five essential prep tools, and now we're talking about pans. There are so many pans on the market, and while we admire all those fun, one-use pans (trains, castles, turkeys...) they are not necessary for a basic baking kitchen. In fact, you only need a handful of pans to bake nearly everything you could want. Start off with a cookie sheet...
1. Baking Sheet(s) - A baking sheet is the first thing you need. It's really helpful to have two, but not necessary. We recommend large pans with raised lips that can double as jelly-roll cake pans or for just about anything else that calls for a big pan. Also, baking sheets are not a place to cut corners. Look for heavy pans. You want an even thickness so they heat well. After many sets of baking sheets we now avoid nonstick and dark coated pans; nonstick just isn't that helpful and the darker pans tend to make most baked goods brown too fast. These pans (and most of of the stuff on this list) can be found in restaurant supply stores. These Chicago Metallic Commercial Cookie/Jelly Roll Pans are $24.53 for a set of two at Amazon. Think that's too pricey? Well, like we said, you can go anywhere and get a thin, flimsy baking sheet that warps when you put it in a hot oven. We have gone through too many of those and now stick to our heavy weight pans.
2. 9x13" Baking Pan - A 9x13 pan is perhaps the most standard casserole and sheet pan size. You can convert almost any basic cake or cupcake recipe into a 9x13 size with no adjustments. You can go with glass or aluminum; we use both in our kitchen but probably reach for the metal pan more often. The glass is more presentable and we like it for serving casseroles and sheet cakes, but the metal is more versatile. We can make roasts in it too. If you can get pans with lids, do it; we wish we had plastic lids for all our pans. It cuts down on using disposables like plastic wrap and aluminum foil, and they're more secure for transporting a cake or lasagna across town. Commercial Aluminum Baking Pan ($9.95, Amazon) and Pyrex Bakeware 9-by13-Inch Rectangular Baking Dish with Plastic Lid ($13.94, Amazon).
3. Loaf pan - A standard bread loaf pan is 9x5 inches. Quick breads like banana bread go in here, as do pound cakes, meatloaf, and sandwich yeast breads. You can also use them for chilling homemade ice cream into sliceable blocks, or making fancy terrines. Again, heavy and plain is what to look for. We do use nonstick loaf pans and have found them marginally more helpful. Try this Farberware Loaf Pan ($12, Amazon).
4. Pie pan - The basic pie pan is 9" across. You can make pies and quiches and even roast a chicken in an all-purpose pie dish. We like deep pie dishes to give us extra room for lots of filling or deep quiches. If you are an aspiring pie baker try one of these Perforated Pie Pans (just don't try to roast a chicken in that). A more all-purpose pan is this Cuisinart Classic 9-Inch Nonstick Deep Dish ($9.95, Amazon). You can also go with glass, like with this classic Pyrex pie dish ($7.99, Amazon), or go a little fancier and get a pretty dish like this Emile Henry Provencal Fluted 9-Inch Pie Dish ($34, Amazon).
5. Round cake tins - Round cake pans (usually two) are necessary for traditional round layer cakes, and they're helpful for other dishes as well. We bake biscuits and cinnamon rolls in round pans, as well as meatballs, sometimes. Nonstick is helpful here. Try this Chicago Metallic Nonstick 9-Inch Pan ($14, Amazon) What we left out: Cupcake and muffin tins, tart pans, springform pans, fancy molds and baking pans of all imaginable shapes and sizes. If you are short on space, cupcakes and muffins do not need a separate pan. You can stand up disposable paper souffle cups or thick paper baking cups on a baking sheet and fill with batter. We have lots and lots of pans and these five are the ones we always come back to. But that's us - everyone differs in their baking habits and needs. What about you - what are your baking pan essentials?