Specialty baking pans and molds are designed for specific breads, cakes, custards, pastries and cookies. Pandoro molds, pots de creme cups and kugelhopf pans are but a few of the pans I'm referring to, which may or may not be familiar to you. Many bakers, like myself, have some of these pans in their kitchens, because we enjoy using them throughout the year to make the most delectable treats. Professional bakers and those who are passionate about their craft will more than likely have everything on this list I've compiled. For them, the pans are not extras, they are necessities and essentials to their baking, testing and creating.
I feel it's important for every baker, whether a novice or a more experienced one, to expand their knowledge & vocabulary when it comes to this subject. Knowing what a pan is for and what one should bake in it might encourage more of us to try new recipes and broaden our baking repertoire. Why shouldn't we attempt a savarin at home or a few plump baba au rhum for our next dinner party? Those delicious little madeleines you've enjoyed from the local bakery may have piqued your interest and desire to make some in your very own kitchen. If you know what to look for when considering these pans & molds, and you acquaint yourself with the options out there, shopping for them online or at your favorite kitchenwares store will be effortless.
While many of the classic shapes & styles have not changed in the decades these pans have been in use, some have seen a small modification in size, design and material used in construction, meant to appeal to the way we bake now. The choices one has are indeed extensive, so it really comes down to what your preferences dictate. How you assemble and amass your tools & pans depends on your baking style.
Many of these pans are made out of heavy duty anodized aluminum (this minimizes corrosion and strengthens the pan's surface), with or without a nonstick finish. Others come in tin-lined copper, porcelain, glass, tinned steel, ceramic and even in nonstick silicone. Nonstick silicone pans & molds are quickly gaining popularity with many bakers because of the ease with which baked goods release.
Although this isn't a complete list of what's available to the consumer, I think it's worth taking note of the basic specialty pans I enjoy using in my kitchen.
These molds bake tiny French cakelets, originally from the Bordeaux region, called canneles. Essentially these are made out of a crepe batter which produces a crusty outside while keeping a custardy inside. They are delectable and among my favorite treats of all time. Copper is traditional because it is a great conductor of heat, but these molds can also be found in aluminum and silicone. The latter will not produce dark exteriors that are desirable in these pastries.
Tartlets & Barquette Molds
Meant for to be filled with pastry, these little pans produce bite sized tarts that can be eaten out of hand. French patisseries are famous for their diminutive sweets which everyone loves and for the home baker, these make it easy to entertain large crowds. Barquette molds are named because of their boat shaped appearance, which may or may not have fluted sides. They are suitable for both savory & sweet tarts. It's advisable to get double the amount of pans needed because one always places the extra mold on top of the one containing the crust during blind baking.
These plaques come in a variety of sizes and shapes, some with only 8 cavities and others with up to 24. They are essential for making madeleines in all sorts of flavors. The spongy, cakey cookies are best eaten as soon as they come out of the oven, for they stale quickly. Traditionally, they come in shell shapes and are either available as mini madeleines or regular-sized madeleines. Tinned steel pans are traditional, but they are also available in nonstick anodized aluminum and even in silicone.
These molds are meant to bake tiny French cakes that are somewhat similar to madeleines. Financiers typically have some type of nut flour added to the batter and almost always contains browned butter (beurre noisette). The rectangular shape is traditional and is said to resemble bars of gold.
This pan makes shaping professional-looking biscotti cookies a breeze. One simply pats the dough into the pan for the first baking until the entire bar is set. The cookie is then removed and sliced to a certain thickness and placed on baking sheets to dry out during the second baking.
Baba Au Rhum
Baba au Rhum are small yeasted cakes traditionally containing raisins, which are soaked in rum after baking and are either accompanied & filled with whipped cream or creme patissiere. Somewhat similar to to babka & brioche, these tiny breads are much richer. Traditionally, they are baked in these cylindrical molds which give individual portions, but the dough can also be placed into a savarin mold (below).
Popovers are loved by many; Neiman Marcus is famous for them! They are breads baked in cylindrical molds which cause the batter to "pop over" the top when completely done. They are light & ethereal, and actually have a creamy, hollow inside. These can be eaten for breakfast with jam & butter or they can accompany a savory feast.
Brioche dough is versatile enough to be baked in just about any type of mold. Brioche Nanterre is baked in a loaf pan and emerges from the oven with a multi-domed top, but Brioche Parisienne have to be baked in flared & fluted pans like the ones above. Made out of tinned steel, the pans come in a variety of sizes. The smaller ones are meant to make the famous brioches a tete (brioche with a small head) and the larger ones create a more substantial bread.
