Stuck on you: a bakers's guide to non-stick baking
As I’m writing and testing recipes so often with loads of variations and, to be honest, failures, I have to have some things that never let me down. A fridge that always works, an oven that’s dependable (ok, the door is a bit iffy), and I aim to make sure the things I bake never, ever stick to the tins.
When I work in bakeries we use all sorts of expensive tricks: lecithin aerosol sprays, plastic film for blind-baking pastry cases, silicone baking mats or endless sheets of silicone-coated non-stick paper.
But at home, these high-end options are often not worth the expense if you’re only baking occasionally. So gleaming there in the shops temptingly, typically with a celebrity chef endorsement, is non-stick bakeware, coated with chemicals that stop some mixtures sticking to it.
But before these coatings were invented, cooks tackled this sticky problem using other techniques. I spoke with food historian Ivan Day, who has looked into the history in detail.
“The Victorian chef Jules Gouffé is quite specific on how to prepare ornate baking tins,” said Ivan, “and insisted on using calves’ suet as the flavour was very neutral. Beef dripping wasn’t recommended for preparing tins for sweet cakes and pastry as it had a pronounced meatiness, though it might be mixed half-and-half with clarified butter.”
To use it, Gouffé recommends warming the tin first, spooning the melted suet in and swirling it around to coat the inside evenly before placing it on an angle to drain and allow any steam to escape. This last step is important, says Ivan, as moisture in this fat “lining” could cause the cake to stick.
Cake mould depicting the Pieta from the Alsatian museum in Strasbourg, France. Image credit: Ji-elle, Wikimedia, under a creative commons license.
Then a cupful of caster sugar would be rolled around the tin so it stuck evenly to the fat, and any excess tapped out - forming a fine layer on the fat that would seal the surface of the cake as it baked. A half-and-half mix of sifted flour and sugar was very effective, or potato starch and sugar. Then, after baking, the cakes would be left for 10 minutes before being turned out. “I know it sounds very elaborate today,” says Ivan, “but the results were often fantastic, especially if a very intricately detailed baking tin was used.”
You can still use this method today, with any fat that sets hard at room temperature, like clarified butter, lard, dripping, palm oil, coconut oil, or other vegetable fats. I prefer to use only flour as the next coating on the fat, though sugar is still useful for the inside of a soufflé dish.
Pros: this method allows you to use very complicated tin shapes and is easy to do with home ingredients.
Cons: Loads of washing up to do afterwards, and adds time to the recipe as you have to prepare the tin carefully.
You can get, in pump bottle or aerosol, a liquid that contains vegetable oil and typically an emulsifier like lecithin that forms a layer between the mixture and the tin and helps stop the cake from sticking. Really good if you’re short of time, though I have weaned myself off a dependence on them. They can leave a build-up on aluminium trays if exposed to direct heat without a covering of mixture or dough.
Pros: very easy and quick to use, and fairly dependable for cake mixtures.
Cons: A bit expensive. You’re left with a fair amount of packaging to dispose of so there are environmental concerns too.
Brown, greaseproof and siliconised baking paper
Though plain trays could be coated the same way, sometimes oiled paper was used for small cakes, meringues and biscuits. The big hassle in my home growing up was washing the tin with cake stuck to it, so my mum just used brown paper – this was the time when groceries were packed into brown paper bags – rubbed with sunflower oil so it turned translucent. This would be cut and folded into the tin and, even though the cake stuck to it and the paper has to be torn off, the mixture wouldn’t stick to the tin.
Greaseproof or straight baking paper works the same way, and will grip onto food in fiercest way. However, if your baking paper is described as “non-stick” or has the word “siliconised” written on the box, then this usually won’t stick. It is more expensive, but it can be used at least 3-4 times before it starts to tear. Just remove the paper after baking, let it cool, the place it carefully away until next time.
Pros: so cheap to do so long as you collect your paper bags, or reuse your baking paper; and avoids washing up.
Cons: Unless the paper is coated with silicone, the food will stick to it.
Silicone bakeware and sheets
In small commercial bakeries you’ll usually find a silicone baking mat lurking somewhere. Flexible and strong, reinforced with threads of fiberglass, it forms a non-stick surface that works very well with tricky high-sugar mixtures. You can bake directly on it, and it’s food safe and easy to clean. They’re expensive, but one to buy if you want a reusable long-lasting solution for flat baking sheets.
Lately you will have seen, or own, “tins” made entirely of silicone moulded like rubber. This should provide a complete non-stick surface but when turning out hot foods, like a molten chocolate cake, the steam can cause a suction effect and cause the mixture to stick. These moulds typically have soft rounded edges, are flexible, and lightweight but slightly unstable when filled.
Pros: excellent durability if looked after, light to hold and easy to clean. Provides a very good non-stick surface
Cons: Can be unstable when moving into or out of oven
Teflon and other non-stick surfaces
Nearly all metal bakeware is now available with a non-stick coating. There’s a multi-billion pound coatings industry behind these quick-release surfaces and given the potential money to be made there’s competition in providing the best result.
New ceramic surfaces are starting to appear on the market, but predominantly non-stick bakeware uses one or more coats of tough fluoropolymers locked “permanently” into place through further chemical and temperature treatments.
The most well-known of these coatings is Teflon, which uses a chemical called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) to create a very low-friction surface that should, in theory, cause many food to slide right off during baking. But though Teflon has become a generic term for non-stick it should correctly be used for the type Dupont make, as there are many other types of non-stick coating, using various chemicals to achieve a similar effect: like perfluoroalkoxy (PFA) and fluorinated ethylene propylene (FEP).
I always end up scratching the surface in some way, don’t always clean in the corners properly, so very soon into use my food begins to stick. And when that happens I end up lining the non-stick bakeware with non-stick paper. So to be frank I’m often just as happy with the old-fashioned tins, either spankingly new or just vintage ones from car boot sales, and with paper or the butter/flour combination ensure that my cakes don’t stick. It’s what my mum did, and her mum too, and sometimes that’s reason enough.
How important is non-stick bakeware for you? What approach do you take?