Baking cake in a dark pan: burn prevention

Our magazine, Sift, is filled with stunning photography and delicious recipes. But it’s also a great educational resource for bakers. From time to time, we pick out a reader’s question from Sift to feature here in our blog — like this one from our Holiday 2016 issue:

“I’m wondering about baking in dark pans. I made a recipe from your magazine, and it came out very dark at 350°F, even though the pan was lined with parchment. Should I lower the heat when I use dark pans?” — Corky Karen

Here’s the simple answer: yes, when baking cake in a dark pan, reduce your oven temperature 25 degrees. And to be on the safe side, start checking the cake about 10 minutes before the recipe says it should be done.

Learn why baking cake in a dark pan is a potential burn hazard — and what to do about it. Click To Tweet

A dark metal pan absorbs and distributes heat more quickly and thoroughly than lighter-colored pans. So not only does your cake bake more quickly in a dark pan, its crust can potentially burn (or at least brown unpleasantly) due to over-exposure to oven heat.

But why does that matter? Isn’t it more efficient to bake cake more quickly?

No, and here’s why. First, exposing the cake’s sidewalls to high heat right at the outset means they’ll set quickly. Meanwhile, the cake’s center, still liquid, continues to rise, causing a significant dome — irritating when you’re trying to stack a layer cake.

Second, it’s easier for the oven’s heat to penetrate cake crust while it’s still soft. The last thing you want is a set crust that blocks heat from reaching the cake’s unbaked interior (result: gummy center).

And finally, the quicker your cake bakes, the more chance you have of over-baking it — simply because your window of opportunity for pulling it out of the oven at the exact right moment is smaller.

Baking Cake In A Dark Pan via @kingarthurflour

What qualifies as a dark cake pan?

Clearly, my black tube pan in the photo above is DARK; and the Party Bundt pan at the bottom is light.

Baking Cake In A Dark Pan via @kingarthurflour

But what about my other Bundt pan, a dark gray model? Is it dark, or light?

Baking Cake In A Dark Pan via @kingarthurflour

It’s not black and white

Metal cake pans can come in a range of shades, from very light gray to dark charcoal. Judging whether a cake pan is dark or light isn’t as important as realizing that the darker the pan, the more quickly your cake will bake.

The photo above shows cake baked in the party Bundt (left), and in my darker Bundt. While both crusts are perfectly acceptable, the darker pan does produce a darker crust.

So, when baking in a darker pan, you might do well to start checking your cake for doneness 5 to 10 minutes before the time indicated in the recipe.

But what about lowering the oven temperature — should you do that as well?

Baking Cake In A Dark Pan via @kingarthurflour

When using a black pan, lower the oven temperature

My experimenting reveals that only when you bake in a truly dark pan — black, or close to it — do you need to compensate by lowering your oven temperature.

Above are two cakes, both baked in a black tube pan for 45 minutes. The cake at the left was baked at the recipe’s given oven temperature, 350°F; the one at the right, at 325°F. Baking at a lower temperature yields a lighter crust.

Baking Cake In A Dark Pan via @kingarthurflour

And not only is the crust lighter, it’s more tender, as well. Notice the thicker, darker crust from the cake baked at 350°F (above left), compared to the crust from the cake baked at 325°F.

The darker crust is also harder — the result of sugar being drawn by heat to the cake’s outer edge, then caramelizing there.

Baking Cake In A Dark Pan via @kingarthurflour

Shortening baking time: yes or no?

Finally, what about reducing the baking time from what’s stated in the recipe?

Using our Classic Vanilla Pound Cake recipe, which calls for a bake time of 50 to 60 minutes at 350°F, I find that cake baked in the two Bundt pans is perfectly done at 50 minutes.

Cake baked in the black tube pan, however, is done at 45 minutes — even with the oven temperature reduced to 325°F. So when baking cake in a dark pan (black or verging on black), reducing both oven temperature and baking time yields perfect results.

Now, what about glass pans?

