Choosing the right bread pan: size affects rise in a major way

You’ve been baking yeast bread, but you’re not happy with the look of your loaves. They’re not the high-rising, domed beauties you expect, but instead are short and squat, producing slices that are more horizontal than vertical.

The solution to your problem may be as simple as choosing the right bread pan.

Loaf pans come in many sizes – from tiny minis, for your holiday gift loaves, to king-sized pain de mie pans, capable of producing 2 1/2-pound loaves.

Still, the vast majority of yeast bread recipes call for one of two basic sizes: 9″ x 5″, or 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″. Both of these size pans are generally 2 1/2″ tall.

Choosing the Right Bread Pan via @kingarthurflour

Viