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How to pick the perfect pan for cooking and baking

Are you baking on a light pan or a dark pan? Find out how the difference could be affecting you in the kitchen.

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Roasted beets and their greens

Roasted beets and their greens. (Photo, John Cullen.)

A friend of mine was complaining that her tried-and-true cookie recipe was suddenly very inconsistent. Some batches were burnt, while others seemed to be taking too long to cook. She was using the same ingredients and method, but her results were frustrating.  After a bit of troubleshooting, we discovered it wasn’t the recipe or the ingredients she was using – it was the new baking sheets she was cooking on.

She had purchased two new sheets; a dark steel pan and a lighter, heavy-gauge aluminum sheet. The dark pan baked her cookies too fast,  the dough wasn’t spreading and the bottoms were burning. The light pan produced a better result, but the baking time was much longer. Her initial conclusion was that the dark pan was burning her cookies because it was thinner. So, was this the case?

No. The success of your baking relies much more on the colour of your pan than the weight of it. Lighter pans (typically aluminum) reflect light. In turn, this reflection slows down the conduction of heat by the metal. Dark pans are usually made of steel and their dark colour absorbs light, and therefore heat, making it heat up faster and retain a very high temperature.

It’s typically recommended to use aluminum pans for baked goods as they conduct heat evenly and at a better rate. If you want your baked goods to maintain a pale colour, use a shiny aluminum pan as it reflects even more light. For better browning, opt for a dull pan. Be aware of what you intend to bake on an aluminum pan as it can react with acidic items, causing the food to take on a metal flavour. If you intend on roasting anything acidic – like lemons or tomatoes – be sure to line the sheet with parchment paper first.

But don’t toss out your dark pans! For baking, they do tend to brown the bottoms of your items faster (and this early crust development can prevent cookies from spreading), resulting in imbalanced baking. The rule of thumb when baking with dark-coloured pans is to reduce the oven temperature by 25 percent.

However there are exceptions to this. Items that have a short baking time but need a very high heat – such as puff pastry or pizza dough – love the dark pan. It gives them a fast, hot lift. I also love my dark pans for roasting vegetables and rimmed dark pans for roasting meat. Looking for dark crunchy edges on your potato wedges or roasted cauliflower with good caramelization? Dark pans are the way to go.

All this is to say – consider what you are baking before you select your pan. If you want hot heat and a lot of browning, use your dark pan. For more tempered heat and slower cooking, an aluminum pan will suit you best.

Get baking or roasting with some of these perfect fall recipes from Chatelaine:
Roasted beets and their greens
Oven roasted crispy chickpeas
Caramelized onion tart with asparagus
London fog ice box cookies

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