You can find numerous articles on what type of pan you should use to bake cakes. I can tell you, I’ve used them all – old, new, black, silver, glass, cheap, expensive . . . and I’ve made nice cakes with all of them. But they’re all different, and if you find yourself switching back and forth between this type and that type, you’re going to drive yourself batty.
My favorite pans to use are the high-quality, anodized aluminum pans, like those shown below. The silver color reflects heat. A darker pan absorbs heat, and will actually require an adjustment on the temperature – down about 25° F.
Glass pans retain heat for much longer (as you know if you’ve ever burned your hand on a glass casserole that you took out of the oven 40 minutes ago, thinking it had cooled . . . oops.) If you bake in glass, you need to account for the additional baking time that will occur after you take the pan out of the oven, or you’ll end up with a very dry cake. Also, I find glass pans to be so much heavier and harder to store.
Steel pans have a tendency to change color as they age – turning much darker as the surface oxidizes. The darker the pan, the more heat it will absorb during baking. Again, if you don’t account for that, the result is a dry, overbaked cake.
Baking in aluminum – especially quality aluminum – will take some of the variables out of baking equation. The pans cool quickly, so you can be more precise with your oven timing. The anodized surface is very hard and will not oxidize (rust) like a steel pan. And the shiny surface reflects heat consistently – so you can be confident the next time you have a surprise event that calls for a great cake in a hurry.
But is aluminum safe to use?
[Putting on my chemistry and earth science teacher hat.]
Aluminum is the third most common element on earth. You ingest aluminum daily – just because it’s so prevalent in the soil and dust we walk on and breathe. But to ease the mind of bakers everywhere, Cook’s Illustrated ran a test in 2012. Using acidic tomatoes, they cooked a tomato sauce for two hours, then stored the sauce overnight in the same aluminum pot. The next day, the sauce was measured to contain just .0024 milligrams per cup. In comparison, a cup of hot tea can contain 200 times that much aluminum . . . and a single antacid chewable can contain 80,000 times as much!
In addition, greasing and flouring a pan does reduce the actual contact between the batter and the pan itself, so you’re safer there as well. And many bakers line their pans with parchment paper, eliminating contact completely.
Considering the benefits of aluminum pans and the much greater impact of the natural environment on our aluminum intake, I highly recommend collecting a full set of high-quality anodized aluminum baking pans. They’ll last for a lifetime and provide many hours of enjoyment for you and your family.