Photo: Marvin Glodek (Shutterstock)
When it comes to tools of the trade, the kitchen might be the weirdest room in your home, stocked with a great number of bizarre gadgets. From rasps to dough hooks, each one serves at least one indispensable purpose, and some tools serve many. There’s almost nothing I love more than finding multiple uses for the things I already have in my cupboards.
Some of my all-star players include a dutch oven, an immersion stick blender, and a springform pan. For those who have never heard of the springform—or think it’s a single-purpose scam—there’s definitely a time and place for this humble wonder. You should definitely make room for one in your cabinet, but I have some workarounds if you have yet to purchase one.
What is a springform pan, and why do I need one?
A springform pan is a tall-sided metal cake pan with two very important features: a false bottom and an expandable side ring controlled by a latch. Opening the latch allows the ring to perform its namesake action and “spring” open, expanding a ring that was once nine inches in diameter to 10 inches.
You might be thinking “What the heck would I do with that?” and I can sympathize. I was once like you. Then I read a cheesecake recipe all the way to the end (luckily) and realized I should give this thing a chance. Springform pans are ideal for loose, delicate foods that lack structure or can be easily damaged. The expandable side allows you to release the finished product without messing with it too much. Unlike a regular cake pan, which you have to flip over to release the cake, the false bottom provides a way out. Recipes particularly well-suited for a springform pan include cheesecakes, mousse or whipped cream cakes, deep dish pizzas, tall quiches, or anything with a decorative top. Anything you don’t want to turn upside down, basically, should be baked in a springform pan.
How to set yourself up for springform success
It’s not, however, a one-pan-fits-all situation. Although you can bake a wide variety of cakes in a springform, there are a couple things it can’t handle. Since there are two parts to a springform pan there is always, essentially, a crack in the pan. The false bottom nestles into a groove in the bottom of the ring for a secure fit, but regardless of the model, there will always be a seam where batter can potentially leak out and make an appalling mess in the oven.
To make sure you don’t have to do a dramatic oven cleanup, you can employ a couple of safeguards. Use the pan as a mold for cold, thick components that don’t need to bake, like a strawberry shortcake, or any icebox cake with thoughtfully placed fruit and whipped cream, that can sit in the fridge until it’s set and ready to be un-molded and served. If you are preparing a baked dessert, avoid pouring liquid-y batters into your springform pan. If you absolutely have to use a thin filling, make sure you have a crust or other layer blocking off the false bottom, or you risk it seeping out immediately.
Using a layer of regular baked cake, like the one in this Charlotte, at the bottom can block off the seam and add a bit of texture. Cheesecakes are commonly baked in springform pans, and many bakers effectively use the graham cracker crust to block the crack in the pan. For cheesecakes baked in a water bath, a breach in the pan is double trouble–filling can leak out or water can leak in. To protect your dessert, wrap the outside of the pan with two layers of foil to keep water from weaseling its way inside. As a final safety measure, always put a regular sheet tray under your springform pan as your oven’s last line of defense against a leak.
What to do if you a recipe calls for a springform pan but you don’t have one
If you’re in a pinch and you don’t have a springform pan, you still have some options. Is this something that you can modify to bake in a pie dish or cast iron skillet? You might have to scale down the recipe a bit, and the reveal will be less dramatic, but cheesecakes, quiches, and deep dish pizzas work well in either of these vessels, and you can cut directly on top of their surfaces without damaging the finish.
Don’t want to sacrifice the drama of a tall, towering dessert? I’ve got a hack for that too: Fully line a regular cake pan with parchment paper, like The Kitchn does with this Basque cheesecake, or use a foil sling like keyingredient.com does with this deep-dish quiche. Once your good is finished baking and is completely cool (or fridge cold) you can use the overhanging paper or foil to ease your cake, quiche, or other baked good out of the pan. Be aware, this method can leave creases and indentations on the outside of the finished dish, creating a rustic look.
For a refined dessert with perfectly smooth sides like a mousse cake or a towering, silky New York Style cheesecake, use the freezer technique. Plan 24 hours ahead if you want to use this method. Moderately butter your cake pan and bake or mold your cheesecake, Bavarian mousse cake, or quiche Lorraine as usual. After it cools to room temperature (or right away if it’s a mousse) pop it into the freezer and let it set overnight.
Once it’s frozen solid, you can flip it over onto a plate or wire rack. To release your impressive creation, melt the butter layer that lies between the metal and the frozen block of deliciousness. You can do this with a hair dryer or a blow torch (no need for industrial strength; one of those small ones you brulée with will do), moving it steadily around the base and sides of the pan until you hear the dessert drop out. Take care not to hold the flame (or nozzle) in one spot too long, as this can warp your pan, melt your mousse, or burn a spot on other items.
If you don’t have a hair dryer or a blow torch, you can use the flame from your gas stove, on low. Wearing oven mitts, carefully grip the top edge of the pan and slowly move the cake pan a few inches over the flame and tilt it to get the sides warmed up. Periodically flip it over onto a dish to check if it is ready to release. If it hasn’t come loose, try again.
If open flames aren’t your thing, pour a half an inch of boiling water into a wide, shallow pan and place the cake pan into it for about a minute. Lift it out, quickly dry it off, and flip it onto a plate. Repeat this process as needed until it releases. Once released, it’ll still be frozen enough for you to pick it up and plop it onto a plate, cake stand, or two other tiers of cheesecake. Put the newly free and frozen delectable into the fridge to thaw for about eight hours. In the case of savory foods, you can then wrap them in foil and warm in the oven just prior to serving.
If you want to take your usual cheesecake pie to a new level—or maybe you’re itching to do the entremet challenge on The Great British Baking Show?—buying a springform pan will undoubtedly fortify your baking arsenal. Sure, there are ways to work around the absence of a springform pan, but they cost around $12, and you deserve a treat.