Grease and flour is the go-to method for preparing cake pans, but something about it always rubbed me the wrong way. Too little and the cake clings. Too much and the cake develops a pasty exterior.
Then, one of my friends (also a baker), let me in on a little secret: You can grease and sugar instead.
If you imagine a cartoon, where my jaw opens, then falls right off, and my pupils dilate wider and wider, until they consume the entire screen, and everything is black and, suddenly, fireworks! Well, you get the idea of my reaction.
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I have fifty-eight cookbooks in my apartment and forty-six include cake recipes. So I randomly selected one cake from each book. Methods vary by context, but mostly authorial preference, and here’s how they broke down:
Grease: 9 (19.6%)
Grease and flour: 19 (41.3%)
Grease and line: 11 (23.9%)
Grease, line, and flour: 7 (15.2%)
Grease and sugar: 0! (0%)
You don’t see grease and sugar on the chart because... zero cookbooks recommended it. Which means, this isn’t a little secret—it’s a big one.
Toasted sugar creates a sweet, sparkly, crunchy crust.
At first, I worried that the sugar would caramelize, creating a sticky sauce—but the sheer, lace-like coating does nothing of the sort. Unlike flour, which clumps, sugar granules want to establish an even layer. And unlike raw-ish flour, which no one wants on the outside of their cake, toasted sugar creates a sweet, sparkly, crunchy crust.
Grease the pan, add a big scoop of sugar, tap around until there’s an even coat, then toss the excess. Use the trick anywhere you would grease and flour—save for savory applications. You can even grease, line, and sugar, too. I love the texture it lends to pudding-soft cakes, like this olive oil number; the sturdy crust that stands up better to frosting; and the oomph it adds to everyday snack and pound cakes.
If you’re feeling fancy, add salt or ground spices to the sugar. Or, if you’re making chocolate cake, stir in cocoa powder.
Just leave the flour on the shelf.
Want to try out this tip, like, right now? Start here:
Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.