Pans And Brands For A Novice

Decorating By Merrill Updated 8 Oct 2011 , 7:53pm by heyjules

Merrill Posted 25 Sep 2011 , 3:27pm
post #1 of 26

I am a complete novice attempting to furnish the kitchen with a few quality pans and supplies. As a left-brain man with a penchant for orderliness, I also would like them to match if it makes sense. That way, if I try baking and find I am no good at it, I at least can open the cupboard doors, look in, and be pleased with myself for having a reasonably well-equipped, orderly cupboard.

I have been researching online, and the more I look and learn, the more my head swims with options. I know it shouldn't be this hard, so will one or a few of you help me out with the answers to a few specific questions?

I probably should first say that I have three Corning Cornflower pieces -- two bake trays and an 8 x 8 bake dish.

1. I'm thinking that I should start with a 9 x 13 rectangular cake pan and two round cake pans of the same size (to allow for a two-layer cake). Should they be 8", 9", or 10", and should they be 2" or 3" high?

2. Based upon various conflicting rave notices, I've been able to narrow the brands down to Chicago Metallic or Magic Line or WS Gold Touch. I don't know which to choose, and whether to get dark or light, nonstick or non-nonstick. It appears Gold Touch is made in America, and Chicago Metallic no longer is. I don't know about Magic Line. It seems Chicago Metallic is heaviest and bakes quickest, and Magic Line has the truest sides and angles. I don't know which one makes the best cakes. What should I get here in the sizes indicated in (1)?

3. It seems there are silpats and/or parchment to use on the pan bottoms and strips to use on the sides. I think they are supposed to be used to prevent sticking? If that is right, are they necessary with the right pan?

4. Someone somewhere wrote that having a metal sheet below the cake pan in the oven will help the cake bake better. Is that right? If so, what brand of sheet should I get?

5. Finally, is there any particular brand of cake mix that is better then the others?

Thanks to any and all of you of offer suggestions.


25 replies
Marianna46 Posted 26 Sep 2011 , 12:04am
post #2 of 26

Light-colored "non-nonstick" pans are the way to go. Dark pans for some reason don't bake the cake evenly and are prone to burning. A properly prepared pan (with parchment cut to shape and shortening spread over the bottom and sides OR with a coating of shortening and then one of flour) doesn't need to be non-stick, and non-stick pans might cause the cake to pull away from the edges as they bake, thereby deforming the layers. People I know swear by Magic Line and another brand you don't mention, which is Fat Daddio. The important thing about these pans is that they have sharp edges (something you won't ever find in a Corningware dish, unfortunately) and sides that don't flare. I think you're right about starting out with a couple of the 9" x 13" and maybe a couple of 8" rounds. I don't know if you're planning on going into business at some point, but a two-layer 8" cake is a great size for a family gathering. You can always expand later. I prefer 2" pans, because a standard cake tier is 4" high, which would be two 2" layers. Purists will tell you that a 2" cake won't bake up properly ina 3" pan. The sheet can be any old baking sheet. Everybody has their own favorite cake mix, there doesn't seem to be a consensus. Hope that helps!

leah_s Posted 26 Sep 2011 , 12:17am
post #3 of 26

Magic Line.
2" tall pans
1 good sheet pan is handy to have.
then make up some pan grease.

Merrill Posted 26 Sep 2011 , 3:42am
post #4 of 26

Thank you, Marianna and Leah, for your comments. They have helped clarify what to get. I'll pick up light-colored, "non-nonstick" Magic Line pans -- a 9" x 13" and two 8" rounds that are 2" high, and a sheet pan if they make it. I also will go ahead and get parchment as well. Does it come in rolls (like wax paper does), or in sheets? Until I started looking at pans online the other day, I thought parchment's history had ended when the monks stopped reprinting the Bible by hand.

I don't plan to go into business. I'm just going to learn how to bake up occasional cakes for myself. Whether I continue it with any degree with regularity will depend upon finding a mix or recipe that I like better than the cakes I can get at the local Costco or Giant.


madcobbler Posted 26 Sep 2011 , 3:59am
post #5 of 26

You can get parchment paper in rolls at the supermarket. You can get parchment paper sheets as well from restaurant supply stores and online. Besides the 9x13 pan and (2) 8" rounds a 8" or 9" square pan would be practical for brownies and cakes.

Merrill Posted 26 Sep 2011 , 5:10am
post #6 of 26

Thanks for your comments, Madcobbler. OK, the supermarket for the parchment. Does not the 8 x 8 x 2 Corning Cornflower pan work, or should I get a metal one?

