A springform pan is a straight-sided baking pan whose sides and bottom come away from each other. It is used primarily for baking a cake in, though other uses are not unknown.
The pans are used a great deal for cakes such as cheesecake and mousse cakes that are very hard to remove intact from a regular pan.
With a springform pan, the mechanics of cake / pan are reversed: you don’t remove the cake from the pan, you remove the pan from the cake.
A clamp (or “buckle”) on the side holds the pan tightly together during baking. When the cake is baked and cooled, it’s used to release the parts of the pan from each other so that the cake can easily be removed.
Springform pans are generally round, but you can get square ones and even heart-shaped ones; you can also get tube pans made as springforms.
They can be made of tinned steel, aluminum, stainless steel, or non-stick coated metal.
Common sizes are 22 and 25 cm wide (9 and 10 inches), and about 7 cm tall (2 3/4″), though other sizes are available as well.
If the cake batter is thin, it is not uncommon for even the best of springform pans to leak. Some have a rim on the bottom on the sides on the inside to help prevent this. If yours doesn’t have such a rim, wrap the outside in tin foil.
If springform pans are bent at all, they are even more prone to leak, so inspect carefully any bargains you find at yard sales or boot sales. Store them in a manner that they won’t get bashed around in your cupboards.
Some recipes call for you to put springform pans in a water bath while baking, because the kinds of cakes being cooked in them often need moderated heat from the water. But the problem is that leaks can go both ways: not only can batter leak out, but water can seep in and ruin the cake. You can find another recipe that doesn’t call for such a tricky scenario, or cover the outside with a very large piece of tin foil that doesn’t have openings beneath the water level, or double-wrap the bottom in tin foil.
A common problem is that even after baking, the cakes usually made in them are delicate. Consequently, people often leave the cakes on the cake bottom for support, and take them that way to a party or a dinner, leave the leftovers behind of course for the host or hostess — and then the bottoms never get returned. If you line the bottom with parchment paper, you’ll be able to slide the cake more easily off onto a plate (or a piece of cardboard, if where you’re going has a reputation for never returning anything.)
Or even better, cut a cardboard circle to fit the bottom of the pan, cover it completely with tin foil, join side down, then bake, and the cardboard platform is ready to go as your support. Besides, if your pan has a non-stick bottom, then you definitely want it off the bottom anyway: you don’t want people cutting the cake with a knife on that, or even on plated steel for that matter. Some springform pans now have heatproof glass bottoms, which solves the problem of ruining the bottom by cutting cake on it with a knife.
If you line the bottom with parchment paper or wax paper, chill the cake thoroughly before attempting to lift it away from the bottom of the pan.