In addition to standard round and square cake pans, the shelves of cooking stores are lined with plenty of shaped pans. These pans come in designs from sandcastles and cartoon characters to miniature wedding cakes, giving you the option of baking a cake that features an elaborate design without trying to carve an intricate pattern into a cake yourself. Most of these specialty shaped pans come with recipes right on their packaging, but to make them worth the purchase price you'll want to know that you can use them again – and that means that you should be able to bake more than just one recipe in them.
Shaped pans come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and it often turns out that no two are going to be exactly alike when it comes to baking times and the amount of batter that they hold. The easiest thing to do is start out with the recipe on the package and tweak it for different flavors, since you know the volume is just right for the pan. Beyond that, there are two main options: you can either measure the volume of the pan and convert existing recipes to match it (8×8-in pan = 6 cups, 9×9-in pan = 10 cups, 10-in bundt = 12 cups) or you can make a full batch of batter for another recipe and just pour as much into the pan as you need. Conversions can be convenient when two pans hold the same volume of cake batter, but I don't like to scale recipes to strange proportions when I don't have to. In those instances, I'll pour batter about 3/4 of the way up the sides of the specialty pan (both for small cakes and larger ones) and bake off any remaining batter in a small muffin pan for a few cupcakes. It streamlines the process and leaves me with a few bonus cupcakes!
It is worth noting that just about all of the shaped pans made by Wilton are made to hold a standard box of cake mix (9×13-in pan = 14 cups). Their pans all come with from-scratch recipes, too, but using the mix as a standard makes the pans very accessible to people who bake very occasionally and want the experience of decorating a cake. It also means that you never have to question how much batter one of their pans needs.
Most shaped pans are made to be nonstick, but it is generally a good idea to oil and flour them to help ensure that you get the cleanest release on your cake to preserve as much of the original design as possible. I typically brush or spray vegetable oil into the nooks and crannies of a pan to ensure a good coat before flouring. Then, you can add a small amount of batter to the pan and rap it a few times on the countertop to eliminate air bubbles that might be in the corners. Finally, you can in the rest of the batter and bake the cake.
Use the recipe that comes with the pan as a guide for baking time and temperature. Most of the shaped pans that I’ve worked with bake at 350F, but there are some that are unusually deep will call for a lower baking temperature. The best way to ensure an evenly baked cake is to use the guide set out by the manufacturer and test your cake early for doneness. And it doesn't hurt to take a few notes on what recipes work for your shaped pans, so you can reference them the next time that you pull out that pan to bake.