In baking, it's not always clear whether (or even how) you should grease your pans beforehand. If you're lucky, every recipe you encounter will specifically instruct you if and how to grease your pan. The easiest course is always to follow the recipe's instructions. Still, while a recipe might say to grease the pan, it might not specifically explain how. Read on to learn how to grease a pan along with a few tips and tricks.
How to Grease a Pan
Follow these steps for greasing a pan. What fat to use and whether or not you need to flour the pan will depend on the recipe and is discussed below.
- Apply your chosen grease generously to the entire inside of the pan. Fingers almost always work best for this since you can feel any spots you may have missed. You should achieve a uniform, even coating with no chunks of fat.
- Optional: Sprinkle a small handful of flour across as much of the pan's interior as you can. Shake the loose particles of flour across the pan to evenly distribute to completely cover the pan, tilting it to make sure you get the sides. Invert the pan and tap out any excess flour.
Alternate parchment technique:
- Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan by placing the pan on top of the paper and tracing it. Grease the sides of the pan then insert the parchment paper.
- Optional: After greasing the sides, treat with flour as described above, then place the parchment on the ungreased, un-floured bottom.
You don't need to grease the parchment, but if you're using baking or cooking spray, go ahead and insert the paper then spray the whole thing and call it a day. There's no need to spray or grease underneath the parchment.
How to Grease a Bundt Pan
A Bundt cake can be tricky to grease and isn't compatible with parchment paper. Because most Bundt pans include a pattern, they can cling on to the cake's surface, making for a difficult unmolding.
To combat this, grease the pan thoroughly and carefully. Spray the entire inside of the pan with baking spray, making sure to spray the tube as well as the sides and bottom. Alternately, paint with shortening or grease by hand, then coat with flour or cocoa. Make sure to get into all of the nooks and crannies. As always, follow the recipe instructions.
It's best to grease just a few minutes before you add your batter, especially if your kitchen is warm. Doing it too soon gives the oil or fat time to drip down the sides of the pan and pool at the bottom. If needed, pop the greased, empty pan in the fridge while you mix up the batter.
Butter, Shortening, or Cooking Spray?
The thing to remember about butter is that it contains water and milk, neither of which is particularly useful in preventing your cake from sticking. Indeed, milk can actually act as glue. On the other hand, butter tastes wonderful, and the caramelized milk proteins can add a lovely, golden-brown crust to the edges of your cake. The verdict: Use butter if you want to.
If you have extreme concerns about your cake sticking, use shortening (which is pure fat with no water), cooking spray, or baking spray. Coconut oil or bacon fat will also work, as will clarified butter which has the milk solids removed.
For extra insurance against sticking, grease the sides of the pan and use a piece of parchment on the bottom. Parchment paper (or a substitute) is great for the bottoms of flat pans like round or square cake pans and loaf pans. Obviously you can't use parchment on molded pans like Bundt pans.
To Flour or Not to Flour?
Flouring a greased pan is often unnecessary. With certain cakes, like sponge and angel food that don't contain any leavening agent other than whipped egg whites, a coating of flour helps the batter cling to the sides of the pan so that it doesn't collapse while the grease allows it to release after baking. If the recipe says to flour the pan, do it. If you're using baking spray with the oil and flour combined, simply spray the whole pan and be done with it.
When Not to Use Flour
Because flouring the pan can leave a floury residue on the surface of the finished cake, you might not want to use flour if the finished cake will be served naked (without frosting or glaze).
Another case where you might not use flour, even if the recipe directs you to do so, is when you're baking brownies or chocolate cake. For brownies or cake that call for greasing and flouring, grease the pan as directed and substitute cocoa powder for the flour. Not only will the cocoa powder add flavor, but it will also prevent the unsightly white crust that can form when greasing with flour.