From Season 5: Bake Sale Favorites
Here in cake-and-casserole-crazed America, the shallow, rectangular 13 by 9-inch baking dish is a kitchen workhorse. There is a huge variety of options from which to choose, many with new designs, materials, finish colors, and baking surface textures, all taking aim at the tried-and-true pans of old—Pyrex and stoneware. Though no longer common, rough stoneware and earthenware pans have been around since the days of communal bread ovens in the village square. Ovensafe glass came to market in 1915 and in the years since has become a standard kitchen item familiar to almost every home cook.
Pans made from both materials performed well in our tests, browning cornbread deeply and evenly. (We put a high value on the enhanced flavor and texture of deeply browned exterior surfaces. Pans that did not brown well were marked down.) Like a trusty cast-iron skillet, stoneware has a huge capacity to absorb and retain heat. The story is similar for glass. Although it heats up slowly, once glass is hot, it stays that way. In both cases, it’s good news for fans of deeply browned crusts. How would pans made from other materials compare to the glass pans?
We've learned over the years that pale and shiny finishes lack the superior heat absorption of darker finishes, resulting in spotty browning. Dark-colored surfaces absorb heat in the oven; bright surfaces do, too, but they also reflect it. So we dismissed the light-colored pans from our lineup early on. That left us with seven nonstick pans, all of which sported charcoal-colored surfaces. By and large, they all browned cornbread deeply. Previous bakeware tests have shown-and the cornbread baked in this test confirmed-that when it comes to browning, a dark surface color can be more important than the material of the pan.
The nonstick pans did, however, present a serious practical consideration. Many dishes baked in a 13 by 9-inch pan, including the lasagna we tested, are customarily cut and served right from the pan. With some nonstick pans that’s a problem because the use and care recommendations usually advise against cutting in the pan to protect the nonstick coating. In our view, not being able to cut in a pan is a strike against it. Today, however, many manufacturers offer scratch-resistant nonstick coatings that are safe for use with metal spatulas and other blunt-edged tools. Most do still advise against cutting in the pan with sharp knives or pizza cutters, but, with the exception of the hairline scratches suffered by one of our pans, we found that any damage made by a paring knife was negligible.
Also relatively new to the market is silicone bakeware, which now comes in as many shapes and sizes as its metal and glass counterparts. Manufacturers of these products consistently peddle the benefits of their flexibility, unparalleled nonstick surfaces, and fuss-free cleanup. But with these perks came at least as many flaws. Though browning for some of the baked goods was surprisingly comparable to those baked in other pans, the floppy SiliconeZone vessel had to be steadied on a metal sheet pan (the bottom of a cornbread baked without the sheet pan came out with striped grid marks from the oven rack), which lengthened the baking time. What's more, heavy gingerbread and cornbread batters caused the sides of the pan to swell unevenly, resulting in asymmetrical, soft-angled breads. Silicone, we decided, is better suited for non-baking tasks.
It turns out that our story ends almost right where it began, with glass. Our glass pan isn't perfect, but it did have four distinct advantages over the newcomers. First, it browned on a par with the dark-colored nonstick pans. Second, it is compatible with metal utensils. Third, while it's no stunning beauty, most people we asked were perfectly willing to set it on a dining table at dinner, which allows it to pull double duty in sweet and savory baking. And last, it is inexpensive; only one other pan in the lineup costs less. Of course, if your baking is usually of the sweet variety and you are willing to forego cutting foods right in the pan, any of the recommended nonstick models will also serve you well.
Victorinox (formerly Victorinox Forschner) 6-inch Straight Boning Knife: Flexible
The nonslip grip and narrow, straight blade let testers remove the smallest bones with precision and complete comfort. Perfectly balanced with enough flexibility to maneuver around tight joints. The low price was a bonus.
|★ ★ ★||★ ★ ★||$19.95|
Wüsthof Classic Boning Knife
Hefty in weight, this knife was a solid performer when removing poultry bones, and the handle was easy to grip, even when covered in chicken fat. Piercing silver skin was a challenge since the tip wasnt sharp enough and the long narrow blade produced slightly jagged cuts.
|★ ★||★ ★ ★||$99.95|
|Recommended with Reservations|
Mundial Boning Knife: Flexible
The sharp tip performed well when removing silver skin, but it was too flexible when maneuvering around poultry joints, leaving testers feeling a lack of control. The heavy handle was slightly unbalanced and became slippery once covered in poultry fat.
|★ ★||★ ★||$19.95|
Shun Gokujo Filet Knife
Designed to replicate a samurai blade, this expensive knife was a disappointment. It struggled to pierce the silver skin, although long cuts were smooth and even. Minimal flexibility and extreme curve got in the way when maneuvering around joints. The smooth handle was hard to grip and slippery.
MAC Boning KnifeChef Series
The large, cumbersome handle reminded testers of an outdoors knife for fishing and hunting. The blade was too wide to maneuver around joints and it struggled to pierce silver skin. Unlike other knives, this boning knife could only slice in one direction, making intricate cuts around joints difficult.
Messermeister San Moritz Elite Flexible Boning Knife
The blade was so flexible it led to erratic cuttings; testers said the knife was hard to control. The blade was not sturdy enough to maneuver around joints and the lightweight handle felt flimsy and unbalanced.