Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Preparing Pans For Baking - A General Guide For Beginners

Imagine trying a great cookie recipe only to get some with burnt bottoms and under cooked tops? Imagine baking a lovely cake which sadly sticks to the pan and refuses to get out in one piece? It will still taste good no doubt, but the joy of inverting a neat cake is something most new bakers revel in! Be it the intended taste or texture or just a neat bake, preparing your pan right helps to a large extent.

Invariably, most baking recipes begin with instructions to 'prepare' the baking pan.  More often than not, it simply means greasing, flouring and lining the pan with baking parchment. For some cakes you may need to line the sides too. Some recipes direct NOT to grease or flour the sides. This of course depends on what you would be baking. A foam cake, a regular butter cake, a chiffon cake, a mousse cake, shortbread cookies, tuiles, brownies or a rich fruit cake.

The baking pan needed could be a round tin, a square tin or a muffin pan, a bundt pan, a spring form pan, a tube pan, a jelly roll pan, a muffin tin, cookie sheet (or tray), a loaf pan, ramekins, a tart tin or any kind of oven safe bake ware. 

Here are some general guidelines which may help.

GENERAL RULE : Preparing the pan is the very first thing you must do before you proceed with the recipe directions. The batter once prepared must immediately go into the prepared pan and then into the oven. In foam cakes, the batter will deflate if kept waiting. In other bakes which have baking powder or soda, the waiting batter may result in a denser or flat cake.

For cakes, lightly grease the bottom and sides of the pan, place the round / square piece of parchment at the bottom of the tin to fit snugly. Its safer to line the sides as wellLightly grease the parchment again , flour the pan.  Remember, this is the general rule in the absence of specific instructions.  Otherwise, always follow recipe instructions.

BAKING PARCHMENT Available at baking supplies store, sold online too, this is best for lining your cookie sheets and cake tins.  NOT the same as wax paper or butter paper it aids easy release of the cake from the pan. The added advantage of using baking parchment is, it does not tear easily or burn even at high temperatures, just darkens in color. You will appreciate this when you bake pizza. Pre-cut parchment pieces are also available, but not in India. Do not use wax paper as the waxy coating melts in the oven heat. Eating waxy bakes is neither appealing nor healthy.

So, when you put a piece of parchment  on the bottom and sides of the pan,(or foil on cookie sheets) you are 'lining' it.

GREASE : This 'grease' again helps release. Shortening is preferred to butter. Clarified butter or ghee can also be used. You could also use baking spray which is really convenient especially when you use bundt pans with all those crevices. Baking spray contains flour and fat. Whatever grease you use, do not use too much as it may make the cake crust greasy. Just a dab, enough to coat the pan with a thin film.

PROFESSIONAL BAKERS GREASE : This is a mix of equal parts of shortening, flour and oil which can stored in the fridge for some time. Applied to the cake tin with a silicon brush, there is no need to flour the tin again.

WHAT YOU COULD USE: I like to use non stick baking spray (Bakers Joy) or even ghee at times. I use oil for my bread pan. I have used oil, ghee, spray, on rare occasions butter  and I have had no real complaints with the release or taste so far.

- Use baking spray or shortening for your cake pans.

FLOUR THE PAN : Once you grease the pan and line the bottom, tilt the pan on its side, dump a teaspoon of flour on the side of the pan. Rotate the pan, tapping the sides as you go. The sides are now coated with a thin layer of flour. Use another teaspoon if needed. Invert the pan and tap off any excess flour. The idea is to coat the sides with flour, but with as thin a layer as possible. If there is excessive flour, the sides of the cake will have a crust. You could also use cocoa in place of the flour for chocolate cakes, but I do not like it.

When baking high rising cakes, its important to flour the sides after greasing. Otherwise the sides will be slippery and not allow the cake to rise to its optimum height. 

SILICON BRUSH: A silicon brush is very useful to help spread that little bit of grease evenly, especially the corners and crevices.

DO YOU ALWAYS NEED TO GREASE? Mostly yes. Exceptions would be angel food cakes, chiffon cakes and some foam cakes. In these recipes, the grease does not allow the light cake rise to its full height. So follow recipe instructions.

Chiffon cakes are baked in un greased tube pans, no flour. One reason, the light cake has to rise to the maximum height. Another, the cake is cooled upside down. So it would slip out if the pan is greased.

COOKIES : General rule in the absence of specific instructions: Line the tray with baking parchment, no need to grease. Parchment promotes even baking. It has a slightly insulating effect which is a good thing when we use thin cookie sheets (medium to heavy, light colored ones are recommended).
  • When a recipe requires you to grease the pan or parchment, use a flavorless oil or melted butter, grease lightly using a brush.
  • When recipes specify baking using an un greased, unlined cookie sheet, and your cookies sheets are thin and not of very good quality (mostly the case here), use parchment to line the sheet.
  • When cookies are baked directly on an un greased pan, the intended result is browning, caramelized edges, chewy centers. When placed dull side up, aluminum foil conducts heat and produces results similar to that of an un greased pan, its convenient too.  So you could use foil to line in recipes like this.
  • In cookies with a higher amount of butter, un greased sheets are used. Greasing the pan may make the cookies spread too much. 
  • Meringue based cookies like macarons are normally baked on un greased parchment.
  • Silicon mats or liners (like Slipat) are good for very fragile wafers and lace cookies. But they are not ideal for all kinds of cookies as they provide more insulation.
(Above information compiled from Alice Medrich's book Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Cookies.)

Tart / Pie Tins : These are generally not greased. I will admit I have been guilty of lightly greasing my tart tins. Fear that the case will not come out in one neat piece! Thankfully it has worked well, but I will bake without greasing next time.

BreadsI use just a little oil for my bread pan unless its a very wet dough. A generous amount of oil for my focaccia and pizza for good flavor and that crisp crust (even if I use a non-stick pan). Normally cornmeal is used on pizza pans or pizza peels  to prevent the pizza from sticking.

Brownies and Bars : Pans lined with foil or parchment on the bottom and sides too, with an over hang to help lift the entire thing out. Brownies are normally allowed to cool completely before being lifted out and cut into neat squares. You could of course invert and cut at the cost of ruining that shiny crust on top.

I again realize, small details make a difference! More on preparing pans in another post.

You may see more of basic baking posts and simple recipes here. I am doing a series of Baking Basics posts every Wednesday on a Facebook Forum called as the Home Bakers Guild. I will be taking this opportunity to build on the posts for beginners on the blog. You should hopefully see a new page meant for beginners exclusively. What would you like to see? Suggestions are most welcome!


Harini said...

Thanks, Suma for this :-) Always enjoy reading your posts and tips. Do we always need to line pans for baking cakes? So far, I've never lined my pans.. only greased and floured them and no cakes have stuck or anything. Is there some other reason why we would line a pan?

Priya Suresh said...

Wow, am bookmarking this page,very detailed post..

Suma Rowjee said...

Thanks a lot Harini!Some cakes tend to stick and parchment is just extra insurance :)

akanksha said...

thanks for sharing these...v ques though-
are parchment paper and butter paper the same or different?

Suma Rowjee said...

Akanksha - No, they are not the same. Please find the details in the post.