BAKING IS more precise and scientific than any other kind of cooking. A bit more wine in the stew, a little less salt in the sauce, it's really just a matter of personal taste. But go from one to two teaspoons of baking powder in a cake recipe and everything can be lost. In baking, you must pay precise attention to what's cooking, and also, to what you are cooking in.

Pans used in the oven are subject to a different form of heat from that produced by a stovetop burner. The heat source is not direct. Oven heat is general and hopefully even: the pan simply transfers the heat to the dough or batter from all of its sides.

The following is a listing of some of the pans that are essential to their products and some criteria for selection.

Loaf Pans: Pyrex loaf pans are good conductors of heat and inexpensive. Being able to see through the glass gives you a good chance of knowing exactly when your bread is ready. Remember, because of the way that heat is transferred through glass, most recipes will require the lowering of the baking temperature by 25 degrees in order to avoid an overdarkened crust. Available in 1 1/2 quart ($2.29) and 2 quart ($3.49) capacities.

Speko in Chicago and Stone Hearth in New York each make black steel loaf pans. The black steel absorbs and distributes oven heat over the dough's surface in a fashion that results in a superior crust. The Stone Hearth pans are rather crudely finished with extremely uneven welding and rough folds of metal at the seams, but they do a fine job. Available in: 10-inch-by-5-inch-by-3 1/2-inch ( $7).

Pullman Loaf Pans: A rectangular, straight-sided pan iwth a tight fitting cover, this piece of equipment will produce a firm, fine-grained bread that is ideal for sandwiches. The cover keeps air from freely circulating around the dough which results in an almost crustless loaf. The cover also prevents the bread from rising into a bulge at the top. The dough is forced into a perfect rectangle with a tight crumb (the baker's term for the inside of a loaf). The lack of holes in the crumb prevents fillings from dripping through and allows you to cut the bread paper-thin without crumbling. Available in a 13-inch-by-4-inch-by-4-inch model ( $15).

Three-in-One Springforms: Three-in-one springforms are a great joy to bakers. They consist of a metal rim that is separate from the bottom. The sides open up their diameter and part with the bottom when a clamp is released. Delicate cakes can be removed without breaking. There are three interchangeable bottoms. A flat bottom for layer cakes, a twirled and fluted bottom for kugelhopfs and tube bottom for a Sally Lunn. These sets generally retail for about $7.

Layer-Cake Pans: Layer-cake pans come in both round and square shapes. Round pans are primarily used for stacked cakes. Square pans are used for single layered baked goods like brownies, where a wedged shape cut would be too fragile. The stronger and heavier the metal is on a layer-cake pan, the better it will work. The Ecko Company makes a lot of light, cheap bakeware but they also make some heavy professional quality equipment distributed by HOAN that's top notch. The 9-inch diameter, 2 inches deep pan sells for $4.50 and the 8-inch square sells for $3.49. It's not easy to find but if you can get a 3 1/2-inch deep 8-inch diameter layer pan ( $13), do so. Professional bakers know that non-yeast cakes rise better in one deep pan than they do in two shallow ones.

Kugelhopf Molds: Kugelhopf molds for sweet yeast breads filled with raisins and almonds are circular and have a swirled design. There are tinned-steel pans selling for $7 and glass pans priced at $18. The selection of material is one of personal preference but kugelhopf pans with an 8-inch diameter or larger that are made without a center tube should be avoided. The tube gives the batter extra surface to cling to as it rises while conducting additional heat to the center of the dough. Without a tube, the center of the dough would still be uncooked when the outside edges began to burn.

Bundt Pans: Denser in texture and slightly different in its external shape from a kugelhopf, a bundt is a German coffee cake that has become so popular in America that it has its own packaged, pre-mix in supermarkets.Nordicware makes a series of Teflon-line bundt pans in various sizes that conduct heat well, are inexpensive and function perfectly. The 3-quart model is $10.50.

Muffin Tins: Once again, the heavier the metal the better it will function. Lockwood and Ecko professional models are made over a concealed steel rod so they will hold their shape for a lifetime. The 12-cup designs sell for about $15.

Brioche: The traditional shape for this rich, egg-based bread is round, fluted and flared. The fluting results in a large surface for conducting heat and the flaring allows the fast rising dough to spread out from a well-supported base. The standard 1 1/4 quart design in tinned-steel sells for about $2 and produces a perfect golden crust.

Savarin Pans: Savarin pans are circular tube pans but the central tube is considerably larger than on other pans -- an 8-inch diameter pan will have a 4-inch diameter tube. Savarin dough is similar to baba and brioche dough. After baking, they are often glazed or soaked in rum or fruit juice and their centers filled with fruit. $4.50.

Madeleine Tins: Madeleine tins are representative of the baking forms in which a single sheet of steel has a series of characteristic shapes stamped into it. Langues de chat pans, ladyfinger pans and scalloped cake forms are similar. Light batters are spooned or piped from a pastry tube into the pan's depressions, and everything is cooked rather rapidly. These pans should be thin, so that they heat up and cool off quickly, but strong enough to hold their shape. $7.

Obsttortenform: These German pans are used to make fruit tarts. A layer cake batter is poured into the mold. After it is baked, the cake is removed from the mold and inverted. The resulting circular layercake has a rim around its edge and a slight depression in the center for holding the fruit filling. Tinned-steeled 9 1/2-inch diameter forms sell for $2.35.