Friday, June 8, 2012

Does the type of pan you use really matter?

Check out these two chocolate chip cookies. They were baked on the same day, with the same dough and the same oven temp. The ONLY thing that was different was the cookie sheet I used.

I had been wondering why my chocolate chip cookies always seemed to spread too much and come out really flat. Sometimes they were fine, but often they were too flat and crispy.  What was I doing wrong? I've been baking cookies for a long time, why could I not get something as basic as chocolate chip to come out consistently good??? When a friend's cookies came out puffier and she had used the same recipe as me, I was baffled.

Then suddenly it dawned on me that I have seven different cookie sheets and I had never really thought about how each one performs a little differently. After I thought about it, I realized that certain cookie sheets tended to make flatter, browner (and crisper) cookies, while other cookie sheets let them stay puffier and softer. How could I not have thought of it sooner?!

You can experiment with different pans to see what works best for you, but here are some recommendations to start with. (This goes for both cookie sheets and cake pans): 1) Use good quality aluminum pans and cookie sheets that DO NOT have a dark non-stick coating. Darker pans tend to overbrown. I prefer not to use any pans with a non-stick coating, even a lighter non-stick coating. (You can always line the pans with parchment if non-stick sprays don't work for you.)  Good quality pans will usually be aluminum and feel very sturdy but not overly heavy. If they feel really lightweight, they will probably warp. If they feel super-heavy, you probably paid too much for some new-fangled bells and whistles that won't help you bake better in the long run. As far as brands go, it is hard to recommend one brand because most companies make regular and non-stick bakeware, as well as making a variety of lines (for everything from the amateur home cook to the pro).  One thing I do not recommend is those silly air-bake things that have a double layer of metal with air between. Don't even waste money on those.

Avoiding dark coated pans is a recommendation that goes for all bakeware as far as I'm concerned. I know that stores like Williams-Sonoma sell pricey bakeware that is supposedly non-stick. But honestly, you'll have to spray or line the pan with parchment anyway, because nothing is truly non-stick. And here's a side-note: half of what you find in those kind of stores is just an array of expensive gadgets with a lot of bells and whistles for wanna-be chefs, not genuinely useful equipment. The bakeware sections in these stores are chock-full of dark non-stick cake pans, which really are not the best for baking. You'd be better off to buy your bakeware from a kitchen supply store or a cake decorating store where they sell the kind of pans that pros use.

For more about cake pans, see my post about Levelling cake layers

Tip: If you must use a pan (for any kind of baking) that has a dark non-stick coating, try lowering your oven temp by 25 degrees. This usually solves the problem, but you still have to watch things very carefully with these pans.

Happy Baking!