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Tool vs. Tool: Metal and Silicone Bundt Pans Face Off

Fine Cooking Issue 74
Photos: Scott Phillips
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The swooping valleys and sharp angles of bundt pans make for pretty cakes, but unless meticulously greased and floured, they’re sticky business. So when silicone versions arrived on the scene in all their flexible, colorful, nonstick glory, I wondered if it was time to retire my metal pan. Well, after baking three kinds of cake (Vanilla Sour-Cream Pound Cake, Chocolate Stout Cake, and a boxed yellow cake mix) in five silicone pans (KitchenAid, Lékué, Roshco, Silicone Solutions, Silicone Zone) and in two metal pans (Kaiser, NordicWare), I can tell you that neither material is perfect, but for now I’m staying with my metal pan. Occasional sticking problems seem a trifle compared to the mixed results I had with silicone.

Metal

Metal conducts heat quickly and evenly to the cake batter, which is important for leavening. But on the downside, sometimes metal pans don’t like to release cakes. In baking six separate cakes in the metal pans, I encountered no surprises. Every cake rose nicely and baked in the amount of time the recipe specified. The yellow cakes from the boxed mixes and the pound cakes came out uniformly golden brown on the surface, with moist and tender crumb. The chocolate cakes were dark, dense, rich, and shapely. Twice I had trouble with cake sticking despite careful greasing and flouring, but nothing disastrous.

Pros: Excellent heat conduction, sturdy.

Cons: Prone to occasional sticking.

Silicone

Silicone is flexible and more or less nonstick (it’s still wise to grease and flour), so for the most part, cakes release easily from the pan. But silicone is a heat insulator, which seemed to hinder leavening. In my tests, batter rose slower, and in the end, the cakes didn’t rise as high. The result was a denser, more compact crumb. The rich, heavy pound and chocolate cake batters took longer to bake than the recipes specified, and with some pans, that meant the cakes were almost burned on the outside by the time the interiors were done. Also, the flexibility of silicone means the pans can be unstable, and heavier batter can make them bulge, leading to lopsided cakes.

Pros: Cakes release cleanly and look pretty; the pans are light, flexible, easy to clean.

Cons: Poor heat conduction seems to interfere with leavening; can cause overbrowning and underbaking; can be unstable.

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