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I've noticed that most recipes that end up in a pan in the oven will have me grease or oil the pan at the start of the recipe. This is long before I have anything else to put into it. The pan just sits waiting for me to do the rest of the recipe. Here's just one example: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/3073

Why is this? I'm partly just curious and partly interested if I can leverage this some more.

  • Does the grease (or oil) work better if it ages in the air? If so, what is the ideal time for aging?
  • Does the recipe author just want to be sure that I have a pan and some grease that I can use before I prepare the rest of the recipe? If so, then I think I'll just wait to do it.
  • Is it to make sure the pan is cooled to room temperature by the time I get to it, in case it came from the dishwasher?
  • Perhaps a historical reason?
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I think it's generally your second reason: when you get ready to pour batter in a pan, it's annoying if it's not ready yet. –  Jefromi Nov 27 '11 at 18:14
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4 Answers 4

up vote 11 down vote accepted

There are three good reasons to oil your pan beforehand:

  1. Your pan needs to be ready as soon as your batter is. For cakes, the batter can fall apart while you are greasing the pan. This is especially true for cakes that have air whipped in, such as genoise, which can fall apart in a few minutes. Recipes containing baking soda can lose their fizz in this time too.
  2. You can't forget to oil up the pan. In the heat of the moment, it's very easy to forget to apply lubrication before transferring the batter/dough; inevitably this wrecks the recipe.
  3. Greasing the pan is part of baking mise en place and should be done before main cooking. Mise en place is a key principle of professional cooking, and means "everything in place." The idea is that ingredients should be prepped and ovens preheated, so you can do the actual cooking efficiently.
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All your points are good, especially Mise en place. I suspect that is probably the true answer. –  markets Dec 1 '11 at 4:43
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I see this most often in cake recipes. If you do whatever it is to make your cake rise (beat a batter containing whole egg; fold in egg whites; add baking soda and or powder to a quick bread) etc, then stop to grease and possibly flour the pan or little tins, the batter will start to fall, or will be too bubbly while you put it in the pan. So have the pans ready before you start.

You may find this instruction in a recipe where the batter or dough could easily sit around for 5 or 10 minutes while you prep the pan; it that case it's probably just habit on the part of the recipe author. But don't make that your first assumption. There are definitely times when it matters.

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I have nothing to back this up, but I always assumed that you should grease the pan at the start, not because something happens with the grease, but because some recipes want you to act rather quickly. If you correctly mix a batter and then you have to grease your pan, can result in a different batter (heavy pieces drop down, whipped egg whites won't be as elevating etc.).

Again, this is my own speculation. I think that the problem in modern times is partly solved, by having oil spray that is sprayed in 2 seconds.

Or another reason: simply that you don't forget to do it.

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I think you got this wrong "Is it to make sure the pan is cooled to room temperature by the time I get to it, in case it came from the dishwasher?". This sounds like you preheat the oven but leave the oiled pan outside.

You are supposed to preheat the pan and oil and the oven. If you start with hot oil, your food gets done quicker and absorbs less grease. The correct time is to wait until your oven has reached the temperature specified in the recipe; modern ovens have a temperature dial and signal you when the temperature is OK. Waiting longer (because your other ingredients aren't ready) isn't especially problematic, but there is no need for it.

Oven dials are often not exact. So you may want try to calibrate your oven with water (boils at 100°C) and sugar (caramelizes at roughly 190°C) or a roast thermometer.

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Interesting! I had never even considered that. Some recipes, including the one linked to, however, say "grease pan; set aside", which sounds to me like I set it aside on the counter, not in the preheated oven. Should I be setting it into the oven? –  markets Nov 27 '11 at 17:32
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Are you sure about this? A metal pan plus a thin layer of oil is not enough thermal mass to really affect cooking time, and I'm not too sure about the reduced absorption either. If you're doing cornbread in a cast iron skillet with a bunch of fat in the bottom, that's different, but a normal lightly greased pan for a bread or cake? The example directions the OP gave explicitly say to set aside the pan. If they meant to put it in the oven, they'd say so. –  Jefromi Nov 27 '11 at 18:13
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@Jefromi I agree that I thought too generally about the fat absorption, it matters at stovetop frying temperatures, but not much for cakes. Still, a preheated thermoconductive pan sets the crust quicker. Also, I know from experience that starting with a heated pan is important, even though the thermal mass is low. First, it bakes more even, because heat is already coming from both above (heater element) and below (pan), else you have to give it extra time at the beginning or end with the upper element turned off. Second, some materials take ages to heat (mostly ceramics). –  rumtscho Nov 27 '11 at 19:50
    
@markets and Jefromi, the point about the linked recipe is, of course, valid - obviously, it isn't the kind where preheating matters. (I have found it to be more important for things like pre-searing minced meat for moussaka than for cakes anyway). In this case, Mien's answer is right - it is just a "best practices" mise en place. –  rumtscho Nov 27 '11 at 19:55
    
+1: Definitely true for ceramic/glass pans, especially things that don't bake too long. –  Jefromi Nov 27 '11 at 21:01
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