Actually, I was thinking about cobblers when I started this pan projects. I really like fruit dishes. Do you have instructions for a simple, tasty cobbler you can point me toward?


Marianna46 Posted 26 Sep 2011 , 1:28pm
post #7 of 26

I don't know about cobbler (although I'm ready to hear some good ones from anybody who cares to post one), but I do have a cake recipe to suggest. It's called the White Almond Sour Cream (WASC) cake. It's halfway between a cake mix and a scratch recipe, because you start with a mix and add stuff to it. It tastes great, has dozens of variations, is very forgiving with experimentation and is sturdier than a mix cake by itself for heavy decorations and carving. The recipe is in the recipe section here and there's a Google document somewhere with a lot of suggested variations. I'd say metal pans work the best, but I've made lots of cakes in glass pans, too.
By the way, I've always been a pretty left-brained individual, too (I just retired from a job in academia last year). There's tons of good stuff about the science of baking (Rose Levy Beranbaum's _The Cake Bible_ is an excellent book about this sort of thing), but the real secret to success in baking is to give your left brain a rest and just enjoy what you're doing. And I almost forgot to say welcome to CC. Learning things on this site is half the fun!

leah_s Posted 26 Sep 2011 , 2:05pm
post #8 of 26

I just ordered some Wilton Decorator Preferred pans completely by accident - didn't read the description thoroughly. So I wound up doing a side by side baking comparison between the WDP pans and ML pans. The WDP pans are SO INFERIOR to my Magic Line pans , W should be ashamed. Thinner so that they bake way too fast, nearly burning the product.

Narie Posted 26 Sep 2011 , 2:39pm
post #9 of 26

magic line- Wash by hand; they get funky looking if put in the dish washer.
2 inch deep round
8 inch square pan
9"x13" rectangle
10"x15"x1" jelly roll pan ( also good for cookies and needed for bar cookies)

If you order regularly from Amazon, check out the prices and sizes of parchment paper- also free shipping. The grocery store brand gets pricey after awhile.

Fresh Fruit Cobbler
Basic Directions - This is a old stand by recipe. Use any fruit; adjust sugar to fruit sweetness, slice peaches thin. Combined fruits work well.

2/3 to 1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup boiling water

Bring to a boil for one minute.

Add 2 cups fresh fruit (or thawed frozen) including juice to sweet syrup, pour into 8x8 square baking pan (or 1 ½ quart casserole.)

Optional Dot with 1 tablespoon butter
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
   ½ teaspoon almond extract

Soft dough

1 cup sifted flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup shortening

Mix dry ingredients cut in shortening until it looks like cornmeal and stir in ½ cup milk. Drop spoonfuls over hot filling.
400 degrees- 30 minutes.

This gets used more than pie recipes because it takes less fruit.

Merrill Posted 26 Sep 2011 , 8:20pm
post #10 of 26

Marianna, thanks for the instructions for the WASC Cake. That sounds pretty tasty. I have to say, I've only been on this site for two days and I already am running into a lot of tasty-sounding things.

To all, I would say Marianna's living in Cancun has a lot to do with her setting aside her left-brain nature, wouldn't you? icon_smile.gif

Leah, while I was doing my research about pans I ran into a number of articles from people who, like you, said Wilton is significantly inferior to Magic Line. You're definitely on the side of the majority.

Narie, thanks for the cobbler instructions. I'm going to try that after a dress rehearsal with a box mix after the pans arrive. I bought a Magic Line 9 x 13 through eBay, and bought two Magic Line 2-inch-high round 8's off a baking place on the Internet. They were much cheaper than the apparent same pans on eBay.

Marianna, I think you also had mentioned Fat Daddio pans. I forgot to mention that I had seen them, but rejected them because I couldn't see myself being willing to buy anything named Fat Daddio. A man's got to have some standards. icon_smile.gif

Thanks again, all. First impressions do count, and I say this is an informative site filled with helpful people.


