If you're planning to buy a loaf pan, you'll have a tough time choosing between metal, glass, stoneware and silicone pans. According to reports we found at Cook's Illustrated and Fine Cooking magazines, it really doesn't matter all that much; both publications recommend best loaf pans in metal, glass and stoneware (experts don't give much consideration to silicone loaf pans). Although each type of pan is capable of turning out a well-browned loaf of sandwich bread or pound cake, your choice depends in part on what other foods you plan to prepare and whether the loaf pan can go from oven to table.
When it comes to reviews for most loaf pans, users seem pretty pleased with nearly all pans. Even a couple of loaf pans that didn't do all that well in professional reviews, -- the Analon Suregrip Loaf Pan (*Est. $17) and the Doughmaker's Loaf Pan (*Est. $15) -- get solid feedback from owners. To find best bets, we compared loaf pans that were top-rated in expert reviews with user feedback. These certainly aren't the only good loaf pans, but they're proven in reviews and are a great place to start shopping.
If you mainly plan on whipping up yeast breads, quick breads and pound cakes -- items you'll want to pop out of the pan for slicing and serving -- any bread pan will work. Most expert reviewers and home bakers like the flat edges and crisp corners produced by a traditional metal loaf pan, as opposed to the more rounded corners that result from using stoneware or glass bread pans. Metal loaf pans aren't the best choice for meatloaf or casseroles that you might want to serve in the pan, because knives can scratch the metal. And, obviously, a metal loaf pan can't go into the microwave for quick reheating.
Nonstick loaf pans are helpful because it's sometimes tricky to get items out of deep loaf pans without cracking, but experts say very dark nonstick finishes can over-brown items. That's one reason why the lighter finish of the Williams-Sonoma Goldtouch Nonstick 1 lb. Loaf Pan (*Est. $21) earns top scores in two comparison reviews. It has a gold-colored ceramic nonstick coating, which experts say produces golden-brown baked goods time after time. The loaf pans are made in America by USA Pan, one of the nation's largest manufacturers of commercial cookware. Another plus: The nonstick coating doesn't contain polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) or perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), two chemicals involved in the manufacture of Teflon and similar nonstick coatings that some experts say pose a potential health hazard. There are not many complaints about this pan, although one user reports corrosion under the rim, and another says it is hard to get the pan's sharp corners thoroughly clean.
You can certainly spend less on a metal loaf pan, nonstick or otherwise. In user reviews, owners seem perfectly happy with other pans, including the nonstick Farberware 9-by-5-inch Loaf Pan (*Est. $7) and the Cuisinart Chef's Classic Nonstick 9-Inch Loaf Pan (*Est. $10). If you don't care for nonstick, there's good owner feedback for the Chicago Metallic Commercial 1-lb. Loaf Pan (*Est. $12), among others.
If you like to make meatloaf or small casseroles, a glass or stoneware loaf pan is a good choice because these materials are more impervious to scratches from knives. Furthermore, they can be used in the microwave or under the broiler, and they can double as serving dishes. On the downside, they are heavier than metal loaf pans, and some are more fragile.
The Pyrex Easy Grab Loaf Dish (*Est. $10) gets a nod from editors at Fine Cooking magazine. Editors say bread turned out nicely, but "we'd use it for meatloaf, layered terrines and casseroles, too." Sticking can be an issue, and editors say their pound cake baked a bit unevenly. Although several comments on the Internet say Pyrex bakeware occasionally shatters unexpectedly, Pyrex says extreme changes in temperature will cause any glass to shatter. Although this loaf pan is freezer and broiler safe, the manufacturer doesn't recommend going straight from one to the other.
For some extra table appeal, users like the Le Creuset Deep Dish Stoneware Loaf Pan (*Est. $30), which comes in four colors. Owners say it bakes evenly, is inherently nonstick and looks great on the table, although one user complains that the pan did not thoroughly cook the bottom of the loaf. Fine Cooking editors praise the Emile Henry Loaf Dish (*Est. $40) in this category, saying, "Bread rises into a beautifully upright, classic loaf shape" -- it released foods well, but it costs more than the similar Le Creuset version. Keep in mind that any stoneware or ceramic loaf pan will be heavy and fragile compared to metal.
The best source of loaf pan reviews is Cook's llustrated magazine, which tested five bread pans in 2007. More recently, Fine Cooking magazine recommended four loaf pans in its April/May 2011 issue (not available online). Amazon.com and Cooking.com are good sources of user ratings and reviews; Chowhound.com posts ongoing discussions, but the messages can be anecdotal and not always relevant. Rachel Pattison, author of "The Easy Bread Book" and the blog "Dough!" compares silicone, glass and steel loaf pans.