I’ve Been Baking Cakes for 20 Years, and I’ve Been Lining My Cake Pan All Wrong

updated May 6, 2021
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

I’ve been a baker most of my life. I studied baking and pastry arts in culinary school and I’ve been baking cakes regularly for at least 20 years. One of the things I’ve learned in that time is that lining cake pans with parchment paper can be tedious, but it’s always worth the effort. Every baker has a slightly different technique for cutting rectangular pieces of parchment into circles — and I spent a lot of time in culinary school practicing my technique.

The Culinary-School Method of Cutting Parchment Paper

Here’s what I was taught: Fold an 11×17-inch sheet of parchment paper in half and trace an 8 to 10-inch cake pan on the parchment paper and then cut-out two round liners. Or you can fold a square of parchment into a triangle and cut the triangle to size using the back of your pan as a guide.

I never questioned this technique until last month, when I saw a clip of Chef Markus Farbinger on my friend Billy (of Wit and Vinegar’s) Instagram stories. The clip was from an episode of Baking with Julia, and Farbinger and Julia Child were making an apricot poppyseed cake. “Parchment paper is not absolutely necessarily, but it is a safe way to make sure the cake will come out no matter what,” says Farbinger before cutting the parchment paper against the cake pan with the back of his knife.

Had I really been cutting parchment paper for my round pans wrong my entire life? I needed to investigate.

Credit: Rick Friedman/Getty Images

How Julia Child Changed Cake Pan Lining Forever

After watching the clip another 30 or so times, I reached out to Wit and Vinegar’s Billy Green to figure out what was happening here. I was sick with a cold in bed at the time and just screamed ‘ohmygod what?!’ and rewound the clip to make sure my eyes were working and it wasn’t the cold meds. Lo and behold, he uses the back of the knife on the bottom of the pan and just cuts out a perfect circle for the pan! As much as I was in shock about this Julia, didn’t bat an eye. And then he sent me a link to the clip.

The technique is super simple and fast — you only need the pan, a piece of parchment paper, and a chef’s knife. Instead of using the sharp edge of the blade, the back of the knife is used to score and tear the parchment paper against the underside of the cake pan. My first few attempts at trying this at home weren’t stellar — sometimes the paper tore and I had to trim it with scissor anyway. By my third attempt, I nailed it. How I would line my cake pans was forever changed, and it’s all thanks to the internet and Julia Child.

Have you tried this technique? Let us know in the comments!