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08/30/2013

~ The Low-Down on Loaf Pans: What Size & Kind? ~

IMG_1930You've decided to bake a loaf of bread just like Grandma used to make.  Good for you!

Nothing is quite as ethereal as the aroma of freshly-baked bread.  Her recipe says to put the dough in a loaf pan and you don't have one.  You drive to the nearest cooking store to find out you must choose between several manufacturers and price ranges, different materials ranging from clear glass and ceramic to shiny, gray or black metal -- each kind in a variety of sizes too. When I was a novice cook  (too many years ago to mention), decisions like this caused me to lose sleep.  Today, I'm going to take the angst out of purchasing a loaf pan for you!

#1:  Size matters!  Always use the recommended size loaf pan! 

IMG_1674"Back in the day", Grandma (and most home-cook bread-bakers) used one "standard" size of loaf pan:  it was approximately 9" x 5" x 2 1/2".  That is why heirloom recipes and vintage cookbooks often seem murky or vague on this point.

I baked this luscious recipe for Peanut Butter Bacon Bread from Helen Corbitt's Cookbook a few days ago, and the lack of a specific loaf-pan size irritated me enough to write this blog post!

IMG_1910(Note:  You can find my version of the recipe, ~ A Salty & Sweet Treat:  Peanut Butter Bacon Bread ~, in Categories 5, 9 & 20 or by clicking on the Related Article link below.)

Nowadays, well-written cookbooks and blogs are specific about pan size because we know the correct pan size is one of the reasons a recipe can either succeed or fail.  If you didn't know that, you do now.  

IMG_1937Baking is a precise sport.  Be sensible.  If you wouldn't change the recommended time and temperature guidelines for a recipe, why throw in a substitute for the recommended pan.  That being said, pan sizes vary slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer (up to 1/4") and those slight variations won't affect almost any recipe. Focus on getting the proper measurement of your loaf pan and make note of it's volume too:

Baking pans are measured across the top and volume is obtained by filling them with water!

Use this helpful chart as a guideline for the most common loaf pan sizes & volume:

5 3/4" x 3 1/4" x 2" (mini) = 2 cups

7 3/8" x 3 5/8" x 2" = 3 cups

8" x 4" x 2 1/2" = 4 cups

8 1/2" x 4 1/2" x 2 1/2" = 6 cups

9 1/4" x 5 1/4" x 2 1/2" = 8 cups

IMG_1864 IMG_1872Words of wisdom:  If you must substitute a loaf pan close in size, choose one slightly bigger rather than slightly smaller.  Too small of pan can cause the dough to rise up & burst over the sides.

For example:  If you are using a loaf pan with a 4-cup total capacity, you can't fill it to the very top with dough or quick-bread batter.  You must leave a headspace of 1/2"-3/4" at the top to allow for rising and/or expansion as the loaf bakes.  Well-written recipes (which most are) have already made accommodations for this, so always use the size pan they recommend.  

#2.  Material Matters!  Know what to expect!  

Glass/ceramic vs. dark or shiny metal: 

IMG_1930Over the years, I've baked my share of bread. Some flat, some round and some classic loaves. Some are quick and easy, some are time consuming and difficult.  

Baking bread is an art form, and, over the years I've acquired 'a few' loaf pans.  Over  35 years of hands-on bread baking experience has taught me what to expect from clear glass and ceramic to dark and shiny aluminum and metal -- and they all have a place in my kitchen!

They all conduct heat differently -- use it to your advantage!

IMG_1953Oven-proof glass & ceramic:  Glass transfers heat quicker than shiny metal (which deflects it), which shortens baking time, which causes bread to be undercooked in the center and overcooked outside. This doesn't mean glass doesn't work.  If you love light-colored, slightly-softer sandwich-type bread, glass is great. Just lower the oven temperature by 25 degrees. This gives the bread enough time to cook through to the center without burning it on the outside.  

Tip:  Want to bake in glass, and get a dark, crispy crust similar to that of bread baked in an aluminum pan?  Place the the glass pan on a pizza stone.  It will deflect and control the heat!

IMG_1957Dark metals/shiny metals:  Dull or dark-colored metals absorb more radiant heat than bright or shiny ones, which reflect it away.  

Shiny pans tend to remain 15-20 degrees cooler in a 350 degree oven, which means you need to either increase the heat of the oven and/or extend the cooking time.  

