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I'm reading a review of cake pans.

Most of the round pans in the review are 2 inches tall. However, there is one round pan in the review that is 2.5 inches tall, and the review had the following comment about it:

It baked an evenly golden cake, but it was half an inch taller than any other pan, tall enough to bake the top of the cake darker than any other.

Why would baking a cake in a tall pan make the top of the cake darker?

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  • The only difference is the pan height? So the batter inside the pan was at the same height as the batter in the other pans, but it had an extra half inch of pan wall extending above it? The only thing I can think of is that it trapped a greater amount of hotter air inside the pan -- but that seems pretty far fetched. Dec 31 '21 at 1:41
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Very theoretically: if the pan is filled to the brim, the upper surface of the cake will be closer to the heating element, so the cake will be somewhat darker.

I am actually quite skeptical that this is what happened here. I looked at the review you linked and don't see any indication that they scaled the recipe for the taller pan. Also, they only baked one cake per pan. Also, I wouldn't intuitively expect only half an inch difference to create a marked change in color.

Whatever the reason for the darker cake - whether something inherent in the pan, or a random difference because of the small sample size - the attribution to the taller pan sounds like a just-so story to me.

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  • Yeah maybe you are right about the just-so story. I found a possibly contradictory just-so story in another article that says a taller pan will result in a cake with a lighter top, because "those super-tall sides shield the cake in the oven, allowing it to bake up smooth and pale, which means the top crust will be delicate and thin above the moist and fluffy crumb." Dec 30 '21 at 10:26
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    Perhaps the sides of the taller pan that extend above the top of the cake re-radiated heat to the cake? Dec 31 '21 at 15:49
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There are two factors at play:

First, a taller pan needs longer for the higher batter to bake through, so that the top is exposed to the oven heat longer in total. Note that not the height of the pan per se is an issue, but how high the batter level is inside that pan.

Second, in some ovens the distance to the heat source will matter and if the pan (again with the batter up to a higher level) is closer to the top heating element, this can also contribute towards a darker top. Especially if combined with the first factor in the paragraph above.

That said, of course you can mitigate these, usual measures are lowering the oven heat just a bit for taller cakes and/or covering the top with foil after a while to shield it from the top heat.

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  • I assume in the review they used the same amount of batter for each pan. They said they used the same recipe for each pan, and "baked each for the same amount of time". Dec 30 '21 at 10:06
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    Same amount can easily translate to different heights - equal volume means the height depends on the diameter of the base or in the case of Bundt pans, the angle of the sides. I have a few very different ones myself.
    – Stephie
    Dec 30 '21 at 10:08
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    All the round pans they reviewed were 9 inches in diameter. Dec 30 '21 at 10:09
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    Then I agree with rumtscho and assume a fluke.
    – Stephie
    Dec 30 '21 at 10:12

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