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It can be daunting to stock your home kitchen with the appropriate pans to fulfill all your baking needs. There are bundt pans, loaf pans, muffin pans, cake pans (square and round), and so many more. Then you need to consider which material will offer the best chance for a perfectly released vanilla pound cake or spinach quiche with an evenly baked, unmarred crust. Sometimes it is best to get a set, while other times you need a specific pan for a particular task like baking a berry tart.
Whether you are an accomplished baker or just starting out, baking pans are an essential component of your kitchen collection. The key when purchasing is to evaluate your needs like how many are you baking for and what recipes are you trying, whether dishwasher safe is a requirement, and your own comfort with materials like a nonstick coating or bare aluminum.
Baking pans come in all shapes and sizes, but a good baking pan can mean the difference between burnt brownies and evenly cooked chocolate nirvana. "I recommend having more than one of whatever size baking pan you choose," says Erin Kanagy-Loux, chef, consultant, and bakery operations specialist. "Having only one cake pan is completely inefficient. You'll end up making several batches of batter, and spend your entire day waiting for them to bake."
From task-specific ceramic loaf-style to complete sets, these are the best baking pans.
Best Overall: Nordic Ware Naturals 6-Piece Set
What We Love: Even heat conductivity, baked goods don’t stick, doesn’t warp, durable
What We Don't Love: Shows scratches, oils and fats may discolor
Crafted from natural aluminum with galvanized steel rims, this warp-resistant set from Nordic Ware bakes evenly for professional-quality baked goods every time. I own all of these pans and buy this set regularly to give as a gift to aspiring bakers. When I put a loaf of banana bread or a batch of cupcakes in the oven in these, I know I can rely on quick, consistent heating, easy release of baked goods, and perfectly browned-on-the-top, moist-on-the-inside finished products.
This set is versatile—it includes two cake pans, a loaf pan, two half-sheet pans (the workhorse of every kitchen), and a muffin/cupcake pan. And, as a professional baker, I know aluminum is the choice in commercial kitchens for predictably dependable chocolate layer cakes and fluffy blueberry muffins.
Nordic Ware has been putting out quality bakeware since 1946, crafted from locally sourced Minneapolis materials. They are hand-wash only, but if you keep a little Bar Keepers Friend on hand, pesky oil or fat stains are easily wiped away, maintaining that shiny surface for years to come.
Material: Aluminum, galvanized steel | Maximum Temperature: 450 degrees | Dishwasher Safe: No
Best Budget: Calphalon Simply Nonstick Bakeware 6-Piece Set
What We Love: Affordable, dishwasher safe, versatile
What We Don't Love: Pans may warp, nonstick coating may scratch
Calphalon has been a popular brand since its advent in 1968 when Ronald M. Kasperzak developed a process to create hard-anodized aluminum cookware based on techniques from the aerospace industry. This invention made his cookware more durable, as well as corrosion-resistant. This affordable set covers all the bases for novice bakers looking for nonstick, durable baking pans.
A versatile collection, the Calphalon 6-piece set includes two 8-inch round cake pans, a loaf pan, a 9 x 13-inch cake pan, a muffin pan, and a baking sheet. All pieces are heavy-duty and stackable for easy storage. The interlocking nonstick interior layers are designed to provide maximum release of finished baked goods, and clean-up is as simple as throwing them in the dishwasher.
Material: Heavy-gauge steel, nonstick coating | Maximum Temperature: 450 degrees | Dishwasher Safe: Yes
Best Round Cake Pan: Wilton Performance 8-Inch Round Cake Pans
What We Love: Uniform heat conductivity, great depth for layer cakes. doesn’t stick or warp. durable
What We Don't Love: Shows scratches
Are you the one the family calls when they need birthday cakes, or maybe you want to try your hand at layer cakes? A durable set of round cake pans are essential to anybody who wants to bake cakes, and this set from Wilton is the gold standard. The aluminum construction yields even heat conductivity for uniform baking results, and the galvanized steel rims ensure no warping while baking. “For cake, I prefer a classic aluminum pan, which bakes evenly, is easy to clean, and reliable," says Kanagy-Loux. "For pies, I like glass because you can see if the bottom is golden and crispy."
