Cake

Replace Your Nonstick Spray with This Clever DIY

July 23, 2018

High on my list of frustrating, self-loathing moments? Locking myself out of the apartment—and trying to turn out a loaf of zucchini bread only to see that large chunks have adhered to the pan's bottom. In the best cases, it can be cobbled back together, but to the naked eyes (and my guests), it still appears as if a small creature has attacked.


The Problem

For protection against mangled loaves, choose your vessel carefully (many expert bakers recommend light-colored, non-stick metal pans) and prepare them well. But when a recipe says simply to "grease" the pans, much is open to interpretation: Butter generously, or butter and flour, or butter and sugar? Take extra precaution and line the bottom with parchment paper? Sometimes, you'll even want to create a parchment sling—but not if a crusty outer edge is what you desire.

Oh boy—that's already a lot to remember.

Is this pancake batter, or the nonstick alternative we've ALL been looking for? Photo by Mark Weinberg

I'll admit, I most often reach for the bottle of nonstick spray and spritz away: I find that a spray gives even coverage and the most reliable slides-right-out results. And if that spray includes flour, formulated specifically for baking, I'm on cloud nine. Is it because I'm too lazy to cut parchment paper? I won't deny it.


The Fix

But for those who get the heebie-jeebies thinking about nonstick spray (maybe it's the spray can or the anticipation of a greasy mess), Food52er Mary Richardson has shared a make-it-yourself nonstick spray-alternative that she says makes "all of [her] baking turn out the absolute best." Her Special Grease is "a homemade pan-release of equal parts vegetable oil, vegetable shortening [or butter,] and flour. [...] Loaves release completely, with nary a crumb left behind."

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Special Grease = 1/2 cup vegetable oil + 1/2 cup butter or margarine + 1/2 cup flour

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I’ve tried the butter-and-sugar approach (recommended by King Arthur Flour) in a bundt pan and had sticking beyond belief. I would think the sugar melts and gives you...caramel, which is sticky, sticky, sticky. I’ve had much more success with SC, but I usually use coconut oil or organic margarine for the shortening component. Use a paper towel, silicone brush, or even clean fingers to get an even layer into all the crevices. It will form a crust in baking and once cooled, should release easily. Let the cake shrink! With regard to sprays: many newer pans have a slick surface or some sort of nonstick coating, so the sprays bead up and don’t allow for an even coat (Baker’s Joy is a little better). A thicker substance, such as SC or butter/flour, allows for an even coating. I like SC for its convenience as it keeps in the fridge for ages...but it’s not shelf-stable.”
— Windischgirl
Comment

Community member Beth said she uses a similar blend, which she mixes to a batter-like consistency in a food processor. It keeps for months in the fridge and "works wonders on bundt pans that often have deep creases and shapes."

Loaves release completely, with nary a crumb left behind.
Mary Richardson
Would it be magic? Photo by Mark Weinberg

The Test(S)

Test 1

We blended a batch of Special Grease (S.G, as I'll call it) and tested its magical powers by baking two zucchini bundts from Martha Stewart. We greased one pan generously with butter, then dusted it with flour, as per the recipe's instructions; in the other, we used a paper towel to apply a layer of S.G. in every cranny.

When the cakes came out of the oven, it was clear that the S.G. had affected how the batter interacted with the pan. The S.G. cake had released from the sides of the pan and appeared less domed. You can see in the picture below that the cake on the left, where the S.G. was applied, has a more distinct "outline" around the circumference, with less of a height difference between the center and the edges.

Special Grease (left) versus butter + flour (right). The differences are subtle—yet obvious. Photo by Mark Weinberg

I was certain that the S.G. cake would fall right out of the pan—but it was not the case! While the butter-and-flour cake came right out, with no cajoling necessary, the S.G. cake actually left a few crumbs behind (you'll spot them in the photo below). It was the surprise of the century afternoon! The S.G., however, did not produce a distinctly different texture or "crust," which was my biggest worry.

Special Grease (left) versus butter + flour (right). Photo by Mark Weinberg

Test 2

But I wasn't convinced just yet that the grease was not magical. More testing was necessary! (Warning: Amateur photos from this point forward.)

First, I decided to make a triple layer chocolate cake (the Devil's Food Cake from Stella Parks' forthcoming book, BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts) and prepare each of the pans differently.

Three cakes, three pan preparations.

First, I followed Stella's instructions: Line the pan with a parchment paper round and then spray it with nonstick spray. Then, I used Special Grease. And finally, I went wild and used a very generous smear of butter.

Parchment Round + Nonstick Spray:

It was easy to release this cake from its pan, but the parchment created a rippled texture along the bottom of the cake and there was a bit of "stickage" where the batter had flowed underneath the parchment and adhered to the pan's bottom. The cake did feel and look a bit moister than the S.G. cake (pictured below)—and there was no trace of crusty flour anywhere in sight.