Tip:  I don't have any real axes to grind with shiny pans, and I don't adjust my oven temperature when I use them, but, I always keep them scoured and shiny.  The dough on any darkened spots or blotches may burn before the dough on the shiny portions is properly baked!

IMG_1923Dull or dark metal loaf pans are the best pans ever invented and sturdy, good-weight, medium-colored, non-stick aluminum pans can't be beat. Aluminum is a fantastic conductor of heat and everything I bake in them emerges beautiful and perfectly baked.  When I bake in these pans, like glass, I usually lower the oven temperature 25 degrees!

Tip:  One advantage to any color of metal pan is metal expands when it gets hot.  This makes for easy removal of loaves of any size from a properly prepped (greased and floured) pan!

One last item:  Allow me to answer this before someone asks it.  What do I think of flimsy, disposable aluminum loaf pans for baking bread?  Not one thing past this mention.  They tend to burn bread on the bottom.  Save them for making and taking meatloaf to picnics or tailgates!

************

In Conclusion:

Three men are sitting on a beach.  The first man takes his shirt off, leaving his skin vulnerable to too much sun too fast, and, at the end of the day, a bad burn:  This is how bread bakes in a glass pan.  The second man wears a white T-shirt all day.  His skin is somewhat protected from the sun, and stays somewhat cooler, because his white shirt deflects the heat away from him:  This is how bread bakes in a shiny metal pan.  The third man wears a dark gray shirt.  While his skin is somewhat protected from the sun, he is really hot because his shirt is absorbing the heat: This is how bread bakes in a dark metal pan.  Baking bread is like a day at the beach!!!

IMG_2917Cook's Note:  With August coming to a close, and the "frost soon to be on the pumpkin", perhaps you'd like to try my recipe for ~ Joe's Favorite "Roasted" Pumpkin Quick Bread ~.  I like to bake these in mini-loaf pans and you can find it in Categories 5, 18 or 22!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013) 

Comments

I sent your articles links to all my contacts and they all adore it including me.

Sharon -- Check into Chicago Metallic. They make all sorts of residential and commercial grade pans. Moreover, everything they make and sell is of excellent quality. Hope this helps. ~ Melanie.

Is there a specific dark, aluminum loaf pan you would recommend? I've been searching online and find that most are non-stick and/or aluminized steel. I'm not a fan of non-stick pans. I also prefer one that is one piece and not folded metal. I'd love one just like the one on the left in the top picture.

Barb -- Any 9" x 5" size loaf pan with an 8 cup capacity will work just fine.

What size pan should I use for a two-pound loaf of plain white bread? Thanks!

Jason -- I wish I had an answer for you, as, I have encountered the same thing amongst different brands manufactured in different places. Luckily, that small difference (to the larger size) won't cause you or me any problems. Happy Baking my friend!

I recently purchased several of the Good Cook brand baking pans from my local Kroger. They are all dark and non-stick, but I do not know the material other than metal of some sort. One reason I purchased these was because the dimensions are molded into the edge of each pan. Specifically: 9”x5” large loaf pans, 8”x4” loaf pans, and 5.75”x3” mini loaf pans. How convenient!

At least, those are the dimensions I thought I had purchased. I don’t normally carry my tape measure to the grocery store; so I just trusted those numbers were correct. It wasn’t until later when I realized the real dimensions from top inside edge to top inside edge:
the 9”x5” pans are really 9.5”x5.25”
the 8”x4” pans are really 8.5”x4.5”
the 5.75”x3” pans are really 5.75”x3.125”

Why the difference? I wonder how they got those numbers? At least the pans aren’t smaller than what I thought I was getting, but I’d rather have accurate measurements. What’s the point of molding these into the pan, only to get it so wrong?

Phylena -- Thank-you for the kind words and I'm happy to have helped you -- enjoy your new KitchenAid mixer and happy baking to you!!!

I was JUST about to bake my first loaf of bread with my new Kitchen Aid Mixer! My loaf pan is not the required size and I felt like I needed to do some research first to see if this would be ok. Praise the Lord your site came up telling me to wait until I had the required pan to proceed. Thank you so much!

Karen -- thank-you so much for your kind comment. It's always nice to find out a post of mine has helped someone. If you are just starting to bake (yeast breads, cakes, pies, or anything else) just like in cooking, any investment you make in a baking pan will, more often than not, will last you a lifetime. Some of my baking pans are over 30 years old -- penny for penny, money well spent!

