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The Only Time You Need to Flour and Grease a Cake Pan

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I am finicky about a million baking details, including measuring, type and size of pans, handling chocolate, beating egg whites, oven rack position, you name it.

But I hate to grease pans. Greasing and flouring really annoys me—it’s two additional steps, and who needs extra flour scattered around the kitchen? Here’s how I see it: Greasing a pan is meant to help you remove the cake without its sticking, tearing, or breaking—if you are lucky. Greasing and flouring also forms a thin, even golden brown crust on the bottom and sides of the cake. The crust is great for a Bundt cake, and you might like it for naked layer cakes (cakes with unfrosted sides), but it’s otherwise unnecessary.

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Whenever possible, I try to avoid greasy pan prep and flying flour by replacing them with a piece of parchment paper and the use of a thin, flexible spatula for detaching the sides of cake. Here are my rules for minimizing mess:

5 Handy Facts About Baking with Parchment Paper

5 Handy Facts About Baking with Parchment Paper by Alice Medrich

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The Big Secret About Parchment Paper

The Big Secret About Parchment Paper by Alice Medrich

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Bundt Cake (and Perhaps a Naked Layer Cake):

Shapely and intricately sculpted Bundt cakes really do need to come out of the pan perfectly! I absolutely do grease and flour Bundt pans, as called for in the recipe. In fact, I grease them meticulously with a pastry brush, trying not to miss a single square inch of the pan surface. After dusting with flour, I repair any bare spots I see with more grease and flour. An imperfect job means the cake will stick or there will be a torn patch on an otherwise perfect surface. If I want a golden brown crust on the sides of a layer cake that will not be frosted on the sides, I might grease and flour the sides (and only the sides) of the pan and lay a piece of parchment in the bottom; there's no need to grease beneath or on top of parchment.

Sponge Cakes

Blessedly, these foam-based cakes are usually baked in ungreased pans to allow the delicate batters to “climb” up the sides of the pan. And I’m happy to conform by not greasing them! But I like extra insurance: Unless the cake will be cooled upside down, or I’m baking in a pan with a removable bottom, I line the bottoms of flat pans with parchment—so I know the cake will come out of the pan. And no, I don’t grease under or on that piece of parchment.

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The Wide World of Sponge Cakes
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The Wide World of Sponge Cakes

Other Cakes (Layer Cakes, Carrot Cakes, Chocolate Tortes, What-Have-You)

Recipes may instruct you to grease, or to grease and flour, pans for these cakes. Unless the sides of the cake will be presented naked and I want that floury crust, I skip the flour dusting. I often skip the grease as well. If I am unsure or curious (or if the recipe comes from a pastry chef that I revere), I make the recipe as written the first time, and get bolder next time. Whether or not I skip the grease, I still always line pan bottoms with parchment (and never ever grease beneath or on top of parchment).

To detach and remove cakes from ungreased pans that have parchment on the bottom, insert a thin metal spatula (or an inexpensive, thin, flexible plastic spreader) between the cake and the pan and slide it all around the cake, simultaneously pressing it against the pan to avoid tearing the cake. The better you get at doing this, the more perfect the naked sides of the cake will look—yes, without grease and flour. Invert the cake onto a rack, peel the parchment off the cake, and flip the cake right side up to finish cooling.

Because all the surface area will be on display, and parchment can't line the bottom, flour and grease a Bundt pan thoroughly.
Because all the surface area will be on display, and parchment can't line the bottom, flour and grease a Bundt pan thoroughly. Photo by Bobbi Lin

Okay, I'll confess: Some of my own recipes contradict my position that grease (or grease and flour) can often be skipped. But Ralph Waldo Emerson memorably said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

To avoid foolishness (and because I’m curious), I often test a new cake batter in a pan that is greased on one side and clean on the other. If the cake rises with a better final shape on one of the sides, I prep my pan accordingly. This is why I occasionally call for a pan with greased sides. This is true for several recipes in my latest book, Gluten-Free Flavor Flours; since non-wheat flours can be surprising, I left nothing to chance.

Tags: bundt, sponge cakes, parchment paper