The No-Fail Way to Grease a Cake Pan

The secret to successfully prepping a cake pan lies in the batter.

Lemon-Lime Pound Cake
Photo: Hector Manuel Sanchez

To paraphrase an old saying, prior planning prevents a pretty bad outcome. This is so true when baking. Those magnificent, holiday layer cakes don't just happen without a lot of prep work, and even the humble pound cake requires a little forethought. As experienced bakers, we know to read the entire recipe thoroughly before starting a recipe, we know how to properly measure dry ingredients (spoon, not scoop), and we know the importance of using the recommended cold or softened butter. Don't stop with the ingredients, though. Prepping your cake pan can mean the difference in presenting your guests with a beautiful layer cake or a hastily thrown-together trifle.

It shouldn't have to be said, but always check your recipe instructions; a well-written recipe will tell you whether to grease and/or flour your cake pan. A hand-written, heirloom recipe, however, may be missing that vital piece of info; Grandma just assumed everyone knew how to prepare a cake pan. Here is the 411 on how to grease a cake pan.

When to Grease a Pan

Whether or not you have to grease your cake pan really depends on the recipe you are making. When baking an angel food cake, which gets its rising power from the beaten egg whites, you don't grease the pan. Beaten egg white cake batters rise best when they have can grip onto and climb up the sides of the cake pan; if you greased the pan, the batter would fall flat.

When making butter or most fat-based cakes, it is best to grease the cake pan. These recipes often call for some additional leavening, such as baking soda and/or baking powder, to help with rising, and don't rely on gripping the pan sides to rise. To keep the batter from actually sticking to the dry sides, you should grease pan.

When to Flour a Greased Cake Pan

Flouring a greased cake pan creates a line of defense between the fat and the cake batter; it prevents the fat (lard, butter, oil) from seeping into the batter as the cake bakes, yet still lets the batter to rise up the sides of the pan and, once the cake has baked, allows for an easy release. If your cake has a high sugar content, it is a good idea to flour your greased pan. The caramelized sugar on the edges of the cake can stick to the sides of the pan, tearing when you try to unmold the cake. A sprinkling of flour will act as a protective barrier between the sugary batter and the greased cake pan walls. It is always a good idea to thoroughly grease and flour Bundt pans, paying close attention to the intricate curves and crevices.

WATCH: Heavenly Angel Food Cake

Tips From a Pro

Over the years, Southern Living Test Kitchen Professional Pam Lolley has developed and tested hundreds and hundreds of cake recipes, earning the right to be opinionated about greasing a cake pan. "I really prefer to grease with shortening and then dust with flour," says Pam. "I have found that butter sometimes will get a cake too dark – almost a little burned on the bottom. I also use a paper towel to grease with, and use this method when making Bundt cakes." If Pam is working with delicate cake layers, she will line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper and lightly grease just the parchment with cooking spray.

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