Bread loaf pans. Not exactly a thrilling topic — until you slice off that fresh bread with its wonderful aroma, spread some soft butter that’s melting in as you take your first bite — then we see the value of a quality piece of baking equipment.
These pans are surprisingly versatile in the kitchen. Uses range from marinating or saucing asparagus, cooking a meat loaf or casserole, or as a Jello mold, or aspic if you’re really old school.
But at their heart, these pans are most suited to producing breads. This will be our focus, how the variety in the marketplace can be sifted down to the best choice for this core duty.
|4.8||USA Pan||Aluminized-Steel||8.5 x 4.5 x 2.75|
|4.8||OXO Non-Stick||Aluminized-Steel||9 x 5 x 3|
|4.4||Calphalon||Steel||8.5 x 4.5 x 2.5|
|4.3||Pyrex Easy Grab||Glass||11.5 x 3.5 x 6.13|
|4.3||OXO Freezer-To..||Glass||6 x 3.2 x 10.7|
|4.2||Chicago Com. II||Aluminized-Steel||8.5 x 4.5 x 2.75|
|4.2||Silicone Designs||Silicone||10.75 x 5 x 2.5|
|4.0||Silvo||Silicone||8.9 x 3.7 x 2.5|
|4.0||NordicWare||Steel||9.96 x 6 x 2.75|
|3.8||AmazonBasics||Steel||9.25 x 5 x 3.14|
Baking Pan Basics
A loaf pan has two basic functions in the baking process. Transferring heat to the product to facilitate ‘baking’. Second, keeping the baked product in place and properly shaped for the desired outcome. Relatively speaking, a simple aspect of the process, but crucial for the proper outcome.
The shaping of loaf pans regulates the heat transfer to the batter or dough. Being longer and relatively narrow allows and evenness to cooking, and insures a center that is well cooked while keeping the exterior from getting too dark.
Baking, perhaps more so than many cooking processes, outcome is very controllable, and important toward the goal. Loaf pans give you the shape to slice and make sandwiches or toast. This original shape defines much of how the baked goods will be served and enjoyed.
Shape affects heat transfer. More important is the material of the pan which physically distributes the heat across the item.
Aluminum distributes heat rapidly and easily by a factor of 10 compared to the ferrous metals. So, steel and iron are slower and more even in their heat distribution. This is why you see quite a bit of ‘aluminized’ steel in baking equipment. This process of hot dipping carbon steel into aluminum alloy binds the metals and results in properties that neither base metal has. Most noticeably corrosion resistance, and great thermal properties.
Stainless steel doesn’t heat as evenly as aluminum and it is a slow conductor. As a result, stainless steel pans don’t create really nice browned crusts as consistently. However, stainless steel is also much more durable, scratch-resistant, and easier to clean, than aluminum.
Glass is an efficient conductor of heat that is applied gradually. It is not known for being an even conductor, but with the duration of most baking processes it will ultimately result in even coloration. It is one of the cleanest materials for cookware because of being impervious to most chemical reactions and non-reactive by nature. Obviously, fragility is the main negative to glass, as is weight.
Silicone is surprisingly not a very good material for heat conduction. Its strength is that it will ultimately transfer enough heat for coloration and doneness. More importantly, when removed from the oven, it stops the heat almost immediately with negligible transfer cooking that can dry out the item.
Bread pans come at a standard 9”x5”, but you can find a number of sizes that might fit your own unique needs. Another common size is 8.5” x 4.5”. Both of these size pans are generally 2.5” to 3” tall. After reviewing and testing a few of these out our favorite sized pans were 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 inches (when measured from the top edges).
A slight difference in size can make a huge difference when it comes to the size of your bread loaf, how it bakes, and ultimately how it will present. Lets’ face it — when it comes to bread — texture and taste is important, but there’s nothing like a picture-perfect loaf. A pan with narrower measurements will yield a taller loaf with more of an iconic dome shape. Some larger pans will produce wide and bulky loaves, looking almost sloppy.
It’s important to know exactly the capacity of your pan so you can size your bread batch properly.
Heat Transfer & Browning
Wear a dark shirt on a sunny day and you know right away how darker colors absorb heat. The same is true in your oven. You can get more browned, even, and crispy exteriors on each bread loaf with a darker pan. The flipside is that a darker pan, if baking at a higher temperature, will also cause the edges to set faster while the middle of the bread still needs to catch up; you may need to cook at a lower temp to prevent burning and sticking.
Likewise, the lighter the pan, the lighter the browning on the bread. You can use this to your advantage by employing slightly higher heat or longer cooking times for a heavier crust if you want. The actual science of bread and browning is described in the Maillard Reaction.