Special Grease:

Magic on the bottom, magic on the top.

The S.G. cake released with no trouble at all—yahtzee! There was no real "crust," though I did detect a tiny bit of flour residue in some areas. What's more, this cake was also the only cake that did not have a mysterious fissure in the center—you'll see distinct "rings" in the two other layers. Was this cake also flatter and more even, with no strange crack in the center, for the same reason that the bundt cake baked in the Special Grease pan was flatter and more even all over?

The cake was also the least "sloped" from bottom to top, which would make for the most perfect-looking assembly.

Loads of Butter:

Do not do this.

I would never do this again!! Exclamation point! I had to use a knife to dislodge the sides of the cake, then bang my hand all over the bottom of the pan to release the layer. Once the cake had finally dislodged, I saw the thick layer of crumbs it left behind. I can only imagine how terrible it would be to frost this crumby cake, which also seemed to be the most delicate of the group.

So finally, some redemption for the Special Grease! It had given me the easiest prep—since I already had a container in my fridge and didn't have to take a scissor to parchment paper—and produced the most evenly baked cake. Win, win.


Test 3

For my final test, I decided to try some standard issue pound cakes. Loaf cakes, after all, have been my chief source of stress. So would the Special Grease be the solution I had been looking for?

I greased one pan with the Special Grease and the other with butter. When the cakes came out of the oven, they looked the same; this time, I didn't notice that one was flatter and one was more domed. Plus, since both had risen a little bit over the pan's edges, it was hard to determine if either had pulled away from the sides.

Nothing to see here, folks.

When I turned the cakes out, the loaf baked in the S.G. pan released easily—I didn't even have to run a knife around the edges. According to baking expert Alice Medrich, the flour in the Special Grease (or when you apply a sprinkling of flour post-greasing) "seals the batter and creates an even crust on the surface of the cake, which further helps it to release from the pan without sticking and usually allows for un-molding without detaching the cake with a spatula."

But still, there was a chunk that stuck behind! See the damage in the photos below.

The casualty, from multiple angles.

The butter-greased cake was more stubborn: It wanted to stay in that comfortable pan forever (which is why it remains there in the photos above). By shoving a butter knife repeatedly around the pan's edges, I was finally able to eject the cake—and yet, a few crumbs lingered. Big sigh.

Special Grease (left) versus butter (right). Neither is perfect. C'est la vie.

The cake baked in the buttered pan had a lighter, softer crust compared to the Special Grease cake, which was browner, with a more distinct textural difference between the exterior and interior portions. Consider which type of cake crust you like best when deciding whether to use Special Grease rather than butter or nonstick spray. I myself like the contrast of a thick outer edge.

So what's the take-away? Is this Special Grease really magical? Well, I'll hold onto my tub and use it for layer cakes, where it worked just as well as nonstick spray; and wherever a recipe says to butter and flour; and when I'm looking for an even, distinct crust. But I'm not throwing away my nonstick spray just yet, either—it's best for tender-all-over cakes, and it's still handy for marshmallows and taffy, after all.


Try It Out on This Cake

This article was originally published in July 2017, but we're running it again because we're never not baking.

What's your go-to method for greasing cake pans? Have you tried Special Grease or something like it? Tell us in the comments below.

62 Comments

Windischgirl September 16, 2018
Thanks for catching that! Yes, it’s a typo. I usually call the oil-flour-shortening blend Magic Pan Release, so ‘Special Grease’ was just not registering in my brain.
 
Windischgirl September 16, 2018
I’ve tried the butter-and-sugar approach (recommended by King Arthur Flour) in a bundt pan and had sticking beyond belief. I would think the sugar melts and gives you...caramel, which is sticky, sticky, sticky.<br />I’ve had much more success with SC, but I usually use coconut oil or organic margarine for the shortening component. Use a paper towel, silicone brush, or even clean fingers to get an even layer into all the crevices. It will form a crust in baking and once cooled, should release easily. Let the cake shrink!<br />With regard to sprays: many newer pans have a slick surface or some sort of nonstick coating, so the sprays bead up and don’t allow for an even coat (Baker’s Joy is a little better). A thicker substance, such as SC or butter/flour, allows for an even coating. I like SC for its convenience as it keeps in the fridge for ages...but it’s not shelf-stable.
 
trvlnsandy September 16, 2018
Is the 'SC' a typo and you meant 'SG'? if not, what is 'SC'<br />
 
Smaug July 28, 2018
I realize that solutions to nonexistent problems have become the very foundation of the US economy, but does anyone really make so many cakes that they can't grease or line their pans? In my experience, even the most elaborate preparations can be done in 2 or 3 minutes without trying very hard.
 
