It may not seem necessary to try to find the very best cake pan. Cake pans are probably one of those tools you don’t actually remember buying—suddenly you just have one or two that you trot out a few times a year for birthday cakes. And it may seem like these randomly acquired pans are just fine. After all, many standard metal cake pans look and feel pretty much the same—and you might think that they perform similarly, too. But in testing the same classic yellow cake recipe six times in six similar-but-different cake pans, I found the opposite to be true: A cake pan is not a cake pan is not a cake pan. Luckily, I found one pan that really is the best—the one that, ahem, takes the cake. Read about the winners below; for more information about testing methods and what I looked for in a cake pan, scroll to the bottom of the page.
The Best Cake Pan Overall
Fat Daddio’s sturdy but lightweight anodized aluminum pan browns every cake’s exterior beautifully. If you're looking for the best nonstick cake pan, it fits that description as well: It releases cakes easily, turning out golden-brown, perfectly-even, and straight-sided cakes. And the best news is that this pan is extremely easy to wash.
Fat Daddio’s cake pan has a satiny finish thanks to a nontoxic anodizing process, which seals the metal’s natural pores and makes for a more durable material. (As a result, the pan is easier to clean and won’t react with acidic ingredients like citrus or tomatoes.)
This pan has a rolled edge that sticks out slightly from the side of the pan; at first I was afraid this would make for harder-to-clean nooks and crannies. Actually, it made it much easier to hold the pan securely with bulky oven mitts. As a bonus, Fat Daddio also makes anodized aluminum pans in multiple depths (up to 4 inches) and diameters (up to 18 inches!), offering more size and variety than other brands. This is great for avid cake-bakers who want more versatility and consistency. The only downside? The pans don’t stack well (thanks to those same super-straight sides).
The Best Cake Pan for Small Kitchens
The Williams Sonoma Cleartouch Nonstick Round Pan is sturdy and well made. The Cleartouch browned the cake deeply and beautifully—perhaps thanks to the chevron pattern on its base, which the company says “increases airflow for even baking and browning.” Its silicone coating—which makes the pan nonstick without the potentially-harmful components found in many nonstick treatments—easily released the cake. The Cleartouch stacks easily with other pans due to sides that are slightly sloped, which also make the pan very easy to hold and remove from the oven; however, that design means your cake won’t have perfectly straight sides. Though the stacking capability is a major pro for many short-on-space bakers, the sloped sides that allow for it are an equally major con (especially for those hoping to make towering—and even-sided—layer cakes). Ultimately, the Cleartouch takes second place due to its sloped sides and the same silicone coating that makes it so nonstick: It can scratch easily, dinging the coating and diminishing its lifespan.
$10.00, Williams Sonoma
Other Cake Pans We Tested
In my search for the best cake pan, I tested pans from specialty kitchen stores, dedicated cake-pan companies, and restaurant supply stores: Fat Daddio’s (anodized aluminum), Nordicware (aluminum with a steel edge), OXO (“ceramic reinforced” aluminized steel with a PFOA-free nonstick coating), Williams Sonoma (aluminized steel with a nonstick silicone coating), Wilton (aluminum), and Winco (aluminum). All had smooth bottoms except for the OXO and Williams Sonoma models, which had textured patterns. All the cake pans I tested were 9x2 inches, a standard size for many cake recipes.
While it felt sturdily made (it was both the heaviest and most expensive of all the pans I tested), the OXO pan’s instructions specified that the pan should not be used with baking spray; since baking spray is such a go-to for most home bakers, this felt like an inconvenience. The pan also browned cakes unevenly, as did the Nordicware, Wilton, and Winco pans. The Wilton and Winco pans were the least expensive of the bunch, but felt flimsy.
What I Looked For
While testing the best cake pans, I assessed how easily they released the baked cake and how evenly browned the cake was. I looked at user friendliness (how the cake pans felt in hand, how easy they were to clean and store), and also considered their price. I also wanted the best nonstick cake pan, one that would easily release cakes.
How I Tested
I chose to test the pans using a yellow cake recipe because I knew that the pale cake would clearly show differences in how deeply and evenly the cakes browned. I greased each of the pans with baking spray (except for the OXO pan, since the instructions caution against using sprays because the spray can damage the nonstick coating; for that pan, I used a bit of vegetable oil and a paper towel) and lined each with a circle of parchment paper. I poured in the batter, and baked them, two at a time, for 40 minutes, rotating the cakes halfway through. I let them cool 10 minutes in the pans, ran a butter knife around the edges of the cake to loosen it from the pan, then tipped them out onto cooling racks and removed the parchment.
All of the pans, I’m pleased to report, unmolded the cakes easily. But the range of color in the resulting cakes was so surprising you’d almost think I'd used different recipes. Some cakes sported an even deep golden brown, some browned very lightly, and some were patchy: overly browned in some spots and too blonde in others. Some had clean edges and some were sticky or crumbly or both.
Both of our top pans are a good deal at about 10 dollars each at the time of writing. Both cleanly release superlative golden cakes. For cakes with perfectly straight sides, opt for the super-sturdy, versatile Fat Daddio’s. Choose the Williams Sonoma Cleartouch if you’re a more casual baker working with a small amount of storage space (they stack!).
Originally Appeared on Epicurious