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When it comes to baking, the right tools can have a big effect on the final results. The proper loaf pan can be the difference between a well-shaped, evenly cooked loaf of homemade bread and an unsightly, patchy mess. In order to choose the best loaf pan, first decide what you will be baking and whether you want it to turn out browned or light, how the pan will ultimately be stored and how long you need the pan to last. Pans come in aluminum, silicone, stainless steel, glass, and ceramic or stone. Carefully consider the advantages and disadvantages of each type as you try to choose the best one for your needs.
Loaf pans come in different shapes and sizes. The standard large loaf pan size is about 9 inches long by 5 inches wide by 3 inches deep (23 x 13 x 8 cm) and holds approximately six to eight cups (1.42–1.89 liters) of batter. This size works well for baking a variety of goods such as yeast breads and dessert breads or cake loaves such as banana bread. Smaller loaf pans or “mini” loaf pans can be as small as 4.5 by 2.5 by 1.5 inches (11.43 x 6.35 x 3.81 cm) and hold about 1.5 cups (0.35 liters) of batter. These pans are ideal for dessert breads that will be given as gifts, and they can even be found as a single pan with multiple insets.
Aluminum pans are among the most popular, because of their affordability and consistent results. They conduct heat evenly and uniformly and resist rust and damage. Nonstick aluminum pans make it easy to remove the finished product from the pan without scraping or breaking the loaf, but they can scratch more easily than unfinished surfaces. If you desire lighter breads and soft, moist interiors, you will get good results from aluminum, but these pans are not the most durable. Aluminum foil pans work well for baking gift loaves.
Silicone pans are a newer innovation to the baking world and are highly praised for their ability to cool down quickly. They will not rust, dent or scratch and can be used in the oven, microwave, freezer and dishwasher. An important benefit of the silicone loaf pan is its flexibility, making it easy to remove baked goods and to store it in small spaces.
Although stainless steel loaf pans are considered to be among the more durable pans on the market, they do have problems with even heating. Stainless steel is desired for its scratch-resistance and easy-to-clean surface. These can be more expensive than other metal pans, but they are built to last.
A glass loaf pan will last for a long time but can be difficult to store without chipping or cracking. They are also subject to breakage when moving hot glass to cooler temperatures or vice versa. Although glass is a good conductor of heat, dense breads might cook faster on the outside, leaving the inside undercooked.
Ceramic or stoneware pans are subject to some of the same problems as glass pans in terms of chipping or breaking, but they are highly desired for their even cooking. Breads achieve ideal browning and maintain thoroughly cooked interiors. Ceramic and stoneware pans become more nonstick and cook more evenly with time and use, or “seasoning.” For this reason, a seasoned loaf pan can last for generations and become an heirloom piece, though it tends to be more expensive than other loaf pan materials.