Marianna46 Posted 27 Sep 2011 , 2:20am
post #11 of 26

Standards, schmandards! (That's what living in Cancún will do for you!) I've heard they're great, but I think you did the right thing buying Magic Line. If I could get my hands on some, I'd definitely buy them. Leah, I just bought 2 WDP 9" x 13" pans and they may be garbage, but they're SO much better than the pans I had that I was thrilled. Like I said, if I could get my hands on some ML pans, I would, but they don't sell them here and there's a 40% import tariff on things you have sent here, so no dice. I thank you for the cobbler recipe, too, Narie. My family is probably getting a little tired of cakes by now - I test a lot of stuff on them - so they'll welcome a change.

madcobbler Posted 27 Sep 2011 , 10:19pm
post #12 of 26

A corningware dish would be fine for cobblers, brownies, and casseroles. A square or rectangle sheet pan with crisp 90 degree corners and straight sides will give you a nice cake canvas for decorating.Wilton's decorator preferred pans are pretty good. I don't like Wilton's performance pan sets though. IMO I think Magic Line, Chicago Metallic, and Fat Daddio are all really good brands for pans having purchased various pans from all these companies. It really comes down to personal preference. As an afterthought I would also suggest getting a standard sized muffin tin for cupcakes and muffins as well as a 10x15 cookie sheet pan. As far as cake mixes I would suggest Duncan Hines. If you want to doctor up your boxed cake mixes try The Cakemix Doctor Cookbook. I love The Cake Bible Cookbook for scratch recipes. As far as pie and cobbler recipes I don't have one set recipe.

Merrill Posted 28 Sep 2011 , 12:49pm
post #13 of 26

If your husband okays it, send your address to me (mod edited to remove email address. Please use CC pm or email services.) Marianna. I'll send you a Magic Pan 9 x 13 x 2. There shouldn't be a tariff on a gift from a private citizen.

Cobbler, thanks for your comments. I think I will try Narie's cobbler in the Corning 8 x 8. I also have a couple of Corning Cornflower bake sheets (about 9.5 x 14 on the inside), by the way. When I decided to organize the kitchen earlier this year, I investigated the Internet to see what to get for casseroles, roasters, etc. I ran across pyroceram Corning Cornflower made during the Corning of New York days, became enamored with it, and outfitted myself with 18 vintage Cornflower pieces (plus covers) before moving on. Should I use the Cornflower sheets for broiling and get metal cookie sheets? Somewhere in the last couple of weeks I read that cookie sheets should have one, two, or three sides, but not all four (to allow for better air flow). Is that right?

Thanks also for the Duncan Hines suggestion. I'll try that. Another generic piece of advice I read says to add a little more extract to a mix than it calls for. What does that do -- does it moisten the mix better?

I also read suggestions to use "flower nails" and Bake Even strips to help cakes bake more uniformly and flat. I'm think one flower nail for a round cake, two for a 9 x 13. Does that work? There seems to be a wide variety of the strips. Are the Wilton strips good? They seem to have the flexibility of being able to be used on a wide variety of pans.

Another thing I read which seems to be an important tip is to hang a thermometer in the over. Others said to use two. Is one sufficient? The oven is an ordinary-sized oven, whatever ordinary is.

Finally, as someone who checks the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book before hard-boiling eggs (they call it hard-cooked -- now what's that all about), I think I'll pick up a Cakemix Doctor Cookbook. Good tip!

Thanks again, all.

Marianna46 Posted 29 Sep 2011 , 2:15am
post #14 of 26

Thanks for your offer, Merrill, but even gifts are taxable, which is why my family and I exchange gifts at Christmas unless they're here or I'm there. My husband, by the way, sweetie though he is, has nothing to say about this sort of thing! Or I guess I should have said "sweetie THAT he is", which is more to the point.

Merrill Posted 29 Sep 2011 , 4:16am
post #15 of 26

(Mod edited for political content.)

My first two Magic Line pans arrived today (the 8" rounds), so progress continues apace north of the border. I think I'll do a "throwaway" plain cake with a Duncan Hines mix this weekend to see how the basic baking process works, what details are needed for execution, etc. Then next weekend I'll figure out how to do icing. The week after I'll try the peach cobbler. By then I should have a working understanding of the process, and should have assembled the ingredients and equipment pieces the kitchen needs to be workable for baking.

Marianna46 Posted 29 Sep 2011 , 11:16am
post #16 of 26

Left brain it is, Merrill icon_biggrin.gif! I like your approach, though. As a lot of people on this site would agree, I think you get farther with this by thinking things through and being willing to experiment. Let us know how it goes.

Merrill Posted 29 Sep 2011 , 1:53pm
post #17 of 26

The left-brain function does seem to work pretty well when sorting out unknown tasks and situations, whether they be patrolling the jungle in Vietnam or sorting out the baking equipment and process.

