If you make cookies, then you will want some cookie sheets. Professionals use huge aluminum pans, lined with silicone mats. Silpat mats are a sort of high-tech reusable parchment paper. Made from silicone rubber, they resist baking temperatures well over 400F. Their raison d'etre is to prevent baked goods from sticking to the pans. This is crucial in any commercial bakery since people don't want to buy crumbled cookies.
But this combination of equipment has other advantages. The shiny aluminum surface reflects heat. And the silpat mats insulate the bottoms of cookies. These factors prevent cookies from getting burnt bottoms - an inevitable fate of many kinds of cookies if cooked directly on dark colored aluminum pans. Parchment paper is a good way to help prevent this problem, but you have to cut it to size for every batch of cookies, and cookies stick to it a little.
You could also buy double-walled cookie sheets. These also will help prevent cookies from getting burnt bottoms. This may seem like a lot of expense and trouble to bake cookies, but nothing is more frustrating than to go to the trouble of making cookies from scratch and have them burn.
If you cook muffins, you could buy metal muffin pans, but once again silicone proves a superior choice. Muffins are fragile; they break easily when you try to remove them from their pans. If you use a silicone muffin pan, the pan can be peeled away from the muffin. Since we do not expect muffins to be browned, the slight insulating property of the silicone does not adversely affect the product. You will need to place them on a cookie sheet to keem them steady in the oven. This will also help catch drips.
Because they contain much more water, quick breads and cakes dictate different considerations. Many find the brown crust of a bread the best part, so the problem with baking bread is to get the crust in the pan to brown nicely. The pricey way to get the perfect loaf is the All Clad loaf pan. The shiny brass-colored internal surface is really a hard non-stick coating. This assures that if you get any browning of a cake or a loaf of bread, it all comes out with the loaf instead of sticking to the pan. Of the cake pans tested by Cooks Illustrated a few years ago, the All Clad pan rated best.
One holy grail of the pastry cook is the leak-free springform pan. The springform pan is typically used to make round layer cakes. Other types of round pans are wider at the mouth than the base. This produces a cake with a vertical face that zig-zags or must be trimmed. It is a major problem for anyone who bakes round layer cakes regularly and in quantity. The springform pan has straight sides, so it makes a straight layer cake.
There are a lot of spring-form pans on the market that will hold a very thick cake batter. And you learn to bake in them with a cookie sheet beneath. But sometimes one will wish to use a spring-form pan for other things like flan or cheesecake. If the sprinborm pan is placed in water and it leaks, the result can be a complete disaster. We are assured by independent tests that the Kaiser Noblesse springform pan does not leak. And it comes in 7,8,9, and 10 inch diameters.
Kaiser and Chicago metallic produce a large line of cake, bread, and roll pans. We have no reason to believe one is substantially better or worse than another (though it is inevitably true that some will be at least a bit more fit for one function or another.) It is generally true that an inexpensive pan, some parchment, some patience, and some ingenuity will be sufficient for all but the grandest of baking schemes.
There are several cakes that depend on a specially shaped pan. The old saying 'never undertake an enterprise that requires new clothes' may be as applicable here as ever. Though today there is some question whether it has ever been very applicable. There are cases where a special kind of frosting or filling will dictate a differently shaped cake. Bundt cakes and Angel Food cake pans are examples.
Bread baking comes as close to being a black art as any thing in cooking. Every choice of ingredients affects everything else. Adding fruit to yeast breads cand profoundly change the texture by causeing the yeast to behave differently, for example. And because plain breads have so little native flavor, texture becomes an item of paramount importance.
Those who wish to bake crusty French style breads might be happy to find bread pans with holes in them, like the ones used to make real baguettes. Those who insist on eating a square meal every day may be interested in the Matfer pan that makes a square loaf.
For normal bread, here are some ideas.
Here are our recommendations:
The starter sets shown above are a good choice for starters.
Eat well and prosper.
Copyright S.R. Brubaker 2002 - 2006.