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How to bake with a specialty shaped pan

Shaped Pans
In addition to standard round and square cake pans, the shelves of cooking stores are lined with plenty of shaped pans. These pans come in designs from sandcastles and cartoon characters to miniature wedding cakes, giving you the option of baking a cake that features an elaborate design without trying to carve an intricate pattern into a cake yourself. Most of these specialty shaped pans come with recipes right on their packaging, but to make them worth the purchase price you’ll want to know that you can use them again – and that means that you should be able to bake more than just one recipe in them.

Shaped pans come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and it often turns out that no two are going to be exactly alike when it comes to baking times and the amount of batter that they hold. The easiest thing to do is start out with the recipe on the package and tweak it for different flavors, since you know the volume is just right for the pan. Beyond that, there are two main options: you can either measure the volume of the pan and convert existing recipes to match it (8×8-in pan = 6 cups, 9×9-in pan = 10 cups, 10-in bundt = 12 cups) or you can make a full batch of batter for another recipe and just pour as much into the pan as you need. Conversions can be convenient when two pans hold the same volume of cake batter, but I don’t like to scale recipes to strange proportions when I don’t have to. In those instances, I’ll pour batter about 3/4 of the way up the sides of the specialty pan (both for small cakes and larger ones) and bake off any remaining batter in a small muffin pan for a few cupcakes. It streamlines the process and leaves me with a few bonus cupcakes!

It is worth noting that just about all of the shaped pans made by Wilton are made to hold a standard box of cake mix (9×13-in pan = 14 cups). Their pans all come with from-scratch recipes, too, but using the mix as a standard makes the pans very accessible to people who bake very occasionally and want the experience of decorating a cake. It also means that you never have to question how much batter one of their pans needs.

Most shaped pans are made to be nonstick, but it is generally a good idea to oil and flour them to help ensure that you get the cleanest release on your cake to preserve as much of the original design as possible. I typically brush or spray vegetable oil into the nooks and crannies of a pan to ensure a good coat before flouring. Then, you can add a small amount of batter to the pan and rap it a few times on the countertop to eliminate air bubbles that might be in the corners. Finally, you can in the rest of the batter and bake the cake.

Use the recipe that comes with the pan as a guide for baking time and temperature. Most of the shaped pans that I’ve worked with bake at 350F, but there are some that are unusually deep will call for a lower baking temperature. The best way to ensure an evenly baked cake is to use the guide set out by the manufacturer and test your cake early for doneness. And it doesn’t hurt to take a few notes on what recipes work for your shaped pans, so you can reference them the next time that you pull out that pan to bake.

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  • Rose M
    January 6, 2012

    Here are some tips if you are making a 3D cake (one that stands upright):

    1. Make your own batter. Most store bought mixes are ultra moist, which don’t work as well when you stand the cake up, you want the cake to be a tad bit on the dry side.

    2. Bake at a lower temperture for a longer time. You are cooking through alot of cake batter. You don’t want to have the outside done, but the inside underdone, nor do you want the outside burnt and the inside done.

    3. If the pan has two parts to it that join together and you no longer have the clips that came with it use wooden clothes pins to join parts together. Worried that they might catch fire…just wet them beforehand.

    These tips came in hand when making a 3D Winnie-the-Pooh cake for my daughter’s 3rd birthday, it was a hit!

  • Luci H
    August 26, 2012

    More tips –

    1. Store bought cake mixes work just as well as homemade if you stir in a small box of instant pudding mix to your dry cake mix before you add the other ingredients. It’s not so much about the moisture in the cake batter as it is about the texture and firmness of the finished product. Standard cake mixes on their own are too light and airy which tend to let the cake collapse in on its own weight.

    2. If the pan came with a heat core – USE IT. Some cores are actually a flat topped cone shape that are intended to be inserted in the cake batter to transfer heat and bake from the inside out. They can be filled with cake batter after they are inserted in the pan if you prepare the surface the same way you do the baking pan. When everything is cooled, slide the cake core out of the cone and insert it into the hollow left in the center of the cake to give it more support.

    3. Best way to prepare a shaped specialty pan for baking: combine equal measures of vegetable shortening, vegetable oil and all purpose flour. Beat together with your mixer until smooth. Using a pastry brush or a clean paint brush, apply to your baking pan, paying special attention to all the notches and nooks. Store leftover “pan grease” in a tightly sealed container in the fridge.

    4. Cool the cake COMPLETELY before you attempt to take it out of the pan. This may take several hours but it’s better than the heartbreak of watching it collapse because the inside is still too warm to hold up under the weight of the rest of the cake.

    5. Missing clips? Any office supply store sells “bulldog” clips. They are intended to bind large stacks of papers together but are strong enough to hold the two sides of your pan together – they won’t slide out of place and will hold tightly enough that you won’t have a problem with batter escaping (unless mating sides of your pans aren’t even to begin with).

    I’ve made scores of specialty shaped and 3-D cakes over the years and I’ve made every mistake there is! Hope these tips help someone who might be interested in giving it a try!

  • elisssabeth
    December 17, 2012

    @Luci H: Thank you SO MUCH for posting the “pan grease” formula!!!!!!! Third try was the charm with your tip. I appreciate it!

  • Janet Leff
    February 14, 2015

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you. I am trying to bake a cake in a VW Bug pan I must have bought 30 to 40 years ago! You information was just what I needed. The goal is to make 3 cakes as there are 3 birthdays and the VW is just the the most fun thing I can do. Janet

  • Nicky I.
    September 25, 2015

    So I bought the Williams Sonoma ghost stand up cake pan. The sides are so steep that the batter doesn’t rise all the way to the ghost’s head. I got a great ghost from the neck down.

    Any tips?

  • Nicole
    September 25, 2015

    Nicky – It sounds like you may simply need to use more batter to get the coverage you’re looking for. That might mean trimming down high points of the cake after you bake or perhaps ending up with leftover batter (bake it in a muffin pan for some cupcakes to go with the ghost!). Some shaped pans simply take odd quantities of batter and we just have to adapt. Best of luck, it is a great looking pan!

  • Erin
    February 2, 2016

    What about pans with individual molds – I have one that has 6 hearts that are maybe 3 inches or 4 inches wide and 1 or 2 inches deep at most. (It looks similar to any 6 heart pan you could google) but I can’t find a cooking guide. Got any good guesses? It’s a non stick pan. I’d like to try brownies in it!

  • Nicole
    February 2, 2016

    Hi Erin,

    When you don’t have a baking guide, you simply have to do a little bit of experimentation. As you note, the pan sounds similar to other shallow, shaped pans and those could serve as a guide. For the pan you describe, I would fill the molds about 2/3 – 3/4 full of brownie batter and bake them at the same temperature as your favorite brownie recipe. For a recipe that bakes at 350F, I would check them for doneness at about 15 minutes. You may need more or less baking time, so be sure to write down your results and store a sticky note with the baking time with your pan for the next time!

  • Amanda
    February 12, 2016

    @Luci H What is your opinion on cake mixes that come with 1 cup pudding already in the mix? Should an extra box be added?

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