Bakeware, like pots and pans, comes in many materials, the most common of which are aluminum, black steel, tinned steel, non-stick and glass. Many prefer heavy aluminum pans and baking sheets, as the aluminum conducts heat efficiently, the heavy weight prevents the pan from warping, and the material is easy to maintain. We suggest the following:
- two 8- or 9-inch straight-sided round cake pans
- 2 baking sheets/cookie sheets
- baking pan (13 by 9 by 2 inches)
- springform pan (8, 9 or 10 inches)
- jelly-roll pan (15 1/2 by 10 1/2 by 1 inch)
loaf pan ( 9 by 5 by 3 inches)
- 12-cup muffin tin
If a pan has four sides with rims, it’s called a jelly-roll pan, a baking pan, or a full- or half-sheet pan; if it has at least one rimless side, it’s a cookie sheet (when it’s not called a baking sheet). The rule of thumb is to buy the largest sheet that will fit into your oven while still allowing two inches of air space all around. Finally, think heavy. Both jelly-roll pans and baking sheets need to be truly heavy-duty since they’ll be subjected to heat high enough to corkscrew them if they’re not. Aluminum baking sheets are the best because they heat quickly and evenly, important stuff when you’ve got thin cookies in the oven. Avoid black-metal sheets and anything with a really dark coating: they can burn cookies quickly and will likely turn your treats brown before their time. A sticky issue involves nonstick coatings. I like having a few nonstick baking sheets in my cupboard. They’re great for tuiles and anything with lots of sugar and butter that might caramelise during baking and make cleanup a chore. But with few exceptions, I turn all of my baking sheets into nonstickers and easy clean-uppers by lining them with silicone-coated parchment paper before I bake. Parchment paper is a baker’s best friend. It’s naturally nonstick, makes even not-so-good baking sheets heat more evenly, and it can be wiped clean and used a couple of times before it gets tossed out.
Deciding on a diameter isn’t hard because most recipes specify that dimension, and most recipes specify an eight- or nine-inch-diameter pan. When it comes to choosing the height of the pan, a 1 1/2-inch-high pan is fine, but one that’s 2 inches high is better. Traditionally, aluminum was the metal of choice for layer-cake pans, and it’s still first-class because of its quick and even heatability. In the nonstick category, you’ve got plenty of choices, but they all come with the same recommendation: turn your oven down 25 degrees, and check for doneness about five minutes earlier than usual. They will retain their finish for years if you treat them kindly and don’t cut in them.
A pie dish is made of glass or ceramic; a pie pan, of metal. Unlike a tart pan, which is often made in France, associated with French pastries and possessed of militarily precise straight or sharply fluted sides. A pie dish has sides that flare outward. You can make a pie, sweet or savory, that has just a top crust, but that is often a deep-dish pie, with more filling than a regular one, and it’s best made in a deep-dish pie dish. Whereas the standard model has sides that are less than 1 1/2 inches high, a deep-disher has higher, straighter sides and, consequently, greater capacity. Because ovenproof glass conducts heat evenly, the Pyrex dish is particularly well suited for double-crusted pies that bake a long time. There are no hot spots, so a burned bottom is almost an impossibility. You can get similar usability in an often more attractive ceramic pie dish. Metal pans are best for open-face pies. Metal withstands high heat, and sets and browns crusts pronto. It’s this quick set that makes metal great for custard and cream pies, and pies that don’t have to spend a lot of time in the oven. (you’ve got to wash it by hand, take care not to scratch it, then dry it immediately so it won’t rust).
At its most basic, the springform pan is a two-piece affair. There’s a round base and an interlocking band, usually two to three inches high, that forms the sides, opening and closing with the flick of a latch. The pan pieces are assembled for baking, and then, once the contents have cooled, the band is opened and removed. Since a cake from a springform is rarely turned upside down to be unmolded, the top of the cake has a great chance of being unmarred. And because you have only to run a knife gently around the sides of the pan to separate cake from pan, the sides of your cake usually escape unscathed, too. Look for one with an extra deep groove in the base to catch drips. The only danger is to forget the bottom part of the pan at a hostess’s house when bringing the cake as a gift.
Here is what the experts say: don’t get caught pining for pins made of marble, they’re a drag on the dough, literally (although I enjoy mine…); or the shiny aluminum ones, they can turn a golden egg dough gray; or the type that gets filled with ice cubes, condensation forms on the pin, and the next thing you know, the dough is soggy. It seems that the French rolling pin is a good choice. It’s a uniform 2 inches across (no tapering) and weighs in at a pound and a quarter. It has ends that are gently rounded. There are no handles on this one. To clean, do not immerse in water and when you’re scraping, take care not to nick or, worse, gouge the wood; a smooth surface is key in a rolling pin. If you choose one with handles look for 5 inch handles and ball bearings.
Some say you need a whisk for every kind of pot you’ve got at home. For light-as-air whipped cream or meringue, reach for the “ballooningest” whisks; grab the narrower ones for stirring crème anglaise, reheating a soup or making a salad dressing; and use flat ones for gravy and getting into the corners of pots. Regardless of size, fluffing whisks need strong wires, which should be thin and plentiful. Whatever size or shape of whisk you buy, make sure the point at which the wires go into the handle is sealed so that you can keep the whisk as clean as a whistle. A nice bonus: sealed, all-stainless-steel whisks can be run through the dishwasher with no problem.