Savarin molds have been around since the 19th century. The picture below shows an antique copper one from that era and the one above shows a contemporary pan. As you can see, the shape hasn't changed much. Savarin cakes are essentially large baba au rhum, but these do not contain raisins. The cake, which is soaked in a rum syrup and filled with pastry cream, is named after 18th century French food writer Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin.
Kugelhopf, Gugelhupf or Gugelhopf are yeasted cakes very similar to brioche. These dry cakes which contain raisins and almonds hail from the regions of Alsace, Switzerland, Germany & Austria. They are baked in fluted tube pans very reminiscent of the bundt pans we know in this country. The fluted, swirled top is the gugel (hood).
Steamed Pudding Molds
Steamed puddings are usually made around the Christmas holiday. I personally make it a tradition in my home to make at least one of them for that time of year using one of my many molds. These shapes have not changed in the century or more they've been in use. Smaller in size than bundt pans, but similar in construction, these molds usually have a lidded top meant to cover the pudding as it steams in a kettle or stockpot. Gentle simmering produces a very moist pudding. The most famous of these steamed puddings is, of course, plum pudding.
Charlottes or Charlottes Russe are desserts made by lining sponge cakes (ladyfingers) or bread along the bottoms and sides of the charlotte mold, and then filling it with either a fruit puree or a custard. The entire thing is then chilled and flipped over & unmolded onto a platter right before serving. Julia Child was the one who introduced us to these decades ago. The pans have either straight or tapered sides with two hear-shaped handles which makes the unmolding & flipping of the dessert a lot easier.
Pandoro or Pan D'oro means golden bread. This is also similar to brioche dough, but is really an Italian bread baked around Christmas & the New Year in an eight pointed star-shaped mold (above). Baked by the thousands by every reputable Italian pastry shop, these are available in this country at specialty shops and by mail order. A tinned steel pan is traditional and the bread dough itself is not difficult to make at home. Dusted with confectioner's sugar right before serving, pandoro makes a most delicious accompaniment to coffee or espresso.
Pullman Loaf Pan
This pan is meant to create a square white bread for sandwiches & canapes. The dough is placed inside the pan & is left to rise and bake with the lid closed, thus compacting it and making it dense. The pans come in about two or three sizes. Choose what's best for your household.
Panibois molds are made of poplar veneer with glues which make them heat tolerant and biodegradable. All come with parchment linings meant to hold the batter. Available in a variety of shapes & sizes, these pans make gift giving such a pleasure because after baking & cooling in the pans, the entire bread can be wrapped in cellophane for a nice presentation.
Tarte Tatin is essentially an upside down apple pie. The pie dishes are made out of copper, aluminum or cast iron. Apples are fanned out over a caramel and are topped with a buttery pate brisee. The entire thing is baked and flipped over right before serving. It's a homey dessert that is highly delicious. Some pans do come with a lid which facilitates the flipping process.
Souffles depend on straight sided vessels to achieve their dramatic height. Porcelain souffle dishes come in a variety of sizes and capacities making it possible to bake individual souffles or a much larger one. The bottoms of these dishes are left unglazed in order to absorb heat more quickly.
Pots de Creme & Custard Cups
Pots de creme cups have a lidded top designed to gently bake the lightest of custards in a bain marie. The lids can be left at serving time or they can be removed. A variety of styles can be purchased.
This is a typical oven-proof custard cup that can be placed in a bain marie. The cups can also hold cold puddings that aren't mean for baking, such as banana custards. Available in porcelain or glass, it's always nice to have at least 6 or more of these in one's kitchen.
Mini Bundt Pan
You don't need me to tell you what to bake in these. I love the variety of styles & shapes available for mini bundt pans. It's so easy to make batch after batch of these cakelets to enjoy at home or for a bake sale. Nonstick anodized aluminum is typical, but I'm finding these in silicone at most kitchenwares stores.
These food grade molds are made out of flexible silicone which makes them virtually nonstick. One has the option of many styles and designs for this type of pan/mold. They are generally more expensive than their aluminum counterparts and do require that one use a baking sheet underneath to keep the molds flat while baking. A downside to these pans, in my opinion, is that baked goods do not get the desirable golden crust that make many pastries visually appealing. Many professional bakers swear by these molds and are used in a lot of industrial baking.