Getting a Grip
Handles or no? On your heavier smooth glass pan having handles is nice, and probably safer. On the commercial style pans they are mostly non-existent. Since you are generally dealing with lighter weights when baking it is not as relevant. If you are making meatloaf, lasagna or a strata you may end up with heavier pans, so a handle might be more helpful. But with tacky heat resistant mitts or hot pads, you can certainly manage a handle-less pan with ease.
In an effort to reflect that aspect of baking, we used three test formats when evaluating 10 different loaf pans. Our selection included two silicone pans, two glass pans and a good assortment of 6 metal pans, and a bonus of a round paper loaf.
It always seemed like the best way to scare many cooks was to ask them to do some baking. They oft answered with ‘I’m a cook, not a baker’. Cooking – sauté, broiler, grill, etc.- allows a lot of room to play, and is often the artful aspect of making food. Baking is science, requiring a regimentation that many very good cooks avoid. There is unquestionably an artistic aspect of baking, but the science comes first.
Each pan was first used to make cornbread, at 425 degrees a high heat baked bread. We used a mix product that would ensure consistency, and give us a baseline since we had used this product in the past.
The second test was a simple 15% whole wheat yeast bread at 375 degrees.
The last test was a rich pumpkin bread, cooked longer at 325 degrees. Skip down to the bottom of the article to see Granny’s pumpkin bread recipe as well as the whole wheat yeast bread recipe we used.
Each pan was rated on how it browned the breads and how it released the loaf after baking.
We have one non-baking grade. This was an initial look at the pans that was based on weight, shape, and actual dimensions, along with the overall design characteristics of each pan. Finally, all three areas, browning, release, and design, are combined to establish an overall rating for a final determination.
The mechanics of our testing included a light coat of canola oil in sprayed every pan before use. In the case of the pumpkin bread we used a paper towel to even the oil out and lightly floured the pan as well. We ran a metal cake spatula around each loaf to loosen the sides for removing the loaf. For cleaning they were brushed off and run through the dishwasher.
This is a solid pan that will serve for decades. It has a great weight, a commercial feel (but it is probably a little bit too nice to be sentenced to industrial work) and is really effective at its job. You have to pay a slight amount of attention to clean up, the sharp corners of this style of folded metal pan look great, but can catch and hold debris. The rippled texture held well for the rising bread and released well without imprinting the pattern heavily into the loaf.
Another pan that just feels good, the aluminized steel gives it heft and resultantly even heat distribution. The ceramic non-stick is effective and the pebbled bottom surface facilitates nice color to your loaves. It stands a bit taller than some of the pans which makes for and especially attractive yeast bread loaf. It also handles well with a rolled edge you can slip your hot pads up against when pulling from the oven.
This no slouch of a pan, with a quality you would expect from Calphalon. It is a little lighter weight than some of the others, even though it lists a steel core. As to be expected with their non-stick history, it released very well, with only sight resistance on the pumpkin bread. At a slightly better price than the two leaders, this item still warrants a good buy rating.
Calling this commercial is reasonable. It has the weight and the structure of the kind of equipment you find in an industrial kitchen. It had one issue with the cornbread. There is a logo imprinted in one corner. That was where the cornbread was noticeably darker, not quite scorched. This one also needed a little more attention getting the folded corners clean after use.
As the most expensive pan in the test, this one only did okay. It was noticeably larger than the others. The ‘prism’ texture on the bottom colored the yeast dough nicely but did not release the pumpkin bread very well. This is a nice weight fully aluminum pan with a steel rim so it should last, we just weren’t enthusiastic when comparing it to the other offerings.
These are as advertised. A basic pan, very competitive in price, just like you’d find at a local department store that doesn’t focus on cookware. It sized a bit broader than the majority of the pans we tested, as a result there was more surface area to release in the pumpkin bread. This pan did produce the darkest of the cornbread loaves, even though we used a convection oven to avoid hot spots. We have similar uncoated pans that have been around for years in the house. If this non-stick surface also ages well, this could be a decent product for longevity at a value price.
Glass Pan Rankings
Old school recipes will say to drop 25 degrees from your temperature when baking in glass. We did not do that for this testing. The glass held its own in browning and release, both of which would be affected by the temperature. The biggest negative is the shape. The pan bows out in the middle. If you are making meat loaf or mac & cheese that wouldn’t be an issue. But for a clean loaf shape it didn’t do the trick. That being said, it colors bread well, cleans up easily and will last forever…as long as you don’t drop it. And the ‘Easy Grab’ name is well deserved, it handles well.
Oddly, this pan was sticky with the pumpkin bread, didn’t want to release. Otherwise it performed well and does represent a better value in terms of pricing. Shaping was also nice, straighter sides for your loaf. Extended ends make it safe to move from oven to rack. Like all glass pans there is a little more slope to the ends and sides, and definitely heavier.
