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If you've ever wondered what that odd contraption is in the kitchen supplies aisle at the grocery store, it's probably a springform pan. A springform pan is primarily used for cheesecakes and delicate or frozen desserts, which would be difficult to remove from a conventional cake pan. They're typically constructed in two pieces, of heavy gauge metal. The flat base fits into a deep groove in the outer band, which provides the pan with its side. The band closes with a spring-loaded clip — hence the term "springform" — holding the bottom firmly in place. After baking the band is removed from the pan, leaving the finished dessert on the base. Here's how to use one should you ever want to make a homemade cheesecake.

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Practice latching and unlatching the band and removing it from the bottom before you attempt to cook anything in the pan. The bottom should be firmly in the groove of the band — you should not be able to push the bottom up or out of the bottom of the band.

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Lock the base into its band, and set it aside while you prepare your batter. Once the cake is ready, grease it lightly with shortening or a spray, as needed. Alternatively, if you wish to remove the finished cake from the pan, line the bottom with parchment paper before locking it into the band. For extra-sticky or extra-delicate desserts, cut strips of parchment paper and use those to make a liner for the pan's sides as well.

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Pour the batter into your springform, if making a cake, or assemble the mousse or frozen dessert. If you're preparing a cheesecake, press the crust into the bottom of the pan and then pour in the filling. Bake or chill the dessert, according to the instructions in your recipe.

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Remove your cake or cheesecake from the oven, and rest it on a wire rack to cool. As it approaches room temperature, run the blade of a thin knife between the cake and the pan. Otherwise, if the cake has stuck, it might crack as it cools and shrinks. Do the same for a frozen or chilled dessert, but warm the knife first under hot running water and then dry it.

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Place the springform pan on a flat surface, and spring the latch. Open the band 1/4 inch, and look closely to be sure it has come away cleanly from the sides of your dessert. If it sticks, wipe your knife clean and run it around the problem area once more. When you're satisfied that the dessert has released from the band, open it the rest of the way.

Tip

If your recipe calls for your dessert to be baked in a bain-marie, or water bath, test your pan for leaks first by setting it in an inch or so of water. If it leaks, place the pan on two sheets of heavy duty foil and bring the foil up the sides of the pan. Due to the heat reflective quality of foil, some desserts, like cheesecake, may need their baking times extended.

Disassemble the pan after baking, and clean its pieces separately by hand or in your dishwasher. Pay special attention to the latch area during washing, and the rim where the base joins the band.

Butter-based crumb crusts can stick to the base. Heat a wet towel in a microwave. Set the pan on the wet towel. The heat will soften the butter just enough to allow the pieces to be lifted off the base.

Springform pans are typically 9 or 10 inches in diameter, and sometimes include interchangeable base plates with the choice of a smooth a waffle-like pattern. Use the patterned bottom for cheesecakes or heavy creations, and the smooth bottom for frozen desserts.

Store your pans assembled and latched, so they'll hold their shape and be less susceptible to damage while in your cupboards.

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