Baking Pans: When to Use, Metal, Glass, Ceramic, or Silicone
How important is the material when it comes to pans and other bakeware? Very! There’s more to bakeware than we realize: the different casserole pans, baking sheets, and muffin tins that we use all perform in very distinct ways. In fact, the difference between glass and metal materials can actually alter the very way your food bakes.
So before you reach for your favorite glass dish or silicone cake mold, consider what you’re about to cook as well as your many bakeware options—it could result in better end results.
Metal pans work best for cakes, cookies, muffins, tarts, breads, and brownies. Light-colored or shiny metal bakeware is the best for even browning, while darker-colored metals can cause over-browning (though darker is great for getting deep golden-brown crusts on bread!). Aluminum is better than stainless steel for conducting heat and baking foods evenly, but be careful of storing foods in aluminum pans; the aluminum will react with acids in the food and give them a metallic flavor.
The High Heat Choice
Metal bakeware is a fantastic heat conductor, so when you need to heat up a dish quickly, choose a metal pan or sheet—it’ll soak up your oven’s heat in mere minutes and allow you to brown the edges of your food quickly.
Metal’s heat-loving quality makes it the best choice for any foods that need to come out of the oven crispy, not moist, such as baked fries, pizza crusts, and pie crusts.
Metal, whether it be copper, stainless steel, cast iron, or aluminum, is also better for recipes requiring very high heat. Glass or ceramic dishes can shatter if subjected to some serious heat in the oven, or when placed under the broiler, but metal can tolerate these high temperatures.
Glass conducts heat extremely well, which can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. Recipes with a lot of sugar (like pound cakes and cookie bars) might start to burn before being cooked all the way through, but glass is fantastic for making casseroles, bread pudding, and other dishes where browning is less important. Glass also has the advantage of being non-reactive, so you can store recipes right in the baking dish without worry that the food will pick up metallic flavors. So, in summary, glass pans are best for casseroles (for savory dishes, cobblers, bread puddings, etc.) and pies.
The Even Heater
If your go-to is a glass dish when you’re mixing together a casserole, your instincts are right: glass is the best bakeware for recipes that need to cook evenly for the duration of their time in the oven. Glass is ideal when your food requires a single consistent, constant temperature. Since glass is an insulator, it remains warm once heated. This means your baked food will keep warm even after letting it sit out. Glass also gets very hot as it holds heat; in fact, it’s recommended that you remove your food from the oven earlier if you have to use glass bakeware for a recipe that specifies metal, as the glass dish can actually cook your food faster than the recipe states.
In many ways, ceramic is like glass: It conducts heat very well, but can cause over-browning in sweet dishes. The biggest advantage of ceramic is that these dishes look pretty! Foods can be served and stored in their baking dish! Ceramic pans are best for casseroles (for savory dishes, cobblers, bread puddings, etc.) and pies.
It’s Just Like Glass
Although glass and metal are the most common types of bakeware, many of us also have colorful and decorative ceramic dishes. These are perfect pieces to cook and serve your food in, especially if you’re trying to impress guests with a fancy presentation. The only difference between the two is appearance: ceramic bakeware is often the more attractive choice when serving as it can complement your table decor.
If sticking is a worry for you, silicone pans are your best friend. However, silicone is a poor heat-conductor and baked goods tend to brown very little, if at all, when baked in these pans, which means it’s best for very light-colored cakes, breads, and muffins.
Stick with Light Recipes
Silicone is a bit of a rarity in many kitchens, but if you have a piece or two of silicone bakeware at home, it’s important to understand how exactly it bakes. The good news is that silicone is essentially non-stick! It’s wonderful for dealing with sticky baked goods that won’t release easily, and it virtually eliminates a leftover mess once the food is cooked. The bad news is silicone bakeware is also rather difficult to get up to temperature in the oven.
Silicone is simply a poor heat conductor. It takes quite a while to heat up and can impact the appearance of your baked goods by failing to brown the food at all. Forget crispy-edged casseroles or steaming hot, dense bread puddings: silicone bakeware just doesn’t work as well with these types of food.
Before grabbing a piece of bakeware, there are a few “rules” to consider. First and foremost, consult the original recipe. Typically, a recipe’s instructions will tell you what type of bakeware you should be using. If there’s nothing specific mentioned, give the baking temperature a quick glance. A dish that requires baking for a just a few minutes at a high temperature—such as 500°F for 10 minutes—will be too hot for some bakeware.
What you’re cooking also factors into your bakeware choice. Different bakeware options hold heat differently, so it’s important to determine whether you’d like the food to be crisp and brown or simply cooked all the way through. If you know how each variety of bakeware cooks when you pop it into the oven, you can choose the right one without worrying how your recipe will turn out.