When that first chilly gust of wind hits your neck sometime in late September and makes you reach for a sweater, do you know what time it is? "Fall," you say. Yes, fall. But more importantly ... it's the beginning of baking season!
While not an official day on the calendar, it might as well be. Summers have their berry pies and fresh fruit muffins, but fall is baking's dream date. Give me your falling leaves and chilly evenings, it says, and I will give you every way to bake an apple, pear tarts and pear cakes, decadent chocolate cakes, cheesecakes, pumpkin pies and pecan pies, oatmeal muffins, and Brookies. (Because they're wonderful year-round).
If you want to be set to bake this season, check out our list of essential, editor-approved baking pans. This collection will enable you to bake almost anything your tastebuds desire!
Rectangular Cake Pans
Budget: Nordic Ware 9x13 Aluminum Cake Pan
Our budget 9x13 cake pan pick isn't fancy, but it's a solid performer. Cakes and cornbreads come out beautifully, thanks to aluminum's superior heat conductivity.
It does not have a nonstick coating on it, so be aware if that's a priority for you. I have this pan myself, and just grease it or use parchment paper.
Buy it: Nordic Ware Classic Metal 9x13 Covered Cake Pan, $15 from Amazon
Upgrade: USA Pan Nonstick 9x13 Cake Pan
I have a number of bakeware pieces from USA Pan, and they are my favorite pans. Their bakeware is made of aluminized steel, or steel dipped in aluminum, which provides both the strength and durability of steel and the excellent heat conductivity of aluminum.
I also appreciate their nonstick silicone coating, which is PTFE-, PFOA- and BPA-free.
This pan in particular is a fabulous buy. The straight sides offer a nice, clean edges on your cake, cakes pop out without any sticking, and it's easy super to clean.
Buy it: USA Pan Rectangular 9x13 Cake Pan, $22 from Amazon
Splurge: Williams Sonoma Goldtouch Nonstick 9x13 Cake Pan
If you really want the best cake pan out there, then the Goldtouch 9x13 cake pan from Williams Sonoma is it.
The darker your bakeware, the more heat it absorbs. The result is usually a darker, more heavily browned cake. If your cookware is very light, like silver, you'll end up with lighter baked goods.
So that gold color? It's right in the middle, and the result are baked goods that are perfectly browned -- not too light, and not too dark.
Also, fun fact: the Williams Sonoma Goldtouch series is made by USA Pan! So you're also getting all the terrific features of USA Pan's silver aluminized steel cake pan shown above.
Buy it: Williams Sonoma Goldtouch Nonstick Rectangular 9x13 Cake Pan, $40 from Williams Sonoma
Round Cake Pans
Budget: Fat Daddio 8" Round Cake Pan
Fat Daddio's tagline for this high-sided aluminum cake pan is "Built Bakery Tough," and while I'm usually one to dismiss taglines as just clever marketing, in this case it's really true.
It's made of anodized aluminum, which is not a chemical coating but rather a process. (So, note: this pan is not nonstick, but it is nonreactive.) The pan is extremely strong, durable, and thanks to the tall sides, versatile, too. Use it for layer cakes, sponge cakes, even cheesecake. It's a steal at this price.
Buy it: Fat Daddio's Anodized Aluminum Round 8" x 3" Cake Pan, $12 from AmazonContinue to 5 of 13 below.
Upgrade: USA Pan 8" and 9" Round Cake Pans
If you really want a safe nonstick coating on your cake pans, then we recommend upgrading to the 8-inch or 9-inch cake pans from USA Pan.
For all the reasons already mentioned, you can't go wrong with USA Pan cake pans. They're made in the USA and come with a lifetime warranty. Cakes will be lightly browned and pop out with ease.
Note: We recommend having at least two round cake pans!
Buy it: USA Pan 8- and 9-inch Round Cake Pan, Nonstick and Quick Release Coating, $15-$20 from Amazon
The Best of the Rest
Best Square Pan: Chicago Metallic 8x8 Square Cake Pan
Don't forget about the brownie pan!
Chicago Metallic's 8' square aluminized steel square pan is perfect for brownies and bars. Straight sides provide crisp corners and the PFOA-free nonstick coating is long-lasting and really works. As I've mentioned, we prefer lighter tones in our bakeware to prevent over-browning, and the lighter steel produces bars that are evenly baked and browned.
Buy it: Chicago Metallic 8x8 Glazed Aluminized Steel Square Cake Pan, $18.99 from Amazon
Best Springform Pan: Fat Daddio 9" Springform Pan
Some desserts -- a cheesecake with a delicate graham cracker bottom, a quiche, or an ice cream layer cake, for example -- are not suitable for flipping over and out of the pan it was baked in. In those cases and others like it, a springform pan enables you to release the sides of the pan and lift it off the cake.
Fat Daddio's springform pan is a solid choice, both because of its light color (no overbaking!) and anodized aluminum construction.
Buy it: Fat Daddio 9x3 Springform Cake Pan, $20 from Amazon
Best Muffin Pan: OXO Nonstick Pro Muffin Pan
Our muffin pan pick is a splurge, but if you bake a lot of muffins or cupcakes, you will never regret getting this pan.
A few features make this pan a true standout among muffin pans: the gold tone and textured bottom produces evenly browned muffins; the aluminized steel and ceramic coating mean those muffins will come out of the pan without any stress or strain; and my favorite feature, the extra space on the sides for gripping, mean no more oven mitt indentations on your muffins!
Buy it: OXO Good Grips Pro Nonstick Muffin Pan, $26 from OXOContinue to 9 of 13 below.
Best Bundt Pan: Nordic Ware Platinum Collection Heritage Bundt PanHer
Nordic Ware is king of bundt pans, and while you'll never go wrong with their classic bundt pan , for a few dollars more you can get this Heritage pan, which has such a beautiful design!
Buy it: Nordic Ware Platinum Collection Heritage Bundt Pan, $30 from Amazon
Best Loaf Pan: USA Pan Loaf Pans
My favorite loaf pan, hand down. I get such consistent results from this loaf pan, and it's so easy to clean.
Note: We recommend having at least two loaf pans!
Buy it: USA Pan Loaf Pan, $18 from Amazon
Best Pie Plate: Emile Henry 9" Ceramic Pie Dish
I wrote about our favorite pie plates here, so check that out for our full guide! But if you're just going to get one pie plate, we recommend our ceramic pick, the Emile Henry pie dish. It looks fantastic on the table and creates lovely crusts.
Emile Henry 9" Ceramic Pie Dish, $37-$42 from Amazon
Best Cookie Sheet: Nordic Ware Aluminum Half Sheet Pans
The award for most-used bakeware item goes to this: the Nordic Ware aluminum half sheet pan. It is my go-to cookie sheet. Tough as nails, rust-proof, and endlessly versatile. (I use it for all kinds of roasting, too.)
Buy it: Nordic Ware 13x18 Half Sheet Pans, Set of Two, $22 from AmazonContinue to 13 of 13 below.
Best Tart Pan: Fox Run Removable Bottom Tart and Quiche Pan
This is a bonus recommendation, since you may not need a tart pan if you don't make a lot of tarts. But if you do, then this carbon steel, 9-inch tart pan from Fox Run is a great choice. It bakes quickly for crisp, browned crusts that won't fall apart.
Buy it: Fox Run Removable Bottom Tart and Quiche Pan, 9-Inch, $14 from Amazon