Since we’re celebrating the Year of the Bundt, I’ve concentrated my tests on Bundt/tube pans, which are nearly always metal. Now, common kitchen wisdom says to lower oven heat by 25 degrees when baking in a glass pan; but without having done the tests myself, I can’t vouch for that. (For more information, here’s a great discussion on glass vs. metal pans).

Parchment and dark pans

And let’s circle back to our original reader question, which mentions lining a dark pan with parchment. Parchment helps prevent sticking when you’re turning cake out of a pan. But it’s not an insulator; it won’t block heat. So don’t rely on parchment to “lighten” your metal pan.

My advice? For best results, bake cake in a medium- to light-colored metal pan. As Sift editor Susan Reid says, in her answer to the reader question that leads off this post: “If you have the option, next time reach for a lighter-colored baking pan. We think you’ll be amazed at the difference.”

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Cindy, we generally tend to use sight and touch to determine when a cake is done. It should be just pulling away from the sides of the pan, the center of the cake should feel springy, and a cake tester should come out clean. If you’d like to use internal temp as another factor, you’re typically looking for your cake tor each between 205°-210°, depending on the kind of cake. Mollie@KAF

  1. Candace Edwards

    I live in Santa Fe, NM with an altitude of about 7500 feet. Oh, boy, does that altitude change baking! Baking is a whole different thing here compared to sea level and as I learn what works and what doesn’t, I rely on KAF for good, solid, clear advice. Thank you for this article. Now I know that it wasn’t my mistake, it was that dark pan!

    Reply
  2. Marci

    This is so helpful, PJ. The work you put into solving these baking dilemmas is phenomenal. Thank you so much.

    Reply
  3. Chris

    Thanks for the good advice. It does make me wonder – why make a dark baking pan at all if they aren’t ideal? Or are there baked goods that should be baked in darker pans?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Chris, I love a dark pie pan — it’s perfect for browning pie’s bottom crust. Beyond that, I don’t know why anything would require a very dark pan. As note, I prefer the dark gray King Arthur Flour pans we sell; they seem to be the perfect shade (for perfect crusts!) for everything from cake to bars to bun bottoms. PJH

    2. Julia

      In my experience there is one type of pan that produces better results as the black version, and that is (mini) madeleine pans. I have the two most common kinds, the classic very light metal and the dark non-stick version, and I use both, usually at the same time (fewer batches that way). The madeleines baked in the dark pan come out with a better crust that also lasts a little longer after baking (madeleines start to deteriorate almost as soon as they come out of the oven) and most importantly, they “bump” better. Makes sense, since the outside sets quicker in the dark pan, giving the center only one way to go – up. They taste fine without the bump, of course, but it is what makes a madeleine perfect.I prefer the dark pans in this (and only this) instance.

    3. PJ Hamel , post author

      Julia, thanks so much for this nugget — totally makes sense, as you say. I appreciate you sharing — PJH

  4. Monica

    I have never been a fan of dark pans, and I don’t understand why many popular brands of bake ware have that black non-stick finish. I guess they figure that the “just slide right out part” is more important than the “baked correctly” part. I have many cake pans and bread pans that have no non-stick coating at all, but are light in color. All they need is a coating of solid shortening and some parchment paper (mostly for the cake pans). The comments about testing for doneness are pretty interesting. For years I relied on sight and touch, and toothpicks, and cake testers, but lately have been using a thermometer, and found internal temperature to be a much more reliable indicator. No more fallen cakes! Thanks for all your research. I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I’ve relied on “Flourish” to walk me through a project, or the number of posts I have bookmarked for easy reference. KAF, you’re my own personal baking school!

    Reply
  5. Mary

    What about bread? I have two bread pans…one is gray and one is an older non-stick one that I would call white on the inside. If I bake 2 loaves at the same time, the crust on the old one is great but the crust on the gray one is almost too dark.
    Would putting a piece of aluminum foil under the gray one work?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Mary, you could try wrapping the outside of the darker pan in aluminum foil, shiny side out, and see if that helps — it might just do the trick. Good luck — PJH

    2. Beth

      I have some old cake pan insulators that a friend gave me. When I am worried about something being too dark, I wrap those around and pin them in place. Does anyone still make those? Or are they filled with asbestos?

