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Cast iron bakeware provides better heat retention than aluminum or silicone bakeware for crisper crusts and reliable baking, but it comes in a variety of shapes, names, and sizes that can make purchasing difficult. Consider the kind of baking that you wish to do carefully, and then decide whether you want a simple round or loaf pan, or if you'd prefer a shaped mold. When buying a cast iron cake pan, look for a sturdy product with no mold lines, cracks, or significant irregularities. Unseasoned bakeware should have a silvery-gray, slightly bumpy surface and may feel slightly oily. To avoid seasoning on your own, look for pre-seasoned pans or enamel-lined products.
The density of a cast iron cake pan allows it to absorb and retain heat, so that, even if the oven heats unevenly or is turned off unexpectedly, the cake inside will continue to bake for some time. Many cooks prize this material for the smooth, almost non-stick surface that it develops over time and for its ability to resist rough cleaning. The wrong cast iron cookware, however, can promote sticking and can also heat unevenly, making baking more trouble than it needs to be.
You can choose from several different kinds of cast iron cake pans, depending on the kind of baking that you prefer, but they may not all be labeled for cake. Pans for ordinary round cakes are often sold as pie pans or tarte tatin pans, while loaf pans for quick breads and loaf cakes may also be listed as bread pans. Some manufacturers produce specialty cake pan shapes, including cornbread pans, lamb or rabbit molds, and novelty pans, as well as full-size and miniature tube pans and ebelskiver pans. Cast iron cake pans of all kinds go into and out of production more frequently than frying pans or steel cake pans, and some types may be available only as antiques or used bakeware.
A new cast iron cake pan should have a relatively smooth surface without lines or excess material left by the mold, cracks or voids, or any other major irregularities. If unseasoned, the pan should be gray to silver in color, with a slightly bumpy texture that may be coated in protective oil, while pre-seasoned pans are darker in color and feel less oily. If the pan has been seasoned by use, it may feel very smooth, but should never show signs of rust. Whenever possible, choose pre-seasoned molds and specialty shapes, as their small corners can be difficult to season on your own.
You can avoid seasoning with some types of cake pans by choosing an enameled product. An enameled cast iron cake pan has a special ceramic coating that never needs seasoning and won't react to acidic ingredients like bare iron, but these pans cost much more than their uncoated relatives. They are available primarily in simple loaf and round shapes.
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