Let’s Talk Pans

Regular reader and commenter Linda writes in with this very interesting question:

I checked your archives and did not see anything about equipment, particularly types of baking sheets and pans and which are better. I made your mother’s banana bread over the holiday break and it was absolutely wonderful! However, I used some new loaf pans and while the top was browned to perfection, I thought the sides and bottom were much too crispy and overdone. The same thing happened to a Tuscan Coffee Cake I’ve made every Christmas for the past several years when I baked it in my new cake pans. I’ve noticed that whenever I use my “new and improved” non-stick, heavy duty pans from reputable outfits such as Calphalon, they seem to overcook on the sides and/or bottom. When I use my ancient, inherited from mom and grandmother thin aluminum pans that I’ve used for decades, everything comes out perfectly.

There’s good reason for that, Linda. Most of the older pans were better, not because they were a superior alloy, but because they were a superior color. For reasons that escape me, a lot of bakeware produced today is grey, black, or some other dark color. Most people understand intuitively that if we wear dark colors on a hot day we’ll be hotter because our clothes will absorb more heat. Though it doesn’t make intuitive sense — because let’s face it, ovens are dark on the inside — dark-colored baking vessels absorb more heat in the oven. That’s why your breads are burning.

Calphalon’s entire brand is based on those dark, anodized aluminum colors. So it’s no surprise that their bread pans are dark-colored also. However those colors present a problem in the oven for reasons that are all-too obvious at this point. You can mitigate the problem to some extent by baking on a lower shelf or at a lower temperature, but ultimately your reflective tin pans will do a better job with your breads.

This is why old-school forms are generally better across the board, with the possible exception of old-school tin pie plates. The problem with those is not so much the material, but the shallow sides which promote over-baking at the edges. In general when it comes to baking you want light-colored everything. Crockery is fine, though try to avoid the deep blue, brown and crimson finishes…go for the white, yellow and gold instead. However reflective metal is to be preferred. This is not to say that thickness or the type of alloy is irrelevant. It’s simply a secondary consideration. I’d say a somewhat thick-layered, pale or shiny aluminum alloy of some kind is ideal — for sheet pans, bread pans, cake pans, tart pans, springform pans, the works. This stuff is light, strong, stackable and bakes perfectly.

The other stuff looks cooler, but it sure doesn’t bake that way. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, Linda! Those Calphalon pans are pricey. As a general rule, bakers should spend money on good ovens, not good bakeware. High-tech alloys can be of value in cookware to avoid cold spots on the surfaces of pans. In the baking game cold spots aren’t a problem in the pans, but in the ovens. Which raises another good point — try calibrating your oven as well, and measure the temperature in several different spots. You may have a “hot spot” that you haven’t been aware of before now.

24 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Pans”

  1. I just thought of this– How does glassware compare to the reflective bakeware? Since it’s non-reflective, does that mean it will cook things even slower?

    1. Indeed so. It takes a ton of heat to even generate a modest bottom crust when using a glass baker. That’s why they’re great for casseroles where you want a nice crisp top but a soft bottom.

  2. Hi Joe.

    I have found some great pans on Amazon from a funny brand, Fat Daddio’s. They have almost any baking pan size and type you can think of then then some you didn’t think of. They are sturdy, light colored, anodized aluminum and are very reasonable in price. So far, everything I have baked in them (cakes, rolls, tea breads, cheesecakes) have come out perfectly. They are made in China as most everything is these days, but I find them vastly superior to some well known American brands (that are probably made in China too). Pass along if you’d like. Happy New Year!


    1. That’s actually excellent bakeware! It’s a great suggestion, Eva. Thanks very much!

  3. Any thoughts on what size cake pans to own? The “Fat Daddios” listed above have several different diameters and depths. Is 8″ more common or 9″?

    1. For cake layer pans, 9″ rounds are the standard. For springform pans, 8″, 9″, 10″ are all used frequently (11″ if you’re heavily into cheesecakes).

      – Joe

  4. I have Chicago Metallic bread pans, cake Pans and muffin tins… the commercial style aluminum ones, not the non-stick. I’ve been pleased with them so far, but still need a few sizes. How do they compare to Fat Daddio? Do you have any thoughts on that brand?

    (Oh, and glad you are back!)


    1. In fact most of my bakeware is Chicago Metallic. I just love the stuff…mostly because it’s so basic and solidly made. I think Fat Daddio makes somewhat thicker pans…some sort of aluminum alloy. I have a couple of their cake pans but that’s it. Whether they’re any better than Chicago Metallic I can’t say. I’m a price point buyer for the most part since I as I said I don’t much believe in miracle baking pans. An exception to that is NordicWare, which not only makes nice quality pans but comes out with lots of innovative designs for various cake bakeware.

  5. Having been a professional Chef I could not agree more, spend far less on bake ware and buy a good oven and a good thermometer. It amazes me how many home bakers have hot spots in their ovens but do nothing.

  6. I agree with Eva. Fat Dadio pans are excellent. They are sturdy and light colored and for me these are the 2 best things to look for in pans. When I bake cakes in dark colored pans (which seem to abound in the market for reasons that I don’t understand), the cakes don’t bake well. They bake more quickly than the recipe calls for and the crust tends to be a bit darker.

    1. Yes, dark cake pans can be a disaster indeed. The extra heat and rapid rise actually leads to thinner cake layers, either because the eggs set up early before the leavener has fully activated or the rise happens so fast that the layer falls in on itself. Nope, dark cake layer pans just ain’t no good.

  7. Anyone tried USA Pans? I got a high-sided loaf pan from King Arthur for a particular coffee cake that kept rising above every pan I tried the recipe in. I fell in love with that pan and I’ve been replacing some of my bakeware with it as I can afford to.

    It’s heavy metal. Light grey in color. Corrugated. And, I believe, silicone treated; at least I have no sticking — even with that aggressive coffee cake that’s laminated with a sugar filling that can leak onto the metal during baking. It’s in about the same price range at Caphalon and Chicago Metallic.

    I’ve gotten it at Sur la Table and I just noticed it in Bed Bath & Beyond last time I was in there.

    1. I myself don’t know those, but I’ll look them next time I hit a kitchen supply place.


      – Joe

          1. Hey! I just got a Sur la Table catalogue and it turns out that they’re on sale at 20% off right now.

            They sell it under their name and call it Platinum Bakeware. Good stuff!

            Don’t know how that compares to what Bed Bath & Beyond is charging for them but then you can always use one of their 20% off coupons. BTW, do you and your readers know that they print their coupons with expiration dates but they honor them after expiration? A useful fact.

  8. I’ve always shied away from aluminum because of the fear of it leaching into my food. Has science de-bunked by phobia?

    1. Do a search here on Joe Pastry for the word “Alzheimer’s”. That should clear things up! 😉

      – Joe

  9. I’ve been buying muffin pans and suchlike from TradeMe (what New Zealanders use instead of Ebay) and getting some good old solid ones. I dislike non-stick intensely and it’s about all you can buy these days unless you want to spend a fortune. Apart from anything else, there isn’t a non-stick pan that can withstand really high temperatures.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *