As a follow up to a previous post, Pots, Pans and Cookware, today I am diving into the wild world of bakeware. I often have readers ask me which baking dishes and pans I recommend, especially for a home cook who is just starting out. Answers will vary, because it really depends on what kind of baking you like to do. While I can give some rough guidance and an overview of the types of bakeware on the market, you need to ask yourself what types of baking you do most. Evaluate your own baking habits—is delicate pastry your thing, or are you more comfortable with drop cookies and muffins? Do you like baking pies and cheesecakes? Is easy cleanup important? Once you are clear on the types of baking you do most, it will be easier to figure out which bakeware you’ll need in order to get comfortable in your kitchen.
I feel the best way to approach this is to give you a comprehensive overview of the major types of oven bakeware out there, along with their potential uses, to help make the decision process a bit easier. But first, it’s important to understand the different materials that baking pans are made from.
Bakeware Materials and Surfaces
Just like with stovetop cooking, it’s important to know what kind of material your bakeware is made from. Most baking dishes are made from glass, ceramic or metal.
Glass baking dishes take longer to heat up than metal, but they will keep an even heat for a longer amount of time. They are great for baking cakes, which require even heat at a lower temperature. Glass is heavier than metal and requires a bit more care, as it can crack easily when dropped or if its temperature changes too quickly.
Ceramic baking dishes typically have an enamel finish, which helps with easy clean up. They are durable, safe for high temperatures and distribute heat evenly. You will often see gratin and casserole dishes made from ceramic.
Metal baking dishes heat up and cool down quite quickly. This makes them better for baking things like biscuits or cookies, which are cooked at a high heat for a short amount of time. Dull finishes on metal will absorb heat faster than glossy finishes, which explains why cookies baked on dull metal might burn on the bottom before the top is finished baking.
Silicone baking pans have grown in popularity recently. They do not require additional non-stick sprays or oils, and they tend to heat quickly and evenly. They can be used in the oven, stored in the refrigerator or freezer and reheated in the same pan if necessary. They are also dishwasher safe. Silpats, or silicone baking sheets, are also favored in place of non-stick spray or parchment because they heat evenly and are more economical – just wash and re-use.
Sheet pans or baking sheets are shallow, rectangular pans, perfect for baking cakes, rolls, cookies, bread, pizza and just about anything you would need to simply heat in the oven. They are offered in both a flat version and with a 1-inch high lip to hold in liquids. I prefer the variety with a lip, which keeps any liquids on the pan– for example, when you’re roasting vegetables (which I frequently do).
Bargain: Nordic Ware Baking Sheet
Springform pans are usually sold in a 9-inch size and are composed of two separate pieces – a flat base and a spring collar that latches to close tightly around the base. Once you are finished baking in the pan, you can open the latch and lift the collar away. They are best for foods that cannot be easily removed from the pan by simply turning it upside down, like cheesecake or deep dish pizza.
Loaf pans come in various sizes, but are most commonly seen in 8 x 4 inches. They are great for baking bread, of course, and coffee cake. Keep in mind when baking cake recipes in a loaf pan that you may need to increase the cooking time due to the depth of the pan.
Splurge: Emile Henry Ruffled Loaf Pan
Bargain: Chicago Metallic Betterbake Loaf Pan
Bundt pans, or tube pans, are circular pans with an opening in the center. They usually feature fluted or decorative sides. Bundt pans are most commonly used for baking bundt cakes, but have proven to be handy in other areas. The center tube can be used to hold a chicken for roasting, or as a stand for removing corn from a cob while the pan catches the falling kernels. When using a bundt pan, be sure to cover ever nook and cranny with non-stick cooking spray– certain recipes require that you flour the pan as well.
Bargain: Baker’s Secret Fluted Tube Pan
A muffin tin is more like a baking mold, usually with 12 cup-like openings that hold about 3 ½ ounces of batter each. They are perfect for cooking muffins and cupcakes, but can also be used to create any single serving dessert – like miniature cheesecakes or individual brownies. They are best when used in combination with paper liners that can easily be removed from the pan, but they also work with non-stick spray. Muffin tins also come in jumbo muffin size, with six muffin cups to one pan.
Splurge: Fox Run Stainless Steel Muffin Pan
Bargain: Wilton Recipe Right Muffin Pan
Standard rectangular, square or round baking pans are a must have for baking, from beginner level to expert. They can be used for baking cakes, breads, brownies, lasagna, casseroles – you name it. They come in just about every type of material, color and coating.
Pie pans are round and shallow with sloped or angled sides. They help to hold a pie’s shape along with its required fillings. The edges are often fluted, allowing bakers to easily scallop the edges of the crust.
Splurge: Emile Henry Deep Dish Pie Plate
Bargain: Norpro Stainless Steel Pie Pan
Because gratins require even heat, gratin dishes are typically made from ceramic or stoneware. They are quite shallow and round or oval in shape. Their large surface area ensures that a good amount of your gratin is exposed to the heat of the oven or broiler, which helps create that amazing golden crust.
Splurge: Pillivuyt Eden Round Gratin Dish
Bargain: Fox Run Au Gratin Dish
Soufflé dishes are round and deep with high, straight sides. They are usually made from ceramic which ensures even heat distribution, and come in large or single serving sizes. The high sides offer a stable base for your delicate soufflés and custards.
Splurge: Emile Henry Soufflé Dish
Bargain: HIC Soufflé Dish
And lastly, cooling racks, though not exactly bakeware, are an essential piece of baking equipment. Since your baking pans stay hot long after they’re removed from the oven, it’s important to remove whatever you’ve been baking from the pan as soon as possible to avoid overcooked, dry baked goods. Cooling racks offer the perfect solution and come in many sizes and varieties, from single racks that can sit on your counter top to stackable racks that take up less surface area, while still allowing enough space for every cookie.
Splurge: Wilton Excelle 3-Tier Cooling Rack
There are many more specialty baking pans and dishes out there, but the ones listed here are the most commonly used. If you’re stocking your kitchen for the first time, this guide will help you narrow down what you need most based on the types of baking you commonly do.
What piece of bakeware do you use most? For me it’s probably my cookie sheets, with casserole dish a close second.