I think one of the things that discourages a lot of would-be pastry makers is the difficulty of getting new and lively presentations out of the same-old-same home baking forms. Let’s face it, there’s only so much you can do with pie plates, muffin tins and loaf pans. A great way to break up the monotony is by employing stainless steel cake rings. As you can see from the picture, all cake rings are are simple steel hoops. At first glance you might find yourself wondering what possible use a bottomless band of steel can be for baking or forming desserts. Yet combine them with a good thick commercial-quality sheet pan and they become miracle gadgets.
Good ones (the expensive kind) are made of a relatively heavy gage steel and are machined to very precise tolerances. Set one down on a thick, flat sheet pan and they create an almost water-tight seal, plenty tight to hold even a very runny cake batter. And of course being bottomless they make it a snap to unmold taller-than-they-are-wide cakes, gelatins, you name it. I own probably five different sizes, 2″ x 2 1/2″, 3″ x 3″, 3 1/2″ x 1 1/2″, and so on. At least half a dozen of each. Granted, they are a little on the pricey side, up to five bucks each depending on who you get them from.
An alternative to stainless steel rings, at least for non-heat applications like setting custards or gelatins, is PVC pipe. This can be had in pretty much any width at a hardware store for a fraction of the cost of a set of stainless rings. You can cut it with a saw to any length you like (though it’s tough to get perfectly flat bottoms without a table saw). It’s also food safe as long as you don’t EVER try to bake in it. Me, I’d just as soon go with the steel.