Prepping makes all the difference in the end.

By Sheri Castle
November 05, 2020
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Credit: Eric Jeon

One of the easiest and simplest steps to encourage a perfect cake is to properly prepare the pan before pouring in the batter. The obvious reason for preparing the pan is to ensure a clean release and flawless appearance, but it also contributes to the cake’s crumb, texture, and crust.

Pan prep methods vary with the type of cake and the recipe, and those instructions should be heeded to ensure a proper rise and clean release. An angel food cake, for example, bakes in an ungreased pan. Other recipes call for greasing only the bottom of the pan and to omit the flour. But many Southern cakes call for greasing and flouring the pan. And it’s easy as 1, 2, 3.

  1. Make sure the pan is clean and dry. Unless otherwise specified, cakes bake best in metal pans instead of glass or ceramic.
  2. Use your fingertips, a soft pastry brush, or a folded paper towel to lightly and evenly coat the inside of the pan with vegetable shortening, such as Crisco. Make sure there are no bare spots, especially in the corners of the pan. Also avoid thick lumps or streaks that will hold excess flour and possibly mar the outside of the cooked and cooled cake with white residue. A pastry brush works best in pans that have an intricate pattern.
  3. Sprinkle a tablespoon or so of all-purpose or instant flour (such as Wondra) into the pan. Gently shake, tap, and tilt the pan until all of the shortening is covered in a dusting of flour. Invert the pan over the sink and gently tap out any excess flour.

That’s it.

Why shortening instead of butter or oil?

Butter can sometimes worsen sticking problems, especially in cakes that are high in sugar. Oil absorbs too much of the flour and can pool in the bottom of the pan.

What about parchment paper?

If your recipe calls for lining the bottom and/or sides of the pan with parchment, do so. Some recipes combine greasing and flouring the pan with parchment.

What about nonstick cooking spray?

It’s tempting to turn to a can or bottle of cooking spray, especially those that contain flour, in an effort to save time. However, these sprays tend to make the cake’s crust thicker and darker, which might not matter all that much on a pound cake, but could be a deal breaker on delicate cakes. Some bakers report that cooking sprays leave residue that builds up and stains their pans over time. If your recipe specifically calls for misting the cake pan, then do so, but otherwise spraying a pan cannot replace greasing and flouring.

What about nonstick pans?

It’s best to not count on it, especially if the pan shows wear. Moreover, a heavy, dark, nonstick pan can affect baking times and turn the cake’s crust too thick and dark. Vintage Southern cake recipes written back when everyone used lightweight and light color aluminum pans bake best in that type of pan.