Lining a cake pan with parchment paper isn’t strictly necessary for every cake recipe. But when I make a cake, it’s usually a special occasion for family or friends. I already feel the pressure to wow the crowd with a nicely decorated cake. I definitely don’t need the added stress of cake layers sticking to the pan and tearing before I even get to the frosting.
A habit I brought home from working in a bakery is always lining my cake pans, even when a recipe doesn't expressly call for it. Lining your cake pans provides some stress-reducing confidence: the cake layers come out of the pan cleanly every time. And for loaf cakes, you can even use the parchment as a convenient handle to lift the cake out easily.
Why Should You Line Cake Pans with Parchment Paper?
In addition to greasing cake pans with butter and flour or non-stick baking spray, parchment paper ensures your cake layers will release easily. Sometimes, even when you grease the pan, cakes stick anyway. For many cakes, it's almost essential to line the pans, especially with carrot cakes or delicate cakes. Cakes can also stick when left to cool in the pan too long. If you tend to forget about your cake while it's cooling in the pan, parchment paper can eliminate that problem too.
In addition to its non-stick properties, parchment paper contributes a few extra benefits to cake baking. Parchment paper adds just enough insulation on the bottom of the pan to slow down the Maillard reaction, the chemical reaction responsible for caramelization and browning. Cakes baked without parchment often have a darker, harder, and thicker crust, but baking with parchment produces softer, more tender cakes. Parchment also prevents you from scratching up your pan when trying to free a stuck-on cake and makes cleanup a breeze.
The Best Paper for Lining Pans
Make sure the paper you’re using is parchment paper. It may also be labeled kitchen parchment paper or parchment baking paper. But one thing is for sure, wax paper will not work. The wax could melt or worse, ignite. And aluminum foil doesn’t have the non-stick coating or the insulation benefits that parchment paper does, so it's best left for other roasting and baking projects.
Pre-cut rounds of parchment paper are the most convenient way to line cake pans. But that added convenience comes with a higher price, and they’re typically only stocked in specialty stores or online. Storage can become a problem as well if you often bake various sizes of cakes.
Parchment paper is easily sourced in the grocery store, and most home cooks already have a roll in their kitchen. Cutting your own rounds of parchment not only saves you money but also ensures you have the right size round no matter how big of a cake you’re making.
How to Line a Round Cake Pan
Grease the pan.
Cut or tear off a piece of parchment paper slightly larger than your cake pan.
Fold the piece of parchment in half, then in half again to make a square.
Fold the square of parchment in half diagonally to make a triangle. Then, fold the triangle in half to make a narrower triangle.
Place the cake pan upside down on your counter. Hold the parchment so that the tip of the triangle is in the center of the cake pan. Use a pair of scissors to trim the base of the parchment triangle, following the curved edge of the cake pan.
Once unfolded, you should have a round of parchment that fits perfectly in the bottom of the cake pan. If it's not quite perfect you can trim the edges a bit.
How to Line a Loaf Pan
My favorite method for lining a loaf pan creates a sling that not only prevents the cake from sticking to the pan but also creates handles to help you lift out the baked loaf.
Grease the pan.
Cut or tear a piece of parchment that’s the same length as the long edge of the bottom of your loaf pan (about 8 inches if using a 9 x 5-inch pan, or 7 1/2 inches for a standard [8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch] loaf pan).
Press the parchment into the bottom of the pan and up the long sides of the greased pan so that there's an equal amount of overhang on each side. Crease the corners so the paper lies flat along the bottom and sides of the pan.
Depending on the width of your parchment paper, you may want to trim the edges. I like to leave an inch or two of overhang so I can use them as handles to lift the loaf out after baking.