I bake almost all my quick breads and cakes in square 9 by 9 pans. I’ll admit that this started out as a happy accident.
Six years ago, in an effort to earn a little extra holiday cash, I took a seasonal job as the Holiday Food Demo Girl at my local mall’s Williams-Sonoma store. As holiday work went, hanging out for minimum wage in a high end kitchen store right after the financial crash of the Great Recession was pretty chill. There just weren’t that many people coming in to buy the (mostly excellent, if overpriced) Williams-Sonoma branded cookware in December, 2008.
So in between keeping the Peppermint Cocoa topped up and washing my hands with the Peppermint Soap and asking people if they’d like to try a sample of the Peppermint Bark, I had a little time on my hands. I spent most of this time browsing all the shiny, tempting, wonderful cookware on offer, and honing down my personal Holiday Must-Have List.
As you might imagine, I bought my own Christmas presents that year, and – even with the generous employee discount – I managed to spend far more than I ever made at my Williams-Sonoma holiday shifts that year.
One of the items I purchased was a heavy-gauge, non-stick, square 9 by 9 baking pan. (Basically this pan, but for more money.) Actually, I bought three such identical pans, with hip, modern, square layer cakes on my mind.
Over the past six years, those pans have seen a lot of action. I have actually made layer cakes with them. When our best friends got married and needed a small square cake to top their cupcake display, my pans didn’t let me down. When a particularly wonderful personal chef client of mine commissioned a celebration carrot cake, I was able to make a rather stunning (if I do say so myself) cube of moist, delicious, lightly-spiced cake separated by clouds of cream cheese frosting. Another guy – a Colonel in the Army – called me up from Iraq and asked me to make a chocolate birthday cake for his wife while he was away on duty. Cake mission accomplished, sir, with a little help from my 9 by 9 pans.
Somewhere along the way, I stopped cooking for other people so much, and started focusing more on food preservation and cooking under my own roof. I started cooking obscenely large quantities of zucchini bread, simply because I had a ton of zucchini on the counter. I started making plum cake and applesauce cake and pear cake and pumpkin cake – all in those 9 by 9 pans, and all to use the bounty of my garden that spends a few months every year at this time, threatening to overtake me.
During these bulk-bake-sessions, I realized that 9 by 9 pans create baked goods that fit absolutely perfectly in 1-gallon zip-top freezer-bags.
Now, if you eschew all plastic in your home, this may not matter to you, but as a fallible person of many compromises and many freezer bags, this discovery rocked my world. When I’m hip deep in preserving, being able to slip six loaves of zucchini bread into perfectly sized bags, squeeze out the extra air, and stack them politely in the freezer is like a very small miracle.4
I had a similar revelation about 8 inch square pans, except with that size, you can fit the whole pan in a gallon-sized bag. I started collecting the $5 pans they sell at the grocery store, target, etc. and I bake lasagna, enchilada bake, shepherd’s pie, or any other casserole in them. I make a big batch, usually 4 at a time, cover with foil, then pop the whole pan in the bag, and the bag in the freezer. It takes about an hour to re-heat the casserole in the oven, and it is a good size for our family of 4.
Peggy P says
What a marvelous idea! You’ve inspired me! 😉
Thanks to both Erica and Kari above! Great idea!
Great idea! I would have never thought of it.
You have a great style of writing and I love reading your stuff. I usually get a chuckle, and can always use more of that!
Oh my. When one opens my freezer they are already assaulted by nothing more than various things stored in one-gallon freezer bags with air rolled out. Now I have something else to add to the collection. BTW, those bags are reusable once washed, for many, many times, so I feel a whole lot better about them than the personal plastic sealing machines. Thanks for the great tip, and I love it when some dish we buy somewhat extravagantly, gets years and years of use. Good job!
Thanks again for sharing your amazing and creative knowledge!
Margit Van Schaick says
Erica, I don’t like to use plastic, partly because of the landfill issue, but more so because of its potential inter-action with the food within. So, I wrap the food in the best food-safe parchment paper I can find, and then use the plastic over. At this time of abundance and the need to preserve food for Winter, I truly appreciate your posts on the subject. You inspire me to be productive, and not waste this opportunity to prepare for the lean months. For me, you can’t post too many ideas, recipes, tips, etc. Thanks so much! I also appreciate other commenters’ tips.
Plastic bag ‘inter-action’, that’s my wonder too Margit. I hope someday we Don’t find out that plastic bag storage was toxic… I freeze everything in Qt bags. I’ve got a pretty nifty file system in my freezer that would rival any Dr’s office 😉 I like your extra layer of Parchment Paper protection, I’m going to incorporate that! Thank you <3
Peggy P says
Fabulous idea. I started baking my quick breads in 9×9 pans when we moved to Colorado and I had a serious elevation issue and many collapsed loaves of banana bread. With slight adjustments to flour and leaveners and a switch to the 9×9 pan vs. loaf pans I was able to make all of my quick breads again. Never, ever did it occur to me to freeze them in gallon bags! Thanks!
What a great idea. Freezer space is always at a premium and a well organized freezer is a joy to see.
I live in a forest and have limited water so I do not have a garden and do not bake too often, however I make a lot of main dish meals in quantity. Since there are only two of us, and my married daughter has no children (yet?). I try to make two portion meals. I use small foil loaf pans for lasagna, cabbage rolls tourtière etc. I know they are disposable, but with care they can be reused over and over again. Then I just stack a pile of loaf pan sized meals, small pies or whatever.
This is brilliant. I will have to see what I can find in terms of 9×9 pans (I admit, I try to avoid non-stick stuff – we’re a steel-wool-using family and I don’t entirely trust teflon not to give me cancer) in tin, steel, or iron. Mmmmmmmm iron. 🙂 But I LOVE the idea of just freezing a cake whole – what a wonderful way to pack up a hostess gift or a pot-luck dish in advance! Ditto Karie’s suggestion about using an 8×8 pan for a home-made pre-fab casserole you can re-heat from frozen. Wow! 😀
I’m with you, NO nonstick! If you heat that stuff up over a certain temp it lets off toxic gasses. And if it’s covered guess where those toxic gasses go… But that aside, I love the tip about freezing if in gallon bags. Thanks Erica!
Brilliant! I have 2 9×9 pans, and they put out a lot of brownies and shortbread. Perhaps zucchini bread is next on the hit parade.
I love this idea and must admit to making muffin recipes in pans as well. Easier on the clean up front, just feels less fussy and basically makes a coffee Cake type item. I got an enameled stone 9×9 pan and love it. We also avoid non stick, so this and glass and cast iron are my go to bake ware! I am all about freezing though and batch cooking so this will be wonderful!
Carolyn S says
Brilliant! I foresee a freezer shelf full of cakes.
Hey, you mentioned Pear Cake as one of the things you’d made lots of. Is that a recipe you could share? I have 150 lbs of pears sitting in my kitchen now, thanks to a neighbors tree, and I’m looking for more ways to use them up then just canning everything. Pear cake sounds like a delicious use for some of them.
Peggy P says
Ooooo I’d also love the recipe. I live in Washington and we’re coming up on Pear harvest season. I’m planning on buying a few boxes for Pear Butter, but could definitely keep some out for pear bread! 😉
Three is Plenty says
This is an awesome tip. As an aside, while I would *love* to reduce my freezer bag usage, I haven’t found a good substitute yet for marinades and meat 🙁
We all need more and more of these small miracles. Keep ’em coming, girl.
“…a fallible person of many compromises…” I think I’ve found my new motto!!
Erica thank you for sharing your brilliant idea! I love it but am now sad that I only own one of those pans (the one from your link). To think of all the missed opportunity for making swanky square cakes, darn. Maybe I will have to order a few more. 😉
If you have time, could you address any general baking time/temp differences you know of for using this pan versus the loaf pan? My auntie’s banana bread recipe bakes for one hour but I can’t imagine that it wouln’t turn out dry in the square pan if baked that long. What say you?
Also thank you commenter Kari for sharing your idea. I am cooking more for elderly family members now and that would be great for making frozen dishes easier for them to store.
Most quick breads and cakes bake at 350 degrees. I’d just start checking for doneness at 30 minutes and every five minutes or so after that until it’s done.
Thanks Cat! That is a great starting point. My auntie’s recipe bakes at 350 anyway so it will be fun to give it a try. Looking forward to more simple freezing.
Mary HEnry says
I would love to hear about the “pretty nifty file system” in your freezer, Heart. I’m so organizationally challenged that I need all the help I can get. Do you have a blog?
I maintain a clear area in my freezer to lie Qt. freezer bags flat till they freeze. (there’s only two of us) Then I turn them upright like file folders & stack them side by side. I group them by subject meat, fish, broth, fruit, etc. Then I can access them quickly for a meal. Saves more space than stacking & they don’t drop on my foot! lol Hope this helps, Thanks for asking 😉
Thank you…I too, was wondering about your “file” system.
I loved your zucchini almond bread recipe. I’d also love your plum & applesauce bread recipes!!! Thanks!
I love it when the planets align and the cake fits the bag!! Thought you might enjoy this recipe for when you get a couple monster zucchinis, you know the ones? Half baseball bat half culvert? Ya. Those zucchini.
5 cups zucchini, peeled, seeded and sliced thinly
½ cup fresh lemon juice
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 cups all purpose flour
1 ½ cups chilled butter
1 ½ cups sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 375. Coat 9 x 13 pan with nonstick spray.
Cook zucchini with lemon juice covered over medium heat, stirring occasionally, 15 minutes or until tender. Add nutmeg, sugar and cinnamon and cook for another minute. Remove from heat and set aside.
Mix flour, cinnamon and sugar then cut in butter. Mix should look coarsely crumbled. Stir ½ cup into zucchini. Press half crust mixture into bottom of prepared pan. Pour zucchini over that and sprinkle remaining crumb mix on top. Sprinkle with cinnamon and bake for 35-40 minutes until golden and bubbly.