I put it to work last night on the last wilderness in the kitchen -- the spice shelves. I tossed all duplicates, keeping the container with the latest expiration dates, made an inventory list of what was left with expired dates, then tossed them. That gets me down to things which didn't have expiration dates -- for baking I think they are ground cinnamon, red food color, flour and sugar in (separate) closed plastic container(s), confectioners sugar, and brown sugar. Are those things good indefinitely, or should I just toss them and get new ones? Also, the corn starch box has been opened, but has an expiration date of August 2012. For things which have been opened at some time in the past but are not expired, are they good until the expiration date?

Armed with any answers to these questions and the other list of items needed, I'll take a run to Williams-Sonoma and the grocery store to get prepared for the first run at a basic cake this weekend.

Thanks again to all of you for the help.

Narie Posted 30 Sep 2011 , 3:07pm
post #18 of 26

for baking I think they are ground cinnamon, red food color, flour and sugar in (separate) closed plastic container(s), confectioners sugar, and brown sugar. Are those things good indefinitely, or should I just toss them and get new ones? Also, the corn starch box has been opened, but has an expiration date of August 2012. For things which have been opened at some time in the past but are not expired, are they good until the expiration date?

Ground spices- cinnamon included- are good for either 6 months or 2 years depending on what source you are reading. Open the jar and sniff; if the cinnamon has good strong fragrence, great- keep it. If it is weak, toss. I use the sniff test on all my spices, although I do toss after 2 years.

Buy small amounts of good quality spices from a spice store. If you don't have nearby spice store, there are several very good ones on line.

Sugars do not go bad- they will clump, but they are still usable. Brown sugar clumps can be a problem. If you can break it up, great; if not, find one of the suggestions for softening hardened brown sugar.

Flour- 8 months

red food coloring -?

If an item has a expiration date on the package, follow that suggestion.

Marianna46 Posted 1 Oct 2011 , 12:38am
post #19 of 26

You didn't mention this, but it may be good for future reference: buy baking powder in the smallest quantity available and replace it every couple of months, especially if you live where it's humid. I found out the hard way that it can lose its potency and your cakes will suddenly start coming out flatter than the proverbial pancake. Have fun on your baking adventure this weekend, and let us know how it went. Tonight, you might check into the Friday Night Cake Club, chaired by leah_s (just keep an eye out for it in the forum posts at the bottom of the main page), so you can see what your fellow cakers are up to.

luckylibra Posted 1 Oct 2011 , 1:44am
post #20 of 26

Sounds like you have all the experts chiming in but as a fairly newbie myself I thought I would throw in my 8 cents ...I love the magic line pans! I treated myself to a set when I finished my MBA and was surprised at just how much straighter the sides are. I had read here where others said they were so awesome but seeing it yourself after having used wilton pans was unbelievable! The WASC is great and everyone I have ever made it for loved it. I love that it is so versatile as well just by changing/adding a few ingredients. I have found success with IndyDebis buttercream and sugarshacks frosting recipe as well. The forums here have awesome tips and tricks and everyone is so helpful! Welcome and have a wonderful time with all your caking!

Merrill Posted 1 Oct 2011 , 1:30pm
post #21 of 26

Marianna, and Narie, thanks for the rules of thumb for the spices, etc., and Lucky, thanks to you for the testimonials.

Since I've been divorced for a number of years, I decided it probably would be best to dump it all and start over. I drafted up a guidance sheet with the basic stuff (mixes, spices, shortening, etc.) needed for baking and the rules of thumb for dumping, then attached a name/date-bought inventory form to list the new purchases, and put that in the cupboard with the spices. I'll update the guidance and list as I go through this initial baking sequence to test the process and be sure the kitchen is properly equipped. By the time I'm done I should have a good institutional memory sheet and checklist to review before the next time. My guess is I'll settle down to baking at most a cake, cobbler or pie about once or twice each a year and spend the rest of the time being pleased with myself for having a well-equipped kitchen and knowing what is in it.

Lucky absolutely is right about you all being a real source of expertise. When I get stuck about what to get in a grocery store or kitchen store, my usual solution is to ask the next intelligent-looking woman who walks down the aisle. That usually works for staples, but I was shocked at the difference in quality in baking advice between you and the store. The most common answer was, they get whatever is cheapest. In the grocery store, for example, no one could tell me how to choose between light brown and dark brown sugar (I arbitrarily chose dark brown). And no one in the grocery store had heard of Magic Line pans. When I went to Williams Sonoma, the first rep had never heard of bake-even strips or flower nails, even after I explained their purpose. The second rep had heard of bake-even strips, but disdainfully assured me they don't carry them. They suggested I ought to go to Bed Bath & Beyond. Since we were standing near the WS Gold Touch pans, before leaving I asked if they know who makes them. They didn't. I told them that Chicago Metallic used to make them and UAS Pan makes them now, then smiled and left. At Bed Bath & Beyond, the rep had never heard of Magic Line, the strips, and the nails, and didn't know where to send me. She volunteered that she uses USA Pan pans, and that they work very well. Out of curiosity I made the mistake of asking whether her cakes rise in the middle as they bake. When she bristled at the question, I suggested she try the strip and nail, bid her adieu, and gave up for the day. Amazing -- I haven't baked a cake yet, but already am an educated consumer. My thanks to all of you for that!

