I recently purchased a new specialized baking pan called The Baker's Edge in order to try out a some gluten-free recipes baking in a pan that is basically "crust optimized". Now, why would anyone want a pan that produces much more crust (or edge) surface area than a regular baking pan? For a variety of reasons actually!
First of all, I love the crust on breads, brownies, and so forth - in fact, in must be a genetic predisposition to those chewier and crunchier edges, because, I recall how while growing up there was always a battle between my father and I to see who could first lay claim to the edges and crusts. There is just something special about the consistency of those edges where sugars have so perfectly caramelized to form a crispy, crunchy, and/or chewy surface. The innate appeal of a chewy brownie crust extends far beyond my own family, as I have witnessed quite a few others similarly drawn to that prized corner brownie square at parties.
The good news is that the rare corner brownie, or end-crust piece, is no longer rare when using The Baker's Edge. In fact, that is the whole point of the pan -- to maximize the proportion of edges & crusts throughout a dish. This works great for brownies, cakes, breads, and even dishes like lasagna.
My second attraction to the pan has to do specifically with gluten-free baking. For anyone that has any experience baking without gluten (i.e., without "normal" flour - meaning: no wheat, rye, or barley products allowed), as most anyone with a wheat-intolerance or Celiac Disease would have, there is a challenge to getting some recipes to come out as nice as their gluten-containing/wheat-containing counterparts. Since gluten is the protein that adds elasticity and binding capacity to standard wheat flour, baking without gluten means getting recipes to hold together without that all important intrinsic stickiness that gluten contributes to the chemistry of a recipe.
The typical option gluten-free recipes rely on is added vegetable/plant gums (like Guar, Xanthan, etc) to mimic the elasticity that gluten would otherwise add. If you do not wish to use added gums, one of the best things you can do is maximize the ratio of crust in your dish, since the caramelization of sugars and such that occurs at the edges of your baked goods also adds much-needed binding capacity and outside-edge rigidity to help your foods hold together well.
This is where The Baker's Edge pan can be quite advantageous to glutenfree baking: by maximizing the amount of crust area throughout your entire dish. The pan is shaped a bit like a maze, or a giant "M" shape, with its back and forth trenches. My wife tried the pan out with chocolate brownies and biscuits; each worked quite well in the pan. As you can see here, the brownie has all sorts of edge-area, with each brownie that you cut having at least two edges that are nice and crunchy/chewy.
In addition to having the promised extra edges, the brownie (if left whole) is bound to garner some attention for its rather unusual shape. In this case, I have the luxury of telling everyone the giant "M" stands for "Mike" of course :) I liked the resulting brownies quite a bit, as there was no shortage of that coveted prize: the corner brownie!
Likewise with the biscuits - no shortage of crust here!
Here are my overall observations of The Baker's Edge in general and in regards to glutenfree baking:
- It is a well built pan. Sturdy construction of heavy gauge aluminum that is coated with a wonderfully effective non-stick surface.
- Price: it currently costs $37.00 (that includes shipping), which is certainly more than the price of a standard bread pan, but it compares favorably with other high-quality specialty pans.
- It is simple to clean! Even though it has a maze-like layout, the interior corners are all smoothly rounded and clean easily. Although you can get "maximum crust" by simply baking your recipes in muffin pans or mini-loaf pans, there is no comparison when it comes to cleanup time: The Baker's Edge pan wins easily when compared to cleaning all those individual muffin cups and such. No contest.
- Bake times have to be adjusted a bit, since all those interior surface areas also decrease the bake time a bit. When we use the pan for a recipe, we will note the new bake times on our recipes for anyone else using a Baker's Edge.
- The pan's internal volume is optimized for standard cake-pan recipes - so, you don't have to adjust your brownie or cake batter up/down to fit the pan.
- As mentioned earlier, the final food product sure has a unique look that is bound to get attention at a party or event.
- Although the pan comes with a cute little serving spatula that fits perfectly within the "maze" sections to remove your foods, if you have a thicker dough/batter to distribute throughout the pan, it is a bit of a challenge getting your product to be evenly dispersed throughout all the channels. This is not a huge bother, but it will help if you have a spatula about the width of the grooves. In all, it still takes less time to distribute your batter/dough throughout the channels than it would to fill a dozen or more mini pans.
- Gluten-free foods do certainly benefit from the additional surface area and tend to come out with more texture and substance. Yes, you could use a bunch of little pans to accomplish similar results, but this is much simpler.