Nancy July 25, 2018
Editor- maybe put note about republishing at top and/or update as needed (e.g., Stella Parks book WAS published).
 
BerryBaby July 23, 2018
I conducted my own non-stick experiment this weekend. Made two zucchini breads using metal, standard, bread pans. One, I brushed with olive oil as the recipe stated. The other was lined lengthwise with parchment and sides brushed with olive oil. Both removed from the pans flawlessly. The oil had a thicker crust however both were great. Conclusion...no parchment is necessary.
 
JJ April 9, 2018
Instead of using "butter", I use Crisco and never have trouble releasing anything it is used for. The bottoms also do not burn. Of course using the grey/brown type pans will also cause the burning especially when the heat in the oven is not lowered. Much easier to apply the pan coating if you use a paint brush.
 
Diane August 7, 2017
I've had some luck using Pam with Flour, but I don't care for its odor -- which seems to cling to baked goods after baking and plating. Anyone else have this issue?
 
Camille D. August 7, 2017
I called Nordicware the told me to get Dawn Erasing foam so far have cleaned up 2 pans Give them a call your self for further directions
 
meryl August 6, 2017
I made this & it worked- but I agree with the comment Bakers Joy Forever! Why reinvent the wheel??
 
Travelinman July 20, 2017
I use a recipe from Jacquy Pfeiffer's book, "The Art Of French Pastry", which is 40 grams of room temp, unsalted butter blended with 8 grams of cake flour. It works great so far in any type of baking. Keeps for about 10 days in the refrigerator. You just let it come to room temp before brushing on a light coat to your bakeware.
 
Linda J. July 14, 2017
Baker's Joy. Forever.
 
Karen L. July 14, 2017
Back in the dark ages of cookery in an English girls school, we were taught to grease cake tins using melted lard and a pastry brush, this in the days before non-stick. Lard was always supposed to do the job far better than butter. I haven't tried it in years, but I may try it again.
 
Elizabeth July 14, 2017
I would never use anything that comes in an aerosol can. <br /><br />If a pan has straight sides and bottom, line it with parchment paper; it's not really "a lot to remember" at all. If the pan is fluted like a bundt pan, use a stainless steel hand-pump oil sprayer (about $15 at any decent Cooking Supply store). As long as they're never more than half full of oil (your choice of oil, rather than the usually inferior oil that comes in commercial aerosol spray cans), they're insanely easy to use, and insanely easy to clean and refill.
 
Jane July 13, 2017
I mix butter and flour like a beurre manie. Not too soft, still a bit firm. Works every time. The key is to not let the butter get too mushy.
 
Maria B. July 13, 2017
Marie<br />I have tried Pam and other cooking sprays. In my opinion,it depends on what your baking. I have found that cooking sprays leave a residue in your pans. I have gone back to the old way, paper towel and Crisco shorting. Sometimes I still use Pam. but Crisco Veg. shorting, works every time and I just sprinkle flour in the pan, if the recipe calls for it.
 
Tracy July 13, 2017
The cake release recipe I found online and use with success was equal parts of flour and vegetable oil only. I used a quarter cup of each, put it in a squeeze bottle and then used a pastry brush to spread it around the pan and then the parchment paper. It worked fine however it eventually went rancid which is why I went back to professional spray release purchased from a restaurant supply store. For those who are interested I suggest googling homemade pan release and see the different types of recipes, make your own and test it.
 
Missy P. July 13, 2017
My recipe was as in the article, however, I store both of mine in the refrigerator in wide mouth ball jars and have never had it go bad.
 
EM L. July 13, 2017
These comments are so helpful. Especially the Nordic ware one. Wow, had now idea about the Lecithin.
 
Sandra R. July 13, 2017
I once bought a non stick spray from a Barbecue specialty store. The spray was more expensive of course, something like $12.99 and I thought it would be a waste of money. My husband is a cook and he suggested we buy the can because the cooking industry uses better non stick sprays than home cooks. Oh my God, the difference was phenomenal! Food slipped out of everything I used as a container. Corelle...frying pans with worn out Teflon coatings ...cake pans...everything! Check out your local high end barbecue specialty store. Try different sprays. You'll be pleasantly surprised.
 
Missy P. July 13, 2017
I do use a pastry brush to apply, what I learned to call the mixture in cake decorating classes "pan release." I apply it rather generously and evenly and I've never had it fail me even with very elaborate bundt pans!
 
Missy P. July 13, 2017
I've been using this for years for everything I don't want to stick. For chocolate, you just replace the flour with cocoa powder! I've never had any problems mentioned!