  6. Diane S

    Does this apply to cookies and cookie sheets as well? I know now that I will save my dark baking pans for casseroles, roasting , etc. Thank you, PJ for the great information! I don’t have time to bake often, so when I do I want it to come out great! But you are always an inspiration to bake more! Maybe leave the vacuuming for another day 🙂 Baking something yummy would be much more fun!

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Yes, you’d want to reduce the heat for cookies as well to keep their little bottoms from over baking. As far as chores go, treating myself to a robot vacuum cleaner was the best decision ever. He cleans, I bake! MJR@KAF

  7. Alison

    To PJ Hamel with many thanks,
    Baking with my great-grandmother’s handsome, heavy, well-seasoned cast-iron bundt pan has always been a trip back to family kitchens; but the browning effect has been a challenge. Her dicke milch and radonen kuchen, both yeast-risen cakes, will benefit from your advice. Thank you so much, after all this time! I start pound cake (no leavening agent) in a cold oven set for 325′, and that seems to help a bit.
    Alison

    Reply
  8. Sharon N Bills

    I love Sift! Amazing magazine. Baking at an altitude might be a great topic to cover. That seems to pose a challenge as well. I visit Colorado often baking for holidays, birthdays etc when I get there. My favorite KAF recipes turn out fabulous at my sea level home but not quite the same in the Mile High city.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Thanks for the suggestion, Sharon. I’ve shared it with our team of bloggers to consider for the future. Baking at altitude is always a challenge that often produces interesting, surprising results. You might want to take a look at our full High-Altitude Baking Guide, which also includes a link to the Colorado State University Extension Resource Center. Good luck! Kye@KAF

  9. Jette

    Thanks for this useful article. I have always wondered about this, and have experimented on my own – lots of times with heartbreaking results.
    I use non-stick pans, whenever I bake. Non-stick with the usual lightly greasing and dusting of flour.
    I bought most of my baking pans (the ones I mentioned above) from KAF. So my question to you is: Why do you sell those pans, when they are not suited for baking your recipes?
    And secondly, which kind of pans do you recommend, w/o me spending a bundle in case I want to replace them all.
    I am a home maker and baker. I love to bake; it relaxes me. I bake several times a week. Always make my own bread and rolls. Any kind. Plus of course coffee cakes, muffins, cookies etc.
    Regards,
    Jette

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Jette, I love the pans we sell — our KAF/USA pans are the perfect dark-gray color for optimum results (and the ones I’d recommend you purchase if you decide to replace your current pans). In the 26 years I’ve been at King Arthur, which includes all of the time we’ve been selling pans, I don’t remember us selling pans with super-dark or black interiors, so I’m not sure which pans you’re referencing? I love that baking relaxes you! I feel the same way; I always have the urge to light the oven when I’m having a hard day! 🙂 PJH

  10. Pamela Sims

    Thank you this information is very helpful. I’m in possession of several bundt pans and this explains the deviations in my cakes.

    Reply
  11. Diana

    So my question is – why do they make dark colored pans. Is it because most are non stick? and if that’s the case can’t they make non stick light colored pans. I’ve always wondered about this.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Diane, dark-colored pans do have their place, as they’re great for anything requiring a golden brown crust — like pizza or pie crust. But I really don’t know why you’d make a dark-interior cake or brownie pan. PJH

  12. M. Jill Briggs

    Thank you for your great info on “darkness ” of baking pans, and the relationship to baking time and temp. Would love to go to the King Arthur Store this summer , and will let them know how valuable the knowledge you share to your readers is !

