Tips & Techniques

A Big, Sparkly Secret That'll Change the Way You Bake Cakes

June 13, 2017

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.

Sparkling with potential. Photo by Julia Gartland

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.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Just today, after using my tried and true method of dusting a greased cake mold with cocoa, I came across your article when searching the sugar concept. Excellent idea! Thank you for the details! I can't wait to try sugar.”
— BananaBread

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.

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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


[email protected] January 20, 2024
I've always used sugar instead of flour - flour sounds so yucky. I usually use turbinado sugar as it adds more crunch.
ed K. February 14, 2021
I've used sugar for a long time, hadn't thought of combining spices or cocoa. Will definitely try it for my next chocolate pound cake. I use a sugar shaker as found in diners, as it can cover the center cone of a cake pan most easily.
Kristine C. July 8, 2020
I have tried sugar before and I was surprised how well it worked I have also used pancake nix cause it has flour in it I try to experiment with different things it can't hurt cause sometimes u don't have what u need so u have to be creative
BananaBread February 25, 2020
Hi Emma! Thank you for your article. Just today, after using my tried and true method of dusting a greased cake mold with cocoa, I came across your article when searching the sugar concept. Excellent idea! Thank you for the details! I can't wait to try sugar.
Emma L. February 26, 2020
Thank you! Cocoa sounds wonderful. I bet a mix of cocoa and sugar would be great, too.
FrugalCat February 9, 2018
Would this work with powdered sugar?
Emma L. February 9, 2018
Hi FrugalCat—I'm honestly not sure how that would turn out! I haven't tried it myself so can't speak to the results. Powdered sugar is a much finer grind than standard granulated; it also includes cornstarch. Both of which would affect the outcome. But curious! Let me know if you try.
marcella F. September 1, 2017
I always use corn meal (=polenta) for all my non-chocolate cakes. It acts like sugar in that it doesn't clump, but has the same non-stick properties as plain flour. It gives a wonderful crunch to the edges without impacting on the cake flavor.
Contester July 13, 2017
I ran into this technique years ago, as part of the Amish Friendship Bread recipe I was given.
Elisa July 13, 2017
Great reminder forgot about this trick. Got it from a friend Bruce.
Jeannette June 20, 2017
I always 'butter and cocoa' my pans for German (or any) chocolate cake - no one minds the extra chocolate!
S.Neubeck June 19, 2017
Does it mentioned what type of sugar,plain old granulated,dark brown,light brown,caster's,or demerrera?I am assuming no icing sugar.
Emma L. June 19, 2017
Hi S.Neubeck! I use standard or fine granulated sugar, but you could use raw sugar, too! I haven't tried brown sugar myself and would not recommend powdered sugar.
Nancy June 14, 2017
Just WOW! Like you, I've worked through many cakes and many cookbooks and never seen this trick...
Kirsten L. June 13, 2017
I've been doing this for years, but I don't sugar my pans for every cake I make. I always make a judgment call based on the recipe itself. If you're making an especially dense cake that has a high sugar content already, it should form a darker/golden crust when baking and sugaring the pan can sometimes be overkill. I also like to mix sugar and cocoa powder together for chocolate cakes.
Kirsten L. June 13, 2017
Sorry, *buttering and sugaring
dtremit June 13, 2017
I learned this technique from a brilliant ginger bundt cake recipe on Epicurious years ago. If you use "Sugar in the Raw" or another big-crystal sugar, it makes an especially nice crust.
Sarah J. June 13, 2017
I've got to check out that recipe!! And have you ever tried using brown sugar?
Emma L. June 13, 2017
Woah! Must try!
Kirsten L. June 14, 2017
If it's the same recipe I think it is then it's this one: Double-Ginger Sour Cream and Bundt Cake with Ginger-Infused Strawberries

The sugaring method works perfectly for bundt cakes or any kind of cake you might be serving up "naked." My younger sister consistently asks for sticky toffee pudding for her birthday, and I always butter and sugar the bundt pan I use to make it so that I'm not left with pesky bits of flour that got stuck in the crevices.
Marisa D. June 13, 2017
Another good ideia is to use breadcrumbs in mushier baked goods such as brownies. Just use it instead of the flour or sugar, after greasing the pan, and it will create a crunchier and delightful outer layer. Just remember to carefully tap the excess away!
Emma L. June 13, 2017
I bet cake crumbs would be cool, too!