As much as I love free-forming my breads, certain recipes require a pan: very soft doughs made with ancient grains, whole rye breads like pumpernickel, or super soft milk breads, just to name a few.
I went through several different pans made from several different materials during my baking years, and eventually found out that the perfect bread pan just doesn’t exist. They all have advantages and disadvantages. Some work better for me than others, but my reasons aren’t necessarily relevant to your kitchen and your needs.
I got rid of the pans that didn’t work (for me) and would like to tell you why, as well as show you the ones I kept and explain why I can’t part with them.
Seriously, I still have way too much stuff!
Let’s start with the things I got rid of:
tempered glass pans
While it was great to be able to see what happens on the inside of the pan, I didn’t like how fragile the pans were. The very bad heat distribution did the rest. I got very irregular bakes and a non-existent crust where the pan covered the dough. Same with cakes or quickbreads. Definitely not my material of choice.
non-stick coated steel pans
I got rid of them when I purged my kitchen of all things teflon and most things plastic. They were old pans with great heat distribution but the coating wasn’t as scratch-resistant as it’s nowadays. It started to scratch and flake on the outside just from sliding the pans onto the wire rack. They were gone soon after. I don’t want that stuff in my food.
glazed ceramic pan
I still have the one, but don’t use it for bread anymore. The heat distribution just isn’t ideal for me, I don’t like how the crust turns out. It’s on pasta bake duty now.
These small pans are my favorites and the ones I use most. They’re aluminum covered steel, have fantastic heat distribution for lightly browned crusts and they’re completely smooth on the inside. Breads slide right out, no nooks or crannies that hold onto the dough and are hard to clean. They fit loaves of 500g (milk toast) to 850g (whole rye) and my oven fits all 4 at once. They’re metal, which means I can place them directly on the baking steel and not worry about material damage.
They do have a severe downside though, and that’s the aluminum, which I really don’t like to use in my kitchen. I don’t trust the dishwasher with them and when I use them for an overnight cold retard, I line them with parchment to keep the sourdough from reacting with the aluminum.
My ancient stoneware pan from Pampered Chef. It makes 4 tiny loaves, 250g (toast) to 400g (wholegrain) each. The stoneware makes a fantastic crust but needs a bit of pampering itself. I basically treat it like a piece of very fragile cast iron. Always greasing, never washing with soap, just using hot water and a brush, let it develop a natural non-stick patina. I cleaned it with soap once, and had to start again from scratch, with breads getting stuck. I can’t place it directly on the baking steel and have to rearrange my oven setup so it can hover about 2 inches above the steel.
I mainly use this pan for experiments, simultaneously baking tiny batches of the same recipe with different hydrations or different flours to see what works best. If I didn’t already have a gazillion of other pans, a big stoneware one would be my pan of choice.
This one’s made from cast iron with a heavy lid. The only reason I use this for bread is pumpernickel, which requires a 20+ hour steam bake. Other than that, it’s mostly at home on the bbq. It’s just too small and too heavy for everyday use, but fantastic for meat loaf, bruzzelfleisch or leberkäse!
These two are very different in size, but both fit the same amount of dough: 750g (toast) to 1500g (heavy wholegrain with seeds). They’re heavy stainless steel, come with a fitting lid, can go into the dishwasher, are acid proof (no sourdough reaction issues), don’t dent or break when they fall down, and seem like the absolutely perfect bread pan.
But I have issues with them. They’re not smooth on the inside like the aluminum coated ones. They’re folded and riveted, and therefore have tiny nooks and crannies where dough gets stuck. They’re also not leak proof in the corners, when I grease them to heavily, they drip.
Which means I have to cover my breads in seeds or rolled oats on the outside to get a perfect release. I don’t like to use parchment inside them, because the stainless steel bakes a very pale crust anyway, the last thing I want is another layer of heat insulation from the parchment.
These are cake pans made from enamelled steel, not bread pans. I love them for their absolutely smooth insides, they require only a tiny bit of grease for a perfect release, can go into the dishwasher and directly on the baking stell, but I’m not too fond of their shape. They’re much wider on top than on the bottom, which makes for weirdly shaped slices. They’re still ok to use for things like japanese milk breads or monkey breads though.
I have another kind of bread pan I like to use, and that’s a wooden baking frame. But that one needs a bit more explanations and I’ll tell you all about it next week.