Whether you love the creativity of baking and decorating a cake, making something as beautiful as it is delicious, or you just love dessert, cakes are universally appealing. The elegant debutante of the dessert world, cakes usually take center stage on the refreshment tables at important events, tempting bakers of all experience levels to try their hand at achieving a moist sponge and a precisely-applied buttercream.
Popping up centuries ago all over Scandinavia, Greece, Rome, and England, cakes started out more like bread and gradually became desserts with the addition of sugar or honey. Of all the cake shapes we know of today, the earliest cakes most closely resembled the round design simply because they were formed into mounds by hand and baked on flat pans or stones, naturally turning out round.
Metal rings developed in the interest of refining the shape, which function like springform pans: a sheet of metal bent into a circle was placed on a flat baking pan before the batter was poured in.
Today we can indulge our ingenuity with cake pans in an incredible variety of shapes and materials. You can find metal, glass, silicone, or stoneware cake pans. Metal conducts heat well, quick to both heat up and cool down.
Silicone, on the other hand, is slow to heat up and does not conduct heat well, but has an impressive non-stick quality and easily releases cakes. Glass and stoneware both heat evenly and also hold heat, taking a long time to heat up and cool down.
Below we cover the shapes and features of various cake pans. Generally what you want is a cake that rises flat and even, doesn’t run over the edges or sink in the middle, and bakes evenly throughout with just a hint of a crust at the top and edges. You need a pan large enough to give the cake room to rise and able to heat consistently throughout.
Hopefully, we will provide plenty of information here to help you decide on cake pans you may want to add to your kitchen.
1. Rectangular Bar Pan or Jelly Roll Pan
One of the most commonly used basic shapes, a rectangular or sheet cake pan has sides a few inches in height and a generous flat bottom. A versatile choice not only for cake but for brownies, bar cookies, or fudge, most rectangular pans come in metal or glass.
When it comes time for removing the cooled cake from the pan, bakers–especially those with experience–will often hold a plate or cooling rack against the open top of the pan and then invert them together. Careful release from the pan is especially important with this cake since a large amount of unsupported surface area in the center may cause it to fall apart.
Party hosts often use rectangular sheet cakes to feed a substantial number of party guests because of the cake’s large surface area. With a shallower height than other taller cake designs, they can also bake faster and easier.
Rectangular pans are sometimes referred to as jelly roll pans because their shape works beautifully for creating a wide, thin rectangular layer of cake that can be spread with cream or preserves and rolled into a log. In fact, they perform a lot of tasks well, to include entrees like lasagna, so investing in this pan is a good idea even if you’re not an avid baker.
2. Square Bar Pan
This has all the characteristics of a rectangular pan except, obviously, it has an equilateral shape instead. A square bar pan can be handy for a shallow to medium-depth sheet cake when you’re serving a smaller crowd.
You could also use it to construct a tiered cake in a shape other than the standard round. You’re likely to find a lot of glass square baking pans available, which can be used beyond cakes for all-purpose baking such as casseroles and cornbread.
3. Loaf Pan
A loaf baking pan is rectangular in shape but usually smaller on all sides than a rectangular bar pan, and features deeper sides to approximate the loaf shape of nearly square when sliced. Loaf pans work well for a wide range of cake types, usually those with a dense consistency such as pound cake and moist fruit and vegetable bread.
The taller sides of a loaf pan allow for less exact estimation of how much rising space your cake will need. A popular vintage shape, most cooks have one in their kitchens, either acquired for themselves or passed down from a baking mentor.
4. Round Pan
Along with sheet cake pans, round cake pans are the most popular shape and probably what most of us picture when we think of the birthday cakes Mom baked for us over the years. Round pans mostly come in various kinds of metal, which helps in heating quickly and thoroughly so the center gets baked all the way through, and cooling off quickly enough so that it does not over-bake before releasing from the pan.
This simple, streamlined shape makes a great canvas for creative decorating. Baking in a round pan means saving yourself the difficulty of trying to neatly frost corners. Homemade designs may keep it one-layer and only 1-2 inches tall, but round cake pans often come in a two-pack, enabling you to bake two layers at once which you can stack and frost.
You could also purchase deeper round pans, readily available in a barrage of sizes and heights, and torte, or horizontally slice, your cooled cake into as many layers as desired. Many elaborate wedding cakes incorporate the round cake shape and tier it with a few or many decreasing-sized cakes, typically with a wooden dowel rod running through the center for the regal, towering structure’s architectural integrity.