This was very useful. Thank you. Especially the bit at the end about disposable loaf pans. Today I am making a no-kneed foccaccia roll recipe - my first stab at yeast anything. My next plan is to make raisin bread, also yeast, which requires kneeding. The recipe makes three loaves, and I only have one bread pan. I was considering going back to the store to get disposables but now, instead, I'm just going to order two the same size of the one I already have. I love the internet - it's so full of sharing people!

marijka -- As I said in the post, loaf pans are measured across the top. It's also worth noting that all loaf pans, with the exception of the pullman loaf, have slightly slanted sides. Happy New Year!

I *truly* appreciate this info but have a follow-up question: many loaf pans have slanted sides, so are the measurements of the top or bottom edges? My best pans are 1/2 larger in length and width at the top, so I'm unsure what the 'real' measurements are! Obviously I can measure the volume with water, but now I'm obsessed. :-) Thanks a bunch, and looking forward to exploring the rest of your work!

Geraldine -- Yes, that sounds correct, as, depending upon the manufacturer, 1/4" in size in any direction can make a difference of 1/2 cup "or so". Just remember, when you fill the loaf pan with dough or quick-bread batter, to leave a 1/2" - 3/4" headspace at the top (to allow for expansion as the dough rises and/or bakes). If the pan is filled to the top at the get go, it means you need to switch to a larger pan or dough stands a very good chance of spilling over the sides as the bread bakes.

I have 1dark gray loaf pan but can't read the measurements. Filled it with water poured in large measuring cup. Read 4 2 1/2 cups would this be correct?

Lezlie -- Since the 9"x5" is the assumed standard by which most recipes were and unless otherwise specified are written, the 9"x5" pan is indeed the safe and sound bet. Also, because of the volume of a standard cake mix, without seeing a copy of your recipe, the volume of 2, 9"x5" pans 'feels right' to me!

I found a recipe for a cinnamon bread using a cake mix. It says it makes 2 loaves BUT it doesn't tell me what size loaf pan to use? Would it be safe to assume it calls for 9 x 5 loaf pans? Any suggestions?

Denise -- Purchasing loaf pans via the internet can be somewhat confusing, and, most stores only have one or two sizes on their shelves (no real selection). If you are looking for something specific, I suggest a trip to your nearest kitchen store -- better yet a restaurant supply store if you have access to one. Ask the manager to look through almost any manufacturer's catalog. There will be a listing of different sizes, a selection of different materials, and, all in a variety of price ranges. I am certain they will be happy to order what you want. That is how I got most of mine!

I like the 3 cup size - where can I find some??


Seasons greetings Helene -- nice to hear from you! I have no hands-on experience with the bake-safe plasticware, so, I can't comment on it, other than to say, I've heard that many people like it. After a quick search on Amazon.com (I searched for 8" x 4" loaf pans), an entire page popped up, about half of which were dark metal -- they range in price from $6 - $10. It sounds like you are quite the baker!!!

What do you think about hardened plastic pans, such as Tupperware's Ultra 21 bakeware? Tupperware doesn't even make it anymore but I have several of the pieces and they're often found at used stores. I love the bread pan because it has a tight-sealing lid. The quiche pan and 9x13 cake pan do also. I know there's other brands of this bake-safe plasticware out there. Have you ever used it at all?
I love my stoneware bakeware most of all (these never have lids as you're not supposed to store foods in the stoneware). And my cast iron cookware too. I'm looking at buying a 9x5 loaf pan but honestly what I NEED is an 8x4 loaf pan. I do mostly nongluten and even grainfree baking now and the 9x5 pans just swallow up the loaves so they get lost in the pans. The 8x4 pan gives you a normal looking loaf, not a flat, squished looking, something :0
If you have a source for even metal pans that are 8x4, I'd love to know. I don't want aluminum, just dark metal preferably. Thanks!

Good Morning Ronnie. The number of cups (example: 8" x 4" x 2 1/2" = 4 cups) refers to the volume of the pan/recommended capacity. For instance in an 8" x 4" x 2 1/2" pan, you shouldn't put more than 4 cups of prepared dough or batter. Happy bread baking!

Thank you so much for the info here. I do have a question - probably a dumb one but anyway. Do the volume amounts for pan sizes you show equal to cups of prepared dough or to the number of cups of flour per recipe? I am trying so hard to bake good bread but not much luck so far.

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