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Test Drive: Loaf Pans

Metal, nonstick, ceramic, or glass? They all have their benefits, so we picked favorite in each category.

Fine Cooking Issue 110
Photos: Scott Phillips
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If your bread tends to overbrown or your pound cakes consistently stick to the pan, enough’s enough. Do yourself and your recipes a favor and upgrade to a new loaf pan. We tested a variety of options, from standard metal and nonstick to ceramic and glass, and found a favorite in each category. Our four picks are quite distinct, each offering different benefits. Use our guide to help you pick the pan (or two) that best meets your needs, and then get back to baking. We know you’re going to love the results.

Best Ceramic

Emile Henry loaf pan
$35.95 at surlatable.com
8-3/4 x 4-3/4 x 3 inches

Why buy With this pan’s good looks, you can take it right from oven to table. Made of high-fired clay, it’s an excellent conductor of heat and bakes evenly. Bread rises into a beautifully upright, classic loaf shape with well-defined corners (other ceramic pans tend to produce rounded, stout loaves). Pound cake comes out perfectly golden. A coating of hard, scratch-resistant glaze allows you to cut in the pan when serving, enables the pan to release breads and cakes with ease (more so than other stoneware alternatives, which require prying), and makes for near-effortless cleaning. This pan can go directly from the freezer to the oven—not all stoneware tolerates such extreme temperature changes—and is also dishwasher and microwave safe.

Keep in mind Stoneware is fragile and can break if banged around or dropped on a hard surface. It’s not recommended that this pan, when hot, be placed on a cold or wet surface.

Best Metal

Williams-Sonoma Traditional-Finish loaf pan
$16 at williams-sonoma.com
8-1/2 x 4-1/2 x 2-3/4 inches

Why buy If you’re looking for a heavy-duty all-purpose loaf pan—one that’s constructed to withstand corrosion and rusting over time—look no further. Williams-Sonoma’s traditional-finish pan is made of heavy-gauge aluminum-coated steel, has a reinforced rim that resists warping, and feels quite hefty. Most important, it bakes exceptionally well. Pound cake—which overbrowns along the edges in so many other pans—bakes to an attractive, uniformly golden color; similarly, loaves of bread develop a crisp, light brown crust.

Keep in mind Though this pan is dishwasher safe, it’s better to wash it by hand to prevent harsh detergents from darkening the aluminized steel. Its clean, straight edges create well-defined, nicely shaped loaves but need extra attention when cleaning, as they can trap residue over time.

Best Nonstick

Williams-Sonoma Goldtouch Nonstick loaf pan
$21 at williams-sonoma.com
8-1/2 x 4-1/2 x 2-3/4 inches

Why buy The gold-colored ceramic nonstick finish that coats the aluminized steel core of this pan has a dual purpose: It allows for the easy release of baked goods and, with its lighter color, prevents items from overbrowning. (We found that pans with dark nonstick finishes brown baked goods too quickly.) In terms of construction, it’s as solidly made as the traditional metal pan at left (both are produced by USA Pans). Overall, this pan is a cut above the other nonstick options, producing consistently stellar yeast breads, quick breads, and pound cakes.

Keep in mind Although it’s supposed to be highly scratch resistant, it’s advised that you not use a knife to cut anything in the pan. And while it’s dishwasher safe, we recommend washing this pan by hand to effectively clean the inside seams and to maintain the nonstick finish.

Best Glass

Pyrex Easy Grab loaf dish
$5.99 at pyrexware.com
8-1/2 x 4-1/2 x 3-1/4 inches

Why buy It’s nice to be able to look through the sides of a glass pan to see how baked goods are browning, and this pan offers a super-cheap way to do so. It’s great for savory breads—it produces a browned, nicely shaped loaf—though we’d use it for meatloaf, layered terrines, and casseroles, too (make these ahead and freeze; the pan can go straight from the freezer to the oven). It’s a great serving option, thanks to its durable, scratch-resistant glass, which allows you to cut in the pan. This pan is dishwasher and microwave safe.

Keep in mind Food can stick to the glass, so grease generously. We found that items with a high sugar content (like pound cake) baked less evenly, overbrowning in some spots. While the pan can go from cold to hot, such as from the freezer to the oven, the company recommends avoiding drastic hot-to-cold temperature changes.

How we tested

We tested 10 loaf pans in the following categories: metal, nonstick, ceramic, and glass. We made 10 loaves of sandwich bread and 15 pound cakes. To test the final top five pans, we baked a quick bread (banana bread). We evaluated each pan on overall construction, how evenly it baked, and how readily it released food.


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