    Reply
  13. Jeff

    Have you found a way to consistently keep a fancy bundt cake from sticking? I’ve had a heck of a time getting my cakes to come out of even my simple swirl design bundt pan – and my bundt pan in the shape of a ring of Christmas trees has been a consistent disaster!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We’re glad you asked, Jeff! We actually compiled all of our best tips for preventing Bundt cakes from sticking to the pans in this article here. Check it out–we think you’ll find something that works for you among the 10 tips included. Good luck! Kye@KAF

  14. Kathy W.

    Thank you so much for this information. I had bought a dark colored bundt pan and my cake came out dark. I haven’t used it in a while because I didn’t like the result. Was set to ditch it and buy a better pan. I will try your recommendation.

    Reply
  15. Dee Gozonsky

    I just baked the King Arthur Flour chocolate bundt cake recipe the other day in my dark bundt pan and followed King Arthur recipe to the letter ( omitting flouring the pan after spraying it it with cooking spray). The cake wouldn’t come out of the pan, and after I pried it out with my baking spatula, It “broke all around the bottom… Had I read this blog I would be aware to follow your recommendation of lowering the oven temperature when I use this bundt pan again . I’ve had it for many years, but this is the first time that I had this problem.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Rebecca, I didn’t try that, but it’s worth a test — if you try it let us know how it goes, OK? PJH

  16. Kathie

    I have a 9-inch square pan that is light gray inside, but black on the outside. Would lowering the oven temperature 25 degrees help when baking in this pan? My gingerbread always comes out nearly burnt at the edges.

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Hi Kathie,
      Yes, it sounds like reducing the temperature will help give you more control over the bake, so you get better crusts on the gingerbread. MJR@KAF

  17. Cynthia Pebbles

    P.J. Hamel, thank you so much for this information. I made the KAF Vanilla Pound cake recently and used my black bundt pan. The result was horrifying…..the cake was seriously overdone – I had to throw it out. The next thing I’m throwing out is the black bundt pan. The cake smelled so wonderful, I’ll soon try it again in a light colored pan. Thank you for all the good, solid and honest information. You and all of KAF have helped me make many improvements to my baking.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Haven’t tried it, Jorge, but it would seem lining a dark pan with aluminum foil on the outside, with the shiny side of the aluminum facing outwards, would be your best bet for success. Good luck — PJH

  18. Kathleen bowen

    Still dot get it are you saying use an internal thermometer my cake collapse when I do so moved to a new location in md 2 hrs from Baltimore and cake firmness I have not been successful with. Dark pans used. What ten to use for a firm pound cake not dry

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Kathleen, I wouldn’t test the internal temperature of a cake until you know it’s really fully set, and won’t collapse. I’m not sure what a change in your physical location would be doing to the texture of your cakes; perhaps the area you’re now in is drier, and you may be adding a touch too much flour to cake recipes that were developed somewhere hotter/more humid? For pound cake, I’d bake at 300°F, testing towards the end. When a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean — or with a few moist crumbs clinging to it — your cake should be done. Good luck — thanks for connecting with us here. PJH

  19. Elmo

    I cannot speak for bundt pans, but I have learned to insulate the sides of my pans or use a water bath to keep the sides from heating faster than the middle, to get flat-top cakes where the “dome” does not need to be trimmed. But especially in water, one must always make sure the cake is done through. Best if using a cool water bath, to remove it once the cake is set and finish baking dry. Otherwise a cool kitchen towel soaked in water does wonders.

    Reply
  20. Cindy 2

    In the past, Nordicware made fancy-shaped bundt pans that are silver on the outside, but black nonstick on the inside. I have several of these, including a Bavaria pan. Do you recommend lowering the temperature for this type of combination light/dark pan as well?

    Also, is Pam for Baking not recommended because it contains flour?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Cindy, your best bet is to try the recipe as written, though you could start checking earlier to see if it’s done. Since it’s black on the inside rather than outside, it might be it works like a lighter-colored pan. If it does bake more quickly, you’ll know to lower either temperature or time next time out. Personally, I don’t like those spray oil/flour combinations; I prefer to leave the flour out, but if you like it and it works for you — go for it! PJH

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