Over the years, I have somehow become the pastry chef for family gatherings, which is why my typically less-than-stellar pie results have proved so frustrating. No matter how many different recipes I tried, my intended masterpieces always ended up with either a dense, overdone crust or a runny, underdone filling.
Then, last year, I happened to buy a fancy ceramic pie plate on a whim, and, when I used it for the first time, the results were pure perfection—a light, flaky crust surrounding a smooth and creamy filling. Soon after, it hit me: instead of wasting all that time searching for the right pie recipe, all I ever really needed to do was find the right pie plate!
I have since learned that different bakeware materials can produce vastly different outcomes, which makes them more or less suited to specific types of baked goods. One of the most popular bakeware materials is aluminum, which is lightweight, inexpensive, and an excellent conductor of heat. Aluminized steel, by comparison, is pricier, but also sturdier and more durable. No matter which type of bakeware you choose, keep in mind that metal pans with a darker finish will produce nicely browned goods; light and shiny pans (including aluminum-foil pans, the source of my pie troubles) reflect heat and can lead to pale results. Also, metal pans are good for cakes, muffins, and cookies, but they may not be the best choice for pies, since they can bake the crust too quickly, without giving the filling a chance to catch up.
Glass bakeware addresses this problem, since glass conducts heat more slowly than metal. Also in its favor, glass is microwave-safe, browns well, and is easy on the wallet. Another plus is the transparent nature of glass, which lets you monitor baking progress from the sides and the bottom as well as the top. This can be a real advantage when you’re baking goods with tall sides, like breads or pound cake. Keep in mind, however, that glass pans can break or shatter if they are exposed to extreme changes in temperature.
Similar to glass, ceramic bakeware conducts heat more slowly than metal, making it another good choice for pies. It is also a decorative, colorful option. In addition, many ceramic brands offer a range of conveniences that metal and glass can’t match—such as the ability to go under the broiler, or even to transfer directly from the freezer to a heated oven. The downside to ceramic is that it is heavy, relatively pricey, and can break if not handled carefully. So, while you may not want to use it for everyday baking, it will make your special-occasion pies, tarts, quiches, and casseroles look as good as they taste.
The newest type of bakeware is silicone—that often brightly colored, bendable material today showing up in the form of cookie sheets, muffin pans, cake pans, and even spatulas and pot holders. While silicone was originally touted as the next best thing in bakeware, it does have some significant drawbacks. First, the floppy nature of silicone can make it awkward to handle, and it does not brown foods as well as other materials do. On the other hand, silicone bakeware comes in a variety of novelty shapes—which makes it a good choice if you’re baking a heart-shaped cake or tree-shaped muffins for holidays or other occasions.
Now that I’ve learned to choose the right bakeware, I’m baking more than ever. If only I could find a material that blasted off calories as it baked up the goods!
Upper Crust: The Best in Bakeware
|WHO MAKES IT?
|Popular brands include Chicago Metallic, Baker’s Secret, Wilton, Nordic Ware, and Calphalon. Many individual items are priced at under $20.
|Pyrex and Anchor Hocking are the two biggies. Prices for individual items can be $15 or less.
|Many ceramic products come from small, specialty manufacturers, and many are imported. Two well-regarded, upscale brands are Emile Henry and Le Creuset. Prices for individual items can be $50 or more.
|Popular brands include Wilton, Silicone Solutions, and Silicone Zone. Most individual pieces are priced at around $10 or $15, although some items can be found for less.
|HOW IS IT A BAKER”S DREAM?
|Metal pans conduct heat very well, so they are a perfect choice when baking cookies, cakes, and muffins. Non-stick options will speed your clean-up, and heavier-weight styles will be durable and less likely to warp.
|Glass is great for pies, because it conducts heat more slowly than metal, allowing the filling to cook at a similar rate to the crust. Glass is also great for tall baked items, since you can watch the sides to see how baking is progressing. Keep in mind, too, that glass bakeware is inexpensive.
|Ceramic looks great on the table and browns well, so it’s particularly suited to pies, tarts, quiches, and casseroles. It has the advantage of being broiler-safe, and many brands can be moved directly from the freezer to a preheated oven.
|Silicone bakeware, with its flexible texture, is simply fun to use. It also can be molded to form a variety of shaped cavities, so you can bake muffins or cupcakes shaped like hearts, trees, or other objects.
|WHEN IS IT A HALF-BAKED OPTION?
|Metal pans are not the best choice for pies, because they tend to bake the crust more quickly than fillings. Light-colored shiny styles may not brown goods sufficiently.
|While glass bakeware is sturdy, it can shatter when exposed to extreme changes in temperature—so it’s not your best choice if you want to put a frozen pie directly into the oven. Glass won’t wow your guests at a dinner party.
|Ceramic bakeware is pricey, and, while it is pretty durable, it can break—so it may not be your choice for routine, everyday baking.
|Silicone can be too floppy to suit some bakers, and baked items don’t brown as well as in other materials, so it may not be great for cakes or breads.
Barbara Solomon Josselsohn is a freelance writer in Scarsdale specializing in home-furnishings and family topics. She spent 15 years as an editor with HFN, a home-furnishings trade publication, where she covered pillows, mattresses, and other bedding products.