Let’s talk about how to prepare pans for better baking. Taking the time to properly prepare pans before baking helps a cake bake level and evenly and prevents sticking.
Greasing Cake Pans
The first step to prepare pans for baking is greasing. This is a must if you want your cake to release cleanly from your pan. There are many methods, sprays, and tools. The method I use the most is the old reliable trio of butter, flour, and parchment paper because I find that I always have butter and flour on hand. Greasing should be done before making your recipe so that it is ready to go when your cake batter is. Cake batter has leavening agents that activate even before it is exposed to heat. The longer it sits the less action happens in the oven and the more room for failure.
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Supplies needed to prepare pans:
- Place the cake pan on top of the parchment sheet and trace around the bottom. Cut out your traced shape. It doesn’t have to be perfect but it should fit nicely into the pan without any creases or folds. Any bumps in the surface could transfer to the bottom of the cake. If your pan has bumps or ridges like a bundt pan or character shape, skip the parchment and move straight step 3.
- Adhere the parchment to the inside of the pan by spreading a thin layer of butter inside the bottom of the pan. This will keep the parchment from shifting when pouring the batter into it. Place the parchment shape into the pan smoothing it out making sure that it is sticking firmly to the pan.
- Spread another generous even coat of butter inside of the pan all over the parchment-lined bottom and up the sides of the pan. Not a super thick layer but just a little bit more than that thin layer used to stick the parchment down. Make sure it is thoroughly coated so the flour has a nice base to adhere to.
- Drop a couple tablespoons or so of flour into the pan. Shift and shake the pan around to coat the butter layer with the flour, turning a little to the side to make sure the sides are coated as well.
- Holding the pan over a cookie sheet or another pan to catch the excess, flip the pan over and lightly tap the bottom a few times to knock the extra flour out. Inspect for any missed spots. Carefully use a fingertip to smear a little more butter over any missed spot and then do the flour step again. Prepare the cake batter and fill the pan about 2/3 of the way with batter and tap the bottom gently on the counter a few times to get rid of any air bubbles and level it out.
Baking Level and Evenly
At this point, the cake is ready for baking but there is one more step to take that will help the cake bake more evenly and level. This is to add some protection to the outside of the pan to distribute the heat more evenly. There are several ways to do this. The easiest way is to purchase special strips such as Wilton Even Bake Strips. You’ll need a few sets if you are baking several layers.
If you don’t want to buy any extra tools, I found these tutorials here and here. Basically, kitchen towels can be cut into strips that are wide enough to cover the height of the pan. Wet the strips with cold water, squeeze out the excess, then safety pinned together around the pan. The strips can be washed and reused. It is a little messy but it works. The second method involves using damp paper towels wrapped in foil then the foil is wrapped around the pan. I have never gotten around to buying the strips so I have used both methods. Lately, my go to is using the foil paper/paper towel method. It just seems to be less bulky and messy.
So if you are like me, you multitask and forget to add strips to the pan. This happens quite a bit because I have children who need things, many things, especially when I am doing something that does not involve them. No worries! When the cake is finished baking but still warm, I wet a paper towel, squeeze out the excess so it is practically dry, place it over the top and lightly push and smooth the top with my hands (cause I’m crazy like that) or a fondant smoother to help level it out. The goal is not to smash the cake just to press down the top that isn’t level a little. Steam can escape so beware not to burn yourself. This might be a no-no for some but I am kinda obsessed with not having to cut too much off my cake.
This is how I prepare pans and the steps I take to get a cake as level as possible. For more on the next steps, check out this post on How to Layer, Fill, and Crumb Coat a Cake.
Don’t throw away the wrappers from your butter sticks. There is always just a little bit of butter left on them. That little bit of butter can be used to grease cake pans. I keep mine in a plastic bag in the freezer. Then pull a few out when I need them. In a pinch, I have even used them to line the bottom of the pan when I ran out of parchment.