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Dealing with odd pan sizes

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cake pan stackThe vast majority of recipes are written for standard pan sizes: 8-inch square, 9-inch round, 12-inch bundt, 11×13, 9×5, etc. Pans in these sizes are available in just about any store with a baking section and if you stick with the standards, you shouldn’t have any trouble matching the size called for in a recipe to one in your collection.

But cake pans come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, far more than the 8-inch and 9-inch varieties, and I’ve certainly found that the more I bake, the more tempted I am to branch out into adorable mini cake pans and creatively shaped ones. Recipes are rarely developed specifically to work with these, and even if the packaging comes with a suggestion or two, you don’t want to be stuck with a pan you can only use with one recipe when the are so many good ones out there.

To make it work, you’ll have to get a little creative in your approach. The first thing you need to do is measure your pan, then you can use a very handy pan conversion chart to determine the volume of your non-standard pan (or you can fill it with water and get the volume that way, which might be necessary with a really unusually shaped pan). With the volume and the conversion chart, it will be easy to figure out what type of recipe you need to look for. If your non-standard pan holds up to 8 cups, for example, you can use a recipe for a 9-inch round or 8-inch square pan. If the pan is very small and only holds 4 cups, you might have to halve a recipe to make it workable.

Beyond choosing a recipe and getting all the batter to fit into the pan, the most important thing you’ll need to do is to check the cake carefully for doneness. You can’t rely on the baking time given for a square pan if yours is octopus-shaped. Use your best judgment and have a stash of clean toothpicks on hand. If the cake seems thin, or the pan is quite large, test the cake a few minutes early to avoid potentially overcooking it. If the cake seems thick or the pan is deeper than average (usually 1 1/2-2 inches is about average), be prepared to let the cake bake for a few extra minutes, if necessary, to ensure it cooks all the way through.

With a few precautions, your cake should turn out just fine no matter what size pan you use. And in the worst case scenario, you might end up with a few cake scraps from a rejected cake to munch on while you try for a second round – which will no doubt turn out perfectly after your first test cake.

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