick or come out poorly. Conversely, there’s little more satisfying than turning out a sweet treat that you’ve spent time and effort on. Hopefully this list of pans will help you build or supplement the ones you’ve got at home so you can feel successful every time. Just a reminder that in addition to having the right baking dishes, there are many factors to successful baking. You can read more about them here. Happy baking!
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