Do cake pans matter all that much? I learned to bake through sheer necessity — no one in my family would bother to make dessert if I didn't. I first made do with whatever detritus my parents had collected over 20-odd years of cohabitation, from warped cooking sheets to mismatched cake pans scavenged from grandparents' houses. And they all got the job done, more or less.
Then I started investing in my own gear, and realized that the phrase "It's a poor craftsman who blames his tools" is only sort of true. A good piece of bakeware can mean the difference between a perfectly fluffy cake and one that somehow manages to be burnt and underdone at the same time. Thankfully, one of the first big "adult" purchases I made around this time turned out to be not only the kind of secret weapon every home baker needs, but also incredibly affordable. I'm talking about this Chicago Metallic professional cake pan.
Made from heavy, nonstick aluminized steel, each pan is built to last. But aside from avoiding dents and bang-ups, the steel pans are also excellent conductors of heat, meaning you'll get fewer of those uneven bakes. And while I still typically flour and grease my pans, the nonstick surface makes cleanup easy on even the most sticky projects. I've even used them to make crispy-crust deep-dish pizzas and cinnamon rolls with that wonderfully caramelized brown sugar coating. With a little careful finagling, they can even bake up quiches and cheesecakes.
Amazon reviewers back up my adoration. Both the 8-inch and the 9-inch pans have near-perfect ratings of 4.8 and 4.9 stars, respectively.
The 9-inch pan is currently on sale for $8, and is the more commonly used cake pan size. The 8-inch pan, for smaller cakes, is only slighty more expensive at $10. If you're a frequent baker (or want to be!), we recommend going with two 9-inch pans to start. Most recipes calling for 8-inch pans will bake up fine in a larger tin; you'll just get a slightly shorter product. But if you're a serious baker, you can get a set of both for under $50 — and a lifetime of better cakes on top of that.