First you should determine what basic pieces you'll need; the types of bakeware that will cover the majority of your baking needs. Basics can include the following:
- 8- or 9-inch round cake pan (two to make a layered cake)
- 8- or 9-inch square cake pan (two to make a layered cake)
- 9" x 13" cake pan
- 9" pie pan
- 9" x 5" loaf pan
- 12-cup muffin pan
- 11" x 17" cookie (baking) sheet
- 3-quart casserole dish
Cake pans, loaf pans and even cookie sheets will also be useful when baking certain breads, plus some of the above bakeware will cover pound cakes, main course meals and side dishes.
In addition to basic bakeware pieces you should also have some essential accessories on hand, as many bakeware tasks cannot be accomplished without the necessary tools. Some of these include mixing bowls, measuring spoons and cups, spatulas, wire cooling racks, a pastry blender, a flour sifter, and parchment paper or a reusable silicone baking liner to place on baking sheets. Silicone liners are extremely versatile, don't require any greasing, allow for items to just slide off after baking and are very easy to clean.
To expand your bakeware assortment, many interesting items are available, such as bundt cake/tube pans, ramekins for custards and souffles, tart/quiche and springform pans with removable bottoms for easy release and decorating, biscuit and popover pans, angel food cake pans and even pizza stones. If you think of it, it probably exists.
Bakeware comes in a variety of materials, so you need to determine what materials would best suit your needs. Here's what to look for:
ALUMINUM: A great heat conductor and will brown baked goods evenly. As aluminum is a softer metal, look for heavier gauge bakeware to keep pieces from becoming misshapen. Aluminum bakeware is generally coated with a non-stick finish or at a minimum, coated with an anodized finish.
ALUMINIZED STEEL: Found in many professional bakeware lines, aluminized steel has a tough and durable construction that can provide years of baking in both a professional and non-professional kitchen. It's an excellent heat conductor that results in even baking and can be found in both traditional and non-stick surfaces.
CAST IRON: Retains heat well and cooks evenly. Also found coated with a layer of enamel, making clean up a breeze.
OVENPROOF GLASS: Extremely versatile and dishwasher safe. Not the best heat conductor, but keeps food from over browning, and allows you to check your food's progress. Can go directly from the refrigerator or freezer to a microwave or preheated oven. You can prepare in it, bake in it, serve in it and store in it.
CERAMIC: Strong and durable, ceramic is a good insulator of heat and resists moisture absorption, stains, odors and flavors. Great for delicate foods, it is usually made of stoneware or porcelain and will offer oven-to-table versatility.
SILICONE: Flexible silicone bakeware provides even heat distribution, allows for easy removal of baked items, and will not retain odors or flavors. Can be used in the oven, microwave and even the freezer. Rinses and wipes clean, is dishwasher safe and stores easily. A great choice for muffins, cakes, bread, or other items that sometimes stick to glass or metal.
INSULATED: Made of two bonded layers of metal with a layer of air in between. The layer of air allows for even baking and browning without burning.
In general, the heavier the weight of a metal bakeware item, the better. Bakeware that is thick and of a heavy gauge will be less likely to warp or bend, and will provide even heating and retain heat well. Also look for rolled edges and steel reinforced rims, which prevent warping and help pieces to retain their shape. Folded corners create a refined, professional appearance for baked goods.
The coating of metal bakeware is important too. Non-stick allows for easy food release, easy clean-up, and reduces the need to grease and flour the pan. Traditional surfaces produce golden crusts and even browning. Bakeware with a darker surface may conduct heat more evenly and brown faster than one with a lighter surface.