What Kind of Pan Should I Use?

Stack of Cake Pans

Ever wonder which kind of pan to use for a baking project? Well, wonder no more. Read below for how to choose the right kind of pan.

*This post contains some affiliate links that pay me a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thanks for helping to keep me in flour and sugar. See my disclosure policy here.

If you’re anything like me, your first set of cookware was a hodge-podge mess of pans that were hand-me-downs from your mom, your grandma, Goodwill, and roommates that left things behind.

Typically, they were a little banged up, scratched, and possibly burned your food. They also came in a variety of substances-the glass casserole dish, the stone bread pan, the well worn metal cookie sheets, maybe if you were lucky, a well seasoned cast iron skillet.

So how the heck do you know which kind of pan to use?

Short answer? It all depends on what you’re baking. Long answer? Read below.

Let’s talk conductivity!

That doesn’t sound super nerdy or anything…

via GIPHY

But for real, conductivity is the name of the game when you are trying to decide what kind of pan to use.

What the heck is conductivity?

Conductivity is how well heat is transferred from one thing to another. Or in this case, how well heat is transferred from your oven to your pan to your baked goods.

Good conductors of heat: copper, aluminum, stainless steel

Bad conductors of heat: glass, stone, silicone

Bad conductors of heat will be slower to warm up and will stay hot longer. That’s great for a casserole, bad for your brownies. Good conductors of heat will warm quickly and cool quickly. Exactly what we’re looking for in a cookie sheet.

Let’s talk Maillard reaction!

The Maillard reaction is a chemical reaction that occurs when simple sugars (and amino acids) come into contact with dry heat at a temperature above the boiling point of water.

The Maillard reaction causes browning on our baked goods which is important, but also causes changes in flavor and smell (which is more important-think how awesome your kitchen smells when cookies are baking).

So basically-simple sugar+heat+dry=Maillard reaction=browned baked goods that taste amazing!

The type of pan we use is going to either help of hinder that Maillard reaction from taking place. For example, by using a stone cookie sheet with low conductivity, you slow down the rate of browning. This is bad for cookies, we like that golden brown crust. However, by using a water bath, low heat and a ceramic dish for making a custard, you also eliminate the Maillard reaction (not dry or hot), and you don’t have browned cheesecake.

So…which kind of pan should I use?

Chocolate chip cookie dough

Cookies:

Use a metal sheet pan. The metal will conduct the heat to your cookie dough baking up delicious cookies with a crispy edge. You want to use a heavier baking sheet to help protect your cookies from burning. If all you have is thin sheets, you can use a silpat or double up your sheet pans to trap air and slow baking if necessary. Heavier sheet pans will prevent burning. They’re more expensive but worth the investment-they’ll pretty much last forever.

Anodized aluminum sheet pans: aluminum that has undergone a chemical reaction and is harder and darker in color than regular aluminum. Because they are darker in color, they will bake your cookies a little faster, but are also a little easier to clean.

Stoneware sheet pans: stoneware is not a great conductor of heat. Therefore your cookies will take longer to bake. The upside, no burned cookies. The downside, no nice browning on the underside of the cookie and over-baking can lead to tough cookies. Best to stick with a heavy gauge aluminum pan if you can.

Easy caramel swirl brownies

Cakes and Brownies:

Use a metal pan. Avoid using a glass casserole dish for brownies, because glass holds heat and will continue cooking the brownies. There go your fudgey brownies.

There’s a reason you can’t find round glass cake pans. It’s because glass makes it too easy to over-bake your cake. Or worse, the outside is baked through and the inside isn’t done yet.

So save that lovely glass/ceramic 9×13 casserole dish with a lid for a lasagna that will appreciate it’s ability to heat slowly and retain heat.

Glass pan all you have? Reduce the temperature of your oven by about 25 degrees and reduce your baking time by a few minutes because your brownies will keep baking even after you pull them out of the oven.

Whole Wheat browned butter banana bread

Bread:

A metal pan is preferred for both yeasted breads and quick breads.

Metal pans heat up more quickly so they are hot and ready at the right time to give your loaf just the right about of lift (or oven spring) it needs. Metal also heats up quickly to contribute to the Maillard reaction to make a nice brown flavorful crust.

*I do bake boules of bread directly on a pre-heated stone rather than a cookie sheet specifically because the stone retains the heat. This only works for loaves that hold their own shape and don’t rely on the pan for support.

Pie:

Use a metal, ceramic, or glass pan. (Super helpful, right?). A metal pan will crisp up your crust more quickly, however, it’s actually pretty hard to find a metal pie pan (metal tart pans seem to be more common).

Glass, like the cheap and easy to find Pyrex, makes it easy to see how baked your pie crust is on the bottom. It’s also easy to clean and generally dishwasher safe. Even though it’s a poor conductor of heat, the benefits outweigh the negatives.

Custards:

Use a glass or ceramic pan/baking dish. Because you want custards (think cheesecake) to bake slow and evenly, a ceramic or glass baking dish is ideal. As poor conductors of heat, the ceramic will heat slowly and evenly and won’t burn the custard. Oftentimes a water bath is used when making custard to further slow down the baking speed since water is also a poor conductor of heat.

All in all, you just need to think about what kind of baking you’re going to be doing and choose accordingly. Are you baking something long and slow? Glass or ceramic. Do you want crisp edges and soft middle, metal is the way to go.

What Kind Of Pan Should I use_ (1)

Looking to make something sweet now that you know which pan to use? You might want to try my chocolate chip cookie recipe, it’s a good one. Or are brownies more you’re style? Try these chocolatey caramel nut bars-they are amazing!

Happy Baking!

To make things a little easier in the kitchen, I’ve created a handy printable conversion chart (cause honestly, who can remember how many teaspoons are in a tablespoon?). Sign up below and I’ll send it to you!

Sources:

How Baking Works (affiliate link)

The Pie and Pastry Bible (affiliate link)

Food 52

Food, Fire, Friends

Modern Cuisine