Preparing individual-serving mini-cakes might require greasing, heating, and cleaning numerous ramekins, or you could use the more convenient muffin pan. Typically metal and around the same size as a standard rectangular pan, a muffin pan utilizes multiple cylindrical cups, usually 12, a few inches in diameter.
Baking with and cleaning just one pan makes for an easier process, and offers a creative range of options like fruit muffins, corn muffins, cremes brulees, or individual portions of flan. Particularly when preparing these last two, look for a silicone muffin pan for much greater ease in removing the delicate finished product from the cups.
A mini muffin pan shrinks the cups down to fun bite-size offerings, which can be used for cookies and small hors d’oeuvres as well as one-bite muffins.
6. Specialty Shape
When holidays or a themed party or birthday come around, bringing out the novelty cake pan results in an out-of-the-ordinary way to mark the occasion. Grocery stores, discount shops, garage sales, and boutique baking stores alike make wonderful hunting grounds for an endless array of whimsical and beautiful shapes for cake pans. Look for flowers, bunnies, Easter eggs, and butterflies in spring, elaborate Christmas trees, and Santas for December, various-sized hearts for February, or a charismatic animal shape for a child’s birthday.
These creations almost always come in metal, which helps as the faster cooling process will hopefully prevent over-baking the smaller, detailed areas. With these pans, in particular, it becomes VERY important to do a meticulous and thorough job greasing every area of the pan and carefully remove the cooled cake. You don’t want to do all that work and not end up with a recognizable shape, so be sure to prevent pieces from sticking to the pan and breaking away.
7. Specialty Cakelet
The muffin pan version of the specialty shape cake pan, a cakelet pan lets you easily bake beautiful individual cakes in just about as many shapes as you can imagine. The sheer intricacies of so many attractively-decorated little cakes on your buffet table single-handedly ups the elegance factor of your event.
Without the weight of a full cake to pull them down when you invert the pan for release, the tiny ridged details are somewhat less likely to get mangled as long as you grease all areas. Because you’ll want show off the design and not disguise it under the thick frosting, these small cakes benefit from a simply-made glaze of confectioners’ sugar, milk, and perhaps a few drops of flavored extract.
8. 3-D Assembly Shape
This innovative type of pan usually comes from more specialized gourmet shops and has evolved fairly recently. The finished product should be a shape with some vertical height to it, styled with sculpted details all around its circumference.
The pan uses a mold of the full shape divided in half, to be baked and then connected using frosting, to accomplish this. Some truly impressive shapes–animals, characters, distinctive movie memorabilia–can delight partygoers with a truly unforgettable cake.
9. Springform Pan
Several parts comprise this cake pan: a round flat bottom, a tall curved side that wraps around the circumference of the base, and a clip that opens or tightly closes the ends of the side. Bakers who love making their own cheesecake or other types of cake with an especially moist, fragile texture will highly value this type of pan as an addition to their kitchen collection. The closure tightens the components together so the liquid batter of these cakes doesn’t drip out, and once baked, the side comes off easily and the cake can be served and stored on the pan bottom.
10. Cake Ring
According to accounts, cake rings emerged as an older precursor to the springform pan but are sometimes currently used. The ring is simply the curved metal siding whose ends are closed, and the ring is placed on a baking sheet to be used as a pan bottom before the batter is poured in. Often the bottom is lined with parchment paper to prevent spillage.
11. Tart Pan
Although a tart is closer to pie than cake, you can use the remarkably beautiful tart pan to bake flat, dense cakes such as flourless chocolate cake. The standout feature of the pan allows you to make a daintily scalloped crust, a frame that flatters whatever filling you choose. Tart pans nearly always come with a detachable bottom so you can more easily lift out the tart using the support of the metal bottom and be less likely to crumble the crimped edges.
12. Angel Food
This shape starts with a slightly flared circular pan with deep sides, so that the bottom of the cake will be wider than the top, and adds a tube in the center to form a hole through the middle of the cake. The pan can be used for most batters, but it is ideal for the light, airy angel food cake batter. Angel food cake’s consistency depends on whipped egg whites and the air incorporated into the batter by whipping, but during the baking process, the center tube gives the batter some support and prevents a sunken center.
Bundt cakes take the shape of an angel food cake pan and incorporate decorative fluting and designs on the top and sides of the cake instead of flat and round surfaces. As in the angel food pan, the tube in the middle allows it to support any type of batter from light to dense and end up with a more even cake bottom.
As with the more involved specialty shaped cake pans, you want to show off the decorative shaping of your finished Bundt cake, so thin glazes that will harden in rivulets down the side work beautifully.