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Gem pans are heavy, muffin pan-like trays that are traditionally made from cast iron. Mini muffins, simple gem breads, and other small desserts can be baked in a gem pan. Most of these types of pans are designed to yield 12 to 24 muffins, though some specialized sizes may produce less.
A cast iron gem pan is considered the ideal tool to use when baking gems; it is also dubbed the proper pan for this use. Cast iron is the preferred medium for these types of pans. Modern gem pans, however, can be made from other materials, such as heavy-gauge steel and metals treated with nonstick coating. Cups can range from deep to shallow, depending on the cook's needs.
The size of the cast iron gem pan makes it ideal to create bite-sized treats and mini breads. The most commonly used cup sizes measures 1.5 inch (3.8 cm) in diameter. The pans themselves typically measure 13.125 inches (33 cm) by 7.75 inches (19.5 cm). Small pastry puffs, cheesy popovers, chocolate brownies, savory mini quiches, and mini cornbread can all be made with the pan.
One of the most common uses for this baking pan is its namesake, the gem. A very simple form of bread, gems consist of very few ingredients. They can be used as meal accompaniments, desserts, or snacks, depending on the recipe preferred. Gems may also be referred to as gem cakes.
To make a simple gem, fine whole wheat flour and water are mixed. The resulting soft bread will be springy and fluffy. Some cooks prefer to use graham flour, and salt may be added to flavor the bread. If a gem pan is unavailable, a similar popover pan may be used.
Other spices and flavorings that some chefs use include ginger, maple syrup, and brown sugar. Dried fruits and nuts may be added as well. If creating a sweeter gem, other baking ingredients, such as shortening, baking flour, eggs, and butter may be needed.
Dozens of different shaped gem pans are available. Sunburst patterns may be used to create an elegant effect when serving small bites or hors d'oeuvre at a stylish event. Heart-shaped cups are utilized for personal occasions, children's parties, and crafting sweetheart desserts. Rectangular patterns that resemble small bread loaves are also popular. The most common gem pan, however, is the standard cup form.
I don't know that I've seen gem pans outside an antique store! I don't get to kitchen stores too much, though, so I don't always know what they're apt to have in stock.
I have a heavy muffin tin -- it's not the light aluminum kind you see. It's a Nordic Ware and it would hurt someone if you clocked them over the head with it. Ha.
I guess I always thought gem pans were synonymous with mini-muffin tins. I've heard them called "gem muffins," so I guess that's where I got that idea.
I've used a mini muffin tin, but never a gem pan. I've also used a cast iron pan for cornbread sticks, so I'm guessing it's a lot like using that kind of pan. I know they are not nearly as deep as regular muffin pans. I have seen them for sale in kitchen supply stores. I've just never had a need to buy one. I make do with a cast iron skillet and my muffin pans.
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