Yes, when it comes to cake pans, size does matter. It is a natural inclination to want to vary the size of tin that you bake your cakes in, but for some cake recipes the outcome of going either larger or smaller in pan size without adjusting batter volumes will yield results that are less than desirable.
The above picture illustrates some of the issues that occur when you shift pan sizes without adjusting a recipe. Let me preface this by saying that my cake recipes usually push the limits on structure weakeners. The very ingredients that make cakes delicious (sugar and fat!) also do the work of undercutting the structural components (gluten, egg proteins and starch). In order for a cake to be moist and flavorful, you often have to give a little in the structural realm. In comes the issue of pan size.
- Small cake pans (like a 6-inch pan, tube pan or cupcake tin) offer a lot of wall push. Think of it like a tension rod across a shower stall. If the distance is short there is sufficient support for the rod to hold the curtain. In a similar way, proteins and starches use the support of the cake walls to push and can grow tall under the influence of leavening. But they may rise more than will support the weight of the cake they bear.
- When a cake is baked in a moderately sized pan, the structural components have some support from the side walls but because the surface area of that batter is spread out there is less weight on the structural molecules. Also, because the cake bakes at a different rate than when the batter is thick in a smaller pan, it heats more evenly and proteins set and starches gel more in sync with leavening.
- In a larger pan the batter is so spread that all of the reactions occur rapidly with limited weight from the cake ingredients. This may result in a lighter textured cake but the outcome may also be a cake the is coarse feeling on the tongue.
I baked a consistent volume/weight of batter that was designated to fit in an 8-inch pan in a 6×3-inch pan, an 8×2-inch pan and a 9×2-inch pan to examine the differences in these minor pan size changes. The batter used was from the Vanilla Cake recipe with some minor reductions in sugar and oil.The effect of moving a volume of batter that was designed for an 8-inch cake into a 6-inch pan was dramatic. Upon removing the cake from the oven, the cake sort of collapsed in on itself. You can see above that the side walls even scrunched down and in.When looking at the cut cake you can see that it has compacted significantly at the bottom while the top remains fluffy and coarse in texture. The 8-inch cake had some shrinking when removed from the oven due to its rich nature.Despite this the inside of the cake was light and smooth in texture.The 9-inch cake settled some as well when it was removed from the oven but it was less pronounced than with the other cakes.The textural results of this cake are difficult to see. While this cake appears to have a texture finer than that of the 8-inch cake it actually had a very coarse, rough mouthfeel. This is seemingly the effect of the rapid cook time caused by the spreading out of the batter in a thin layer.I know that for many people it is appealing to bake their cakes in 3 or 4-inch tall cake tins so l attempted to make simple adjustments to the batter which would favor deep-tin baking. In the cake above I reduced the leavening from 2 1/2 teaspoons to 1/2 teaspoon. The lower amount of baking powder allows the cake to slowly rise and set, giving it more time to develop an understructure. This helped some with the shrinking back and did improve the texture, but as you can see above there was still some compaction at the cake base.In a third attempt, I limited leavening by not creaming the sugar and butter thus reducing mechanical leavening. This was in addition to the previous reduction in baking powder. The uncreamed cake did not sink, but it never actually rose either. The cake was very compact and gummy in texture at the base and very fluffy and coarse on top. This cake did not have enough leavening to even get off the ground.
So, to actually make this cake work in a 6×3-inch pan it would take some serious reworking of ingredients and possibly baking at a lower temperature. This recipe is therefore best when baked in an 8×2-inch pan.
That said, I would never deter anyone from trying a favorite recipe in a tall baking pan, but I wanted to illustrate some of the issues that may be arise so that adjustments can be made and headaches prevented.
Here is a summary of some things to try when shifting to baking in a thick baking pan:
- Reduce the baking powder or other leavening to prevent a dramatic rise and fall
- Reduce the structure weakeners sugar, fat and liquid
- Conversely you can increase your flour and/or eggs to bolster the structure
- Lower your baking temperature to allow the structure setting to be in concert with the leavening processes
I hope this helps and informs your baking efforts in the future.