Choosing between types of loaf pans

Loaf pans are the perfect tool for producing baked goods that have some height, such as bread, pound cake and meatloaf. They are rectangular, typically measuring from 3 inches by 8 inches to 5 inches by 9 inches (the right size to match most bread, pound cake and quick-bread recipes), with a depth of 2 to 3 inches. Loaf pans can be made from materials including metal, glass, stoneware, ceramic and silicone.

Many metal loaf pans are made of aluminum, which is lightweight and inexpensive but is also subject to denting or warping. Heavier steel pans are more durable and more expensive. The interior color of metal pans seems to make a difference in reviews; metal loaf pans that are light in color or shiny tend to produce paler-colored breads and cakes, while darker pans can produce a darker brown color and crisper crusts.

Experts generally advise using metal loaf pans that have a nonstick coating, since their depth can make removing items tricky, and you'll want your baked loaves to come out of the pan intact. Many metal loaf pans have sharp 90-degree corners and straight sides -- preferred by some for baking bread. We did find a few reports that such pans are a bit harder to clean in the corners.

Recent media attention has focused on polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), two chemicals sometimes used in the production of nonstick metal cookware. Whether these chemical pose health risks is open to debate; nevertheless, experts advise that that when using nonstick pans, you should keep the oven temperature at 500 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, never heat an empty nonstick pan and throw out pans that are nicked or chipped. Some nonstick loaf pans, including the Williams-Sonoma Goldtouch Nonstick 1 lb. Loaf Pan, use a ceramic coating that's PTFE- and PFOA-free.

Glass loaf pans are inexpensive and durable; they can go in the microwave or under the broiler, and they also allow you to monitor baking from the sides as well as the top. Stoneware and ceramic bread pans are also durable and microwave-safe. Glass and stoneware pans are more fragile than metal pans, but both stand up better to scratches -- helpful if you want to also use them as serving dishes for casseroles and meatloaf.

Silicone bakeware is lightweight, colorful and inherently nonstick, but it may not be the best choice for loaf pans, because reviewers say that loaves baked in silicone don't brown adequately and can be hard to remove intact. Furthermore, we read complaints from owners that the sides of silicone loaf pans bulge out because they're not completely rigid, and you need two hands to remove the pan from the oven.

Some things to keep in mind when purchasing loaf pans:

  • Look for roomy handles. Otherwise, it can be hard to move the pan from countertop to oven without sticking your fingers in the dough, batter, or raw meatloaf.
  • Stick with a standard 1-pound size. Using a pan that's slightly wider or deeper can affect baking results.
  • Metal is preferred for breads, cakes. Many bakers prefer the straight sides, sharp corners and even browning of metal loaf pans for yeast breads, quick breads and pound cake, though other types work for these items as well.
  • Glass and stoneware double for serving. These types are a good choice for casseroles or meatloaf because they resist scratching from knives, can be used in the microwave and can go from oven to table.
  • Consider buying a loaf pan as part of a bakeware set. You'll get more for your money, as long as you will use the other pieces, which can include a cookie sheet, cake pan or muffin tin.
  • Take care with knives. Sharp knives can slice through silicone pans; they can also scratch metal surfaces and coatings, which can lead to rusting or allow nonstick particles to seep into your food. 
  • Search out specialty loaf pans for unusual needs. Among the most intriguing options are mini-loaf pans that bake six small loaves at once; pocketed pans that produce baguette-shaped loaves; and Pullman pans, which have a cover that prevents dough from rising above the pan's top -- perfect when baking sandwich bread. 

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