Narie, what is a good brand name (other than McCormick) for spices?

I'll do the basic-procedure cake in the Magic Line 8" round this weekend without the strip and nail, and will repeat with the same mix when I have the strip and nail. That should show me the difference.

I'm off now to test the accuracy of the oven dial with my new oven thermometer. All of you enjoy your weekends.


Narie Posted 1 Oct 2011 , 5:05pm
post #22 of 26

I buy Penzey spices by phone although you can order from them on the Internet. Once you have ordered from them you will get their catalogue. Depending on where you live, they may have a store in your area. I like being able to choose from 3 or 4 types of cinnamon, pepper or chilli powder. They also have several seasoning blends that I really like.

On the flower nail- you really don't need to use it for an 8 inch cake. For a larger 10 inch cake - yes.

Merrill Posted 3 Oct 2011 , 12:59pm
post #23 of 26

Thanks for the Penzey spice idea, Narie. I'll try some.

The cake turned out reasonably okay, the second time around. I did up a Duncan Hines Classic White mix during a thunderstorm on Saturday night, put the batter in the pan, and gently tapped the pan on the counter several times to remove any air bubbles. Then I put the Magic Line round 8 pan that was prepped with parchment on the bottom and Crisco on the sides in the preheated (to 350) oven. I had a momentary quandry when faced with the decision of which of the four rack heights to put the pan. This probably sounds silly, but I remembered then that aircraft carriers have four arresting cables for landing aircraft, and the third cable is the one deemed the best choice, so I put the rack and pan on the third slide from the top. About five minutes later, the power in the whole neighborhood went out, and stayed out until Sunday morning. I rejected the urge to treat that as a warning from the heavens, dumped the mix, went out to the grocery store, and bought a second Classic White mix, and redid the process. It turned out I put too much batter in the pan. I need to sort that out. But it tasted okay for a first try. I tried it during the Redskins game.

By the way -- the temperature testing of the oven on Saturday morning surprised me. I tested each of the top three levels in three diagonal places (right front, center, left rear). I thought the temperature would rise as the rack was lowered, but it didn't really happen. The temperature would fluctuate between about 330 and 350 (this my quandry concerning the rack placement). I used a Farberware hanging thermometer I picked up at the grocery story.

Thanks again for all of your help. Any thoughts? And how did the weekend go for the rest of you?


Marianna46 Posted 8 Oct 2011 , 6:33pm
post #24 of 26

Well, I left town on Monday at the crack of dawn and this is the first internet connection I've had all week. Glad to hear you got some good results from your first attempts, but what a bummer about the power going off! It's the one reason I'm glad I have a gas stove - it happens all the time here! I spent the weekend making my daughter a belated birthday cake (her birthday comes in the middle of her two kids' and always gets obscured by their festivities, so I try to do something special for her a month or so later. It was a cake decorated with gelatin bubbles (there have been a couple of threads on here about that and Tami Utley has a step-by-step on her blog to show how they're done). It took me about 4 tries to get the bubbles to make up right, but once they did, the cake itself was easy. It's the first time in a long time I've iced a cake with buttercream, because I'm so lousy at it, but I took my time and it came out better than it ever has, which is not to say all that good. I'm trying to catch up on posting my photos today and tomorrow, so maybe eventually there will be a picture of it in my photos. So, again, congrats, keep at it, and let us know how it's going.

Marianna46 Posted 8 Oct 2011 , 6:34pm
post #25 of 26

Sorry, this posted twice (been happening to me a lot lately - don't know if it's my computer or the site, any clues, anybody?).

heyjules Posted 8 Oct 2011 , 7:53pm
post #26 of 26
Originally Posted by leah_s

I just ordered some Wilton Decorator Preferred pans completely by accident - didn't read the description thoroughly. So I wound up doing a side by side baking comparison between the WDP pans and ML pans. The WDP pans are SO INFERIOR to my Magic Line pans , W should be ashamed. Thinner so that they bake way too fast, nearly burning the product.

I totally agree. I also did a side by side comparison.

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