Smarter Living: Shopping Wise

bakeware

Photo: Chiots's Run/Flickr

Ideal for everything from soft spongy Apple Upside-Down Cake and Wild Huckleberry Pie to cheesy Baked Ziti and Sardines with Currants and Roasted Pine Nuts, quality bakeware is indispensable in any well-planned kitchen.

There's a style and shape for every craving: cake pans, pie plates, brioche molds, cookie sheets, among a whole variety of specialty pans. However, the shape isn’t the only important factor when choosing your pans, the material makes all the difference for safe, evenly cooked, delicious dishes.

Baking mouth-watering flavor into every bite of your meal can simultaneously cook chemicals into your dishes if you’re using the wrong cooking materials. Remember to watch out for lead in ceramic glazes (especially when picking up beautiful hand-made dishes as souvenirs while traveling). Be cautious of non-stick baking pans that can leach perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), which have been linked to birth defects.

You should similarly be wary of silicone baking sheets, which have a potential for melting and fumes from undisclosed additives. The conservative temperature range for silicone products is 428 degrees F and most home ovens can be set as high as 500 degrees.

Use this comprehensive guide for choosing the best cookware for your kitchen, with the full scoop on all the safest materials:

Clay Bakeware

Clay bakeware, which cooks slowly and evenly, yielding great results, suits everything from soup to dessert. Lidded baking pots are soaked in water before use, allowing for low-fat cooking that yields moist delicious results. Clay pie plates and baking pans allow crusts to crisp and brown perfectly.

Romertopf sells clay pots in a variety of shapes and sizes; try their 12-pound Clay Baker ($53.99). Lehman’s sells a terra cotta pie pan ($27.95).

La Chamba black clay pottery from Colombia can be used on the stovetop, in the oven or in a microwave. The pottery is lead-free and has the added benefit of being very lightweight (square baking dish, $38).

Cast Iron

Baking in cast iron adds iron to your diet--proof positive that cooking materials wind up in food. Tried and true--it has been used for thousands of years--it’s heavy, durable and naturally non-stick with proper seasoning (and lots of butter).

Iron retains heat, so baking can be done at lower temperatures, conserving energy. Inexpensive, it lasts a lifetime; lucky grandchildren often inherit the goods. Lodge Logic has a wide variety of seasoned bakeware pans with everything from the 5-stick cornstick pan ($14.95) to the Straightsided 6-cup muffin pan ($17.95).

Le Creuset pans are covered with a fused hard coating of fine glass particles. They’re as indestructible as cast iron but cost quite a bit more. Recycling isn’t an issue, since cooks hold on to this stuff forever. Le Creuset tarte tatin dish ($99.95)

Glass

Non-reactive as it gets, cheap, and recyclable. Caution: even-tempered glass can break. Don’t use in broiler. Sudden temperature drops can cause shattering, so avoid cold or wet surfaces when hot. Pyrex pie plates ($4.59) and loaf dishes ($7.59)

Stainless Steel

Rare is the cookie sheet not coated with a toxic non-stick chemical. Pure stainless steel isn’t considered the best baking material--its shiny surface reflects heat, so food doesn’t heat uniformly and it usually takes longer for things to cook. But grease up a non-stick-free stainless sheet and you might be pleasantly surprised by the gooey and contaminant-free results. Gourmet Standard 12-cup muffin pan ($39.99) and 17-in. cookie sheet ($19.99)

Aluminum

Meticulous bakers might prefer sheets made of aluminum, a prized heat conductor that may corrode into salty or acidic foods. The material has never been firmly linked to health problems, but lining sheets with parchment paper negates the need for butter and prevents corrosion.

Aluminum is best for cookies and cakes, as its dull surface attracts and transmits heat well. Try Sur la Table's Insulated aluminum 13-in. x 17-in. baking sheet ($18.95).

Ceramic

Ceramic bakeware can be a safe option provided it isn’t a random piece of pottery picked up on a far-flung vacation. Those vessels could leach lead and/or other undesirables into your banana bread. To avoid, purchase a branded ceramic, such as Staub Pie and Tart dish ($24.95).

last revised 8/30/2011

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