Silicone Pan Rankings
This pan has an elongated slightly narrow shape which seemed good at the first impression. When transferring corn bread from the oven however, the loaf cracked across the middle because of the flexibility of the pan. But it did release all breads really well. The flexibility was an issue with the yeast bread which bowed out the sides of the pan, as did the pumpkin bread to a lesser extent. This pan specifically had nice ‘footings’ built up giving it a slight bit more sturdiness, so it bulged the least of the silicone pans. They do make hybrid silicone pans with an imbedded metal rim that would probably be more effective for bread baking.
The pluses to the silicone are easy cleaning and great pricing. They should be durable and it would be interesting to see after a hundred trips in and out if the oven. This product had even softer sides, so it bulged out considerably. Both pans had a little unevenness in coloration compared to glass or metal. For meatloaf or quiche as mentioned, this should work just fine, but they are not ready for prime time with leavened bread loaves.
Honey-Can-Do Large Panettone Paper Mold (6-Pack)
These guys are fun! We wanted to look at something for sharing your baked products. These pans made a nice sized round loaf with the same amount of dough or batter as we used for all testing. The yeast bread shaped perfectly, the pumpkin bread distended just a little into an egg shape. Honey Can Do also sells the same paper style molds in the traditional rectangle shapes.
We did not run these with the corn bread because we were working near the temperature threshold for paper. As for release, cool to the touch and you can just tear them off. Highly recommend them for holiday baking and gift giving.
Care and use of your loaf pans
We all want clean when we are preparing our food. If it has been a while since you baked, clean the pan before use. Most yeast breads will release from a pan without the need to oil it in advance, especially if the recipes is a high oil content to begin with. However, a little insurance never hurts, and the availability of quality aerosol oils makes it a breeze to get an even coat over the whole pan. If you want a low oil affect, after spraying give the pan a wipe with a paper towel to even out and create a thinly oiled surface.
Yeast breads generally leave little residue in the pan. Quick breads and loaf cakes are a different issue, especially if you grease and flour a pan before pouring in the batter. There will be stuff left in the pan. The upside is that a hot water soak and plastic brush should make it all go away easily. Obviously if you have non-stick pans do not use metal in any part of your process, cleaning or removing your baked goods. These should also be stored with cloth or paper between pans if you store them stacked.
Light Whole Wheat Bread
This is a very standard bread recipe, mostly unbleached white flour with some whole wheat for color, texture and weight.
In your stand mixer, or a large bowl, add and allow to sit for 5-10 minutes;
- 2 cups warm water
- 2 teaspoons instant yeast
Add and mix until blended;
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 3 cups unbleached flour
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
Switch to a dough hook and add;
- 2 cups unbleached flour
With a standard dough hook knead for about 5 minutes, with a spiral style dough hook 2 minutes, until smooth. Turn to a lightly floured board or counter and knead for a couple turns until smooth, shape into a ball. Lightly oil a large bowl, put the dough in then flip over so the top surface has a light oil coat. Place in a warm spot with a loose cover and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 75 minutes.
Punch down the dough after the first rise, let it rest for 10 minutes. Turn the dough to a lightly floured board or counter and knead a couple turns. Divide the dough evenly in two pieces. Shape each to fit your pans, and place in the lightly oiled loaf pans. Place the pans in a warm spot to proof until doubled in size, about 60 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 375°F, place the pans on a center rack and cook for 25 minutes approximately. Check for doneness by tapping on the bottom for a hollow sound, or checking with a piercing thermometer looking for a temperature of 195°F. Remove from oven, let sit for 5 minutes, then carefully remove the loaves from the pans and place on a wire rack. Serve warm in about 15 minutes, or cool entirely before wrapping for storage.
Grandma Connor’s Pumpkin Bread
This is a classically seasoned autumn favorite literally passed down from grandma. If you want to add raisins, soak them for 10 minutes in the ½ cup of boiling water before adding to the recipe. This recipe is written without raisins, still using ½ cup of hot tap water. This recipe yields one large loaf or two medium loaves.
Preheat oven to 325°F.
In a large bowl, whisk together;
- 1 cup canned or cooked pureed pumpkin
- 2 large eggs
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- ½ cup hot water
Add and stir until smooth;
- 1½ cups sugar
- 1¾ cups flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon ground allspice
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon powdered cloves
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
Lightly oil the pan(s) and dust with flour. Pour in batter and sprinkle with green pumpkin seeds if desired. Bake at 325°F for an hour, check for doneness with a toothpick, coming out clean.
Feel like making some bread while you’re waiting on your new bread pan? Here’s our classic french bread step-by-step recipe.