As a baker who made wedding cakes, Wilton aluminum cake pans were my go-to for tiered creations. They produce reliable results with every bake. This set has a generous 2-inch depth, perfect for any cake recipe in your collection. And, though aluminum always releases without sticking, you can add a layer of security by lining your pans with parchment paper—just unfurl the parchment, set your pan on top, and trace around the edge. Once cut, you have the perfectly-sized insert to guarantee your cake slides right out. The 8-inch is affordable on its own or in a set and cleans up easily with a quick dip in a sink of warm, soapy water.
Material: Aluminum | Maximum Temperature: 450 degrees | Dishwasher Safe: No
Related: The Best Mixing Bowls
Best Loaf Pan: Emile Henry Bread Loaf Baker
What We Love: Even baking, easy-to-clean, stick-resistant design, excellent heat conductivity
What We Don't Love: Pricey, small handles
There is a lot to love about Emile Henry baking pans crafted in Burgundy, France, since 1850. The high-fired Burgundian clay is glazed for unsurpassed heat conductivity and retention, as well as resistance to discoloration from high heat or detergents. And, its proprietary process eliminates all lead and cadmium from the baking pans.
Design, though, is where the Emile Henry Bread Loaf Baker shines. The domed lid, holes in the base and top, and ridges on the bottom of the pan allow for maximum humidity for crusty loaves of bread with soft, pillowy interiors that release easily when finished baking. The 2-quart capacity serves all your loaf needs, from zucchini bread to pound cake. Emile Henry ceramics can be taken from the freezer to a hot oven without fear of thermal shock, and they segue to the dishwasher for easy cleaning.
Material: High-fired Burgundian clay | Maximum Temperature: 500 degrees | Dishwasher Safe: Yes
Related: The Best Loaf Pans
Best Muffin Pan: USA Pan Bakeware Cupcake and Muffin Pan
What We Love: Durable, nonstick coating, excellent air circulation
What We Don't Love: Surface may scratch or peel
USA Pan’s patented PTFE-free Americoat silicone nonstick coating ensures muffins and cupcakes will release easily from the pan when finished. A corrugated surface is added to promote air circulation and prevent warping when exposed to high heat. The 12-cup pan is crafted of heavy-gauge aluminized steel for durable, reliable performance.
This model can be used for more than cupcakes and muffins—individual egg frittatas, mini pies, hashbrown cups, sticky buns, spanakopita, and more provide new spins on old favorites. This USA Pan is not dishwasher safe, but like other aluminum products on this list, it washes up easily with a dishcloth and some warm, soapy water.
Material: Aluminized steel | Maximum Temperature: 450 degrees | Dishwasher Safe: No
Related: The Best Hand Mixers
Best Tart Pan: Wilton Excelle Elite 9-Inch Non-Stick Tart and Quiche Pan
What We Love: Easy-to-clean, versatile, removable bottom
What We Don't Love: Surface may show scratches
A tart pan may seem like an extraneous purchase, but hear me out. I bought this removable-bottom Wilton Excelle Elite model a number of years ago specifically to make fruit tarts. Over the years, it has become a multitasker that yields elegant quiche, uniformly fluted pie crust, and even stunning brownies. Its nonstick coating eases worry over a messy release, and I cannot praise enough a pan with a removable bottom for popping out gorgeous baked goods.
Wilton Excelle Elite Nonstick Tart Pan is 9 inches in diameter, and dishwasher safe. It is crafted of heavy-duty steel and comes with Wilton’s 10-year warranty. I adhere to Wilton’s advice about handwashing for longevity, but even in a sink of soapy water, this pan washes easily. If you want a pan that ensures stunning pies, tarts, and quiches without having to master a crimped edge, a tart pan with a removable bottom is an essential purchase.
Material: Steel, nonstick coated | Maximum Temperature: 450 degrees | Dishwasher Safe: Yes, but hand wash for longer life
Related: The Best Pie Pans
The Nordic Ware Naturals 6-Piece Set (view at Sur La Table) is our top choice because of its comprehensive collection, consistent heating, and galvanized steel-rimmed edges that prevent warping. If you are just starting to explore your baking abilities, the Calphalon Simply Nonstick Bakeware 6-Piece Set (view at Amazon) is affordable and durable enough to handle newbie mistakes.
What to Look for When Buying Baking Pans
Metal: There are a few choices within the metal category. Aluminum conducts heat effectively, bakes evenly, and will not warp or bend when exposed to high heat. It is not dishwasher safe but cleans easily by hand.
A number of pan options are crafted from steel that is coated with a nonstick layer. This is a great option for an easy release of baked goods from pans, but the steel tends to heat unevenly and is prone to warping. Nonstick finishes also degrade with use, but there is no need for liners or spray when using. There are also variations within these types such as aluminized steel, insulated, and more.
Glass: As far as materials go, glass baking pans are known for excellent heat retention so they make a great choice if you want to serve directly in them. They also provide a window into your food as it is baking, and can handle acidic foods like lasagna without reaction. But, glass is prone to thermal shock and breakage.
Silicone: If you are looking for a material that releases with ease without help from sprays, liners, or other aids, silicone is it. These pans are flexible and clean up easily, but silicone is not known for good heat conductivity. The flexibility of construction can also make them difficult to transfer from counter to oven without spillage. "If you have kids who are baking, try silicone pans," says Nicole Pomije, baker and owner of The Cookie Cups. "They are a great way for them to learn their way around the kitchen."
Ceramic: With a reputation for excellent heat retention and even heat distribution, quality ceramic is a great choice for baking pans. Like glass, it can shatter or break, but most ceramics have been glazed to give them more durability than their glass counterparts. Ceramic pans also make beautiful serving pieces so no dirtying extra dishes when setting the table. And, they are usually dishwasher safe for easy cleanup.
Hands down, pans with nonstick coatings are the easiest to clean. Some are dishwasher safe while others wipe off easily with a damp sponge. Aluminum or other bare metal pans may retain oils or fats from baking, but that can be easily remedied with a little Bar Keepers Friend or a mash of baking soda and dish soap.
For longevity, it is always best practice to hand wash pans. They can be exposed to damaging detergents and steam in a dishwasher whereas, in a sink of soapy water, you control the environment. To ensure minimal cleanup, line your pans with parchment paper.
Do you grease silicone baking pans?
Silicone is the ultimate nonstick material and does not require additional greasing or lining. It naturally releases without any extra steps. If you are making muffins and cupcakes to serve to others, you might want to add liners for easy maneuvering and sanitary reasons.
How do you line baking pans with parchment paper?
I am just going to put it out there: Parchment paper is magical. There is nothing better to guarantee baked goods will not stick to pans. Simply unfurl enough paper to cover the surface of your baking pan, and inverse the roll it to get it to lay flat. Then set your pan on top of the paper and trace the outline. With a pair of kitchen shears, cut the outline and you have a piece of paper that fits snugly in the bottom of your pan.
How do you release cake from pans?
To release cakes from pans, carefully run your small offset spatula between the cake and the pan wall. It should be flush with the pan wall to avoid cutting into the cake, says Kanagy-Loux. Also once the cake has cooled 5-10 minutes, I gently turn the cake (in the pan) onto its side and tap all the way around to help loosen the walls, she adds.
Spray pans with cooking spray or rub with olive oil or butter before pouring your batter, says Pomije. If you have complete coverage, it should release easily with any of these options, she adds.
Why Trust Simply Recipes?
Carrie Honaker is a food writer who believes in eating dessert first. As a restaurateur and avid home cook, she has baked thousands of pastries, pies, and cakes—she knows the importance of good pans when dealing in the chemistry of baking. Her work has appeared in many publications including Bon Appetit, Allrecipes, and Wine Enthusiast.
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