Dishing on the best pie pan: aluminum vs. paper
Thanksgiving is pie season. And for people looking to bring a pie to a neighbor or loved one, it bears asking: Which is the best disposable pie plate? Here are the answers.
I always thought there were generally two options for pie pans: 1) glass, or 2) aluminum. Then this year, I noticed something else: These unbleached paper pie plates from If You Care. A third pie pan option!
Let us establish first that glass is superior for several reasons. It is the most stable; it won’t bend or dent or lose its shape. It also conducts heat well, meaning a nice brown bottom pie crust instead of a pale, underdone one. Third, glass pie plates are indefinitely reusable — and if it breaks, 100% recyclable — making it the most eco-friendly choice of all. Finally, it just looks nice and homemade to serve a pie on a “real” pie plate if you can.
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Testing the Best Disposable Pie Pan
But what about the disposable pie pans? Sometimes you need a disposable version. (Bake sales come to mind.) But which one? In the battle of the disposable pie plates, which one stacks up best?
The best challenge for a pie plate is pumpkin pie. Technically a custard pie, it is more prone to sogginess, cracking, and instability (like sloshing out of the pan on its way to the oven) than other pies. Also, I needed to bring them to Thanksgiving dinners. So pumpkin pie it was.
The winner here is aluminum. No question. As of this writing, a 50-pack of 9″ aluminum pie tins sells on Amazon for $14.99, or 30 cents each. The If You Care paper pans cost $6.59 for four. That’s $1.64 each, a difference of $1.34 per pie. In other words, 50 of those guys would total $82.
The winner: paper. I suppose that on some level, aluminum pie tins have an unpretentious, vaguely retro charm. But that is not enough to best the natural, minimalist chic look of the paper option. It just looks more sophisticated.
3. In Action
Now we get into some heavy analysis. Not to pan them (so to speak), but both had cons. Both also had good qualities.
To test how well each baked, I blind baked each pie dough shell (unfilled) until about halfway done, to start the browning and inhibit sogginess. Then, I filled each one with pumpkin pie filling decorated the edges, and baked the pies.
The paper holds a lot more pie filling. I got 1 1/2 cups of pumpkin pie filling in the aluminum pan, but a full 2 cups in the paper. The extra half cup made for a significantly thicker-looking and more luxurious filling. Win for paper.
Paper was flimsier. When I lifted the pie to place it in the oven, the bottom sagged like a wet pumpkin diaper. The aluminum, on the other hand, was more firm. Also, the aluminum has a nice lip on the edge, making it easier for me to make a nice border crust. The paper has no lip. I thought about doubling the paper tin, but at $1.34 each, that does not seem economical.
The result: The aluminum baked a more stable-to-handle pie, and saved baking time due to the thinner filling. The paper pan’s extra baking time, however, allowed the bottom crust to get nice and brown. Plus, the extra filling made a thicker, more satisfying slice of pie.
I did not like how the paper pan’s flimsiness made the crust separate from the filling when I handled it. It made the pie crack. The aluminum pie did not do this — but also had a less dramatic appearance overall.
Can I wiggle out of my own test and just say glass? Seriously. This one is tough.
In the end, despite its drawbacks (price, thickness), I am giving the win to paper because of the nice browning, thicker filling quantity, and aesthetics. It isn’t an A+ win, but it is the better non-glass option. Happy baking.