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I have a vintage cookbook, from Charlotte, North Carolina and about 1958, that has a recipe for “Different Applesauce Cake”. It says to “Cook in stem pan approximately 1 hour, 10 minutes”.

Searches for “stem pan” brings up pan definition lists that don’t include “stem pan”; searches for “stem pan baking” brings up a lot of pages on how to teach STEM using baking. There is one patent that appears at first to be about stem pans, but on reading seems to be about stems on pans. Though it could be that stem pan is another word for skillet.

In all cases, search engines like to replace “stem” with “steam”. There does appear to be something called a “steam pan”, but it appears to be the kind of pan used by buffet restaurants to keep food warm, not something for baking.

Searches on “stem pan” with “apple cake” do bring up some variations on some odd sites; but they don’t explain what it is. Some recipes use a variation of “use a loaf pan or a stem pan” and others a variation of “use a bundt pan or a stem pan”. Some suggest using it ungreased, some greasing and flouring the pan, others lining the bottom with greased paper, which seems a bit difficult if it’s just another word for bundt pan, or even if it’s another term for “tube pan” which is what I most suspect.

On the idea that this might be a dialect around Mississippi and North Carolina, I tried a search for “stem pan” and “southern” and found two contradictory recipe pages with images of the pan in question. A recipe for corn bread that has a photo of the corn bread in a skillet; this may be a stock photo, however. And a recipe for tomato soup cake that has a photo of it being poured into what looks like a bundt pan. So it may be that this is a term that applies to multiple items.

I did image searches for various forms of “cake pan advertisement”, such as “mirro bakeware advertisement” and “old bakeware advertisement”. I found several for tube pans and bundt pans and none advertising stem pans.

I did a search specifically for the phrase “stem pan” limited to the site archive.org; the term appears to be exclusively found in older organizational cookbooks (five church organizations, one library association, one high school club, and one college club). They range from 1911 to 1982 except for two: one from 1991, but it’s the submitter’s grandmother’s recipe, and one from 2006, but it’s a reprint from the organization’s 1981 cookbook. (Of course, also, since it’s archive.org it’s likely to be weighted toward older books.)

There are no photos, as is normal for such cookbooks. There are no definitions, either, although there is one parenthetical: “Bake in greased and floured stem pan (I use cast iron bundt pan)” which could of course be read either as an example or an alternative. One intriguing set of directions ends, for Texas Pecan Cake, with “Bake in stem pan 10x4 inches”. I suspect that this means a 10-inch diameter, 4-inch deep pan, especially given the quantity of ingredients; it’s an odd direction, though, because by that point the batter has already been poured into “a well-greased tube pan”. However, it matches something I saw in The Joy of Cooking while trying to look up the term, that a 9-½ by 4-¼-inch plain tube (angel cake pan) is “Conventionally described as 10x4-inch plain tube” (p. 701 in my 2006 copy).

What is a stem pan? A skillet? A bundt pan? A tube pan? A loaf pan? A variation? Or something else? Or more than one item? I am at this point almost certain that it is either a tube pan (most likely), or a variation on a tube pan, but the lack of any definition or photo keeps me from knowing for sure what variation, if any, the term might mean.

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    I have never heard the term "stem pan" but it sounds like either a tube pan or a pan with a heating core. – AMtwo Jan 29 at 19:59
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    I can't say conclusively, but based on all of the context you're giving, it sure sounds like a tube pan. (and I've seen quite a few recipes that call for baking in two loaf pans if you don't have a tube/bundt pan, so even that cooks.com link makes sense). And tube pans (like for angel food) are flat on the bottom, unlike the decorative bundt pans, so you'd still be able to line it with parchment, so long as you cut a hole out. – Joe Jan 29 at 20:28
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    I also thought we had a tag specifically dealing with historical recipes, but it wasn't 'recipe' or 'history' based on their current descriptions – Joe Jan 29 at 20:32
  • I also looked for vintage-recipes as a tag, but couldn’t find anything like that. – Jerry Stratton Jan 29 at 20:47
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    Where is your cookbook from? I found a 1951 cookbook from Corinth, Mississippi that mentions 'stem pan' on page 19 (pdf page 21), and was thinking that maybe it's a regional thing. – Joe Jan 29 at 22:36
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I also believe a stem pan is what we would call a 'tube pan' or 'bundt pan', as in Joe's answer. I have, however, found a few links to back me up.

Here is a comment on a Chowhound question suggesting a recipe using a stem pan. When asked what a stem pan is, the poster replied: "basically, a stem pan is what they now call a tube pan".

This recipe for Sour Cream Pound Cake, from Adams Extract, calls for the use of a stem pan, and has a reproduction of a 1950's-looking recipe card depicting a bundt cake. The relevant text is:

Pour into well greased, lightly floured stem pan (or loaf pan).

And the image is clearly a cake made in what is now called a tube pan:

Sour Cream Pound Cake from Adams Extract, from stem pan

Adams Extract is a Texas company; their Classic Original Adams Recipes contain several other recipes that call for stem pans. Their Butter Rum Cake, Coconut Pound Cake, German Chocolate Pound Cake, Lemon Pecan Cake, and White Fruit Cake all call specifically for a stem pan. The accompanying photo for each of those recipes except the Coconut Pound Cake show a cake made in a simple tube pan. The Coconut Pound Cake shows a cake baked in a bundt pan.

At least at this company, or this part of the south, the term seems to have been used to refer to simple tube pans and segmented bundt pans.

Some recipe cards call for tube pans or bundt pans instead of stem pans; unfortunately, the cards are not dated, so that it is difficult to say whether this was a term that changed over time or was simply interchangeable.

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Although I agree with the general vaguely toroidal shape of the individual compartments in Steve Chambers' answer, I don't believe those 'baked donut' pans existed in the 1950s, or at the very least didn't have sufficient distribution to assume that people would have them. (as is still true today).

I would recommend using a standard tube pan, a bundt pan, or similar pan in which there is a protrusion in the middle to allow for more even heating.

The only other possibility that I could think of would be something "stemmed" like a wine glass. Both those are typically made of glass, and considered dishes or bowls, not a pan. These are typically used for trifles, in which the dessert is assembled for serving after having been baked, and likely aren't oven-safe.

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This annoyed me. the difficulty of the search not the question! ;-)

Though I finally did find something here.

And in the spirit of avoiding link-only answers a screencap of the page in question in case it goes away:

"Stem" (?? Pan

I am by no means 100% on this as being the Stem Pan you are looking for but depending on the recipe it might be close.

BTW I found this linked on Google with this earch

what is a stem pan for baking

After this search (below) failed after several pages of 'results' and the above search was suggested by Google

"stem pan" -steam

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    I don't think this is it, because the quote OP provides is "Cook in stem pan approximately 1 hour, 10 minutes" and that is way too long in a donut pan. Also the recipe is for a cake, not mini cakes. That said, a tube pan (as for angel food cake) is basically the same shape, just one big one instead of lots of little ones. So I think all this lends a little credence to the theory in the comments on the question that the recipe is talking about a tube pan. – senschen Jan 29 at 23:00
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    Yes, I think the use of “stem” to refer to what would be the tube in a tube pan bolsters the probability that a stem pan is either another word for, or very similar to, a tube pan. – Jerry Stratton Jan 30 at 2:18

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