Celebrate Summer With Cake

When it comes to summertime dessert, sometimes there’s nothing better than a classic cake.

Whether it’s a quick and simple recipe, such as Easy Pound Cake (I like to serve mine with fresh berries), or more of a showstopper, like our Old-Fashioned Chocolate Layer Cake (on page 299 of the Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book), having the right tools makes baking cakes almost as enjoyable as eating them. In this week’s buying guide, I’ve compiled the best pans for sheet cakes, pound cakes, and layer cakes—plus our top‑rated cake stand for clean and easy decorating. With these tools in hand, summertime baking is a piece of cake! —Carolyn Grillo, Associate Editor, ATK Reviews

Our winning spoons had a simple design that allowed for a continuous, bump-free sweep, with a ball-chain connector (similar to what military dog tags hang on) that was easy to open and close. This set's metal construction felt remarkably sturdy, and ingredients didn't cling to the stainless steel. And while the 1-tablespoon measure did not fit into all spice jars, it was a minor inconvenience for an otherwise easy-to-use set.

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The redesigned version of the OXO scale is accurate and had all the features that made the old model our favorite: sturdy construction, responsive buttons, and a removable platform for easy cleaning. The screen can still be pulled out nearly 4 inches when weighing oversize items. Instead of a backlight setting, the screen now has brightly lit digits on a dark background, which we found even easier to read than the old model’s screen. OXO also added two display options for weight. Users can choose to view ounces only (24 oz), pounds and ounces (1 lb 8 oz), grams only (2500 g), or kilograms and grams (2 kg 500 g), which comes in handy when doubling a recipe. The scale now uses decimals rather than fractions, so it’s more precise and easier to read.

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This pan, from the manufacturer of the original Bundt pan in 1950 (as well as our favorite full-size Bundt pan), exceeded expectations with its superior design and results. Its mini cakes had tall, defined ridges and an elegant stature. The cakes’ gently filigreed edges browned nicely, and the pan’s handles made for easy (and safe) transfer in and out of the oven.

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Our previous favorite aced every test, whipping, creaming, and kneading quickly and thoroughly to give us fluffy whipped cream and meringue; light, tender cakes; and chewy, rustic breads. We did have a few design quibbles: We'd prefer a handled bowl (KitchenAid sells stainless-steel or glass bowls with handles separately). The tilt-head latch works fine, but it's slightly less convenient than buttons on other models, and we disliked that you could operate it with the head unlocked. A major plus: It fits all KitchenAid attachments, from meat grinder to ice cream maker (sold separately), so it could stand in for several other appliances. 

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This pan was the only one in our lineup that ultimately had every feature we loved: a nonstick surface, a removable bottom, and feet. Baking with this pan was easy from start to finish, and it turned out flawless angel food and pound cakes. Though it has a removable bottom, it didn't leak, even when we baked a heavier batter, our Tunnel of Fudge Cake. Though we'd be happy if it churned out only perfect angel food cakes, it's a versatile pan that can also be used to make pound cakes and Bundt cakes. Like many of these pans, it looked a bit scratched at the end of testing.

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Our winner had it all: Straight sides that produced attractive cakes with well-defined edges and a 1⁄2-inch lip that made it easy to hold. It was the only metal model in the lineup that was molded, a construction technique that renders it seamless and therefore easy to clean (even though it is not dishwasher-safe). It lacked a nonstick coating, but baked goods released with ease when we greased and floured the pan. We did notice very faint scratches in the bottom of the pan after repeated passes with a paring knife.

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This golden-hued metal plate baked crusts beautifully without overbrowning; even bottom crusts emerged crisp and flaky. Additionally, we liked this plate’s nonfluted lip, which allowed for maximum crust-crimping flexibility. One minor drawback: The metal surface is susceptible to cuts and nicks, but we found that this didn’t affect its performance.

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This stand was tall, providing excellent visibility and comfort. It was solid but light, and its surface and base were attached. This made it easy to carry but also meant it couldn’t be submerged in water (although we did just to see what would happen; it still spun perfectly). It rotated quickly and smoothly yet stopped precisely where we asked it to, and it had three shallow circles etched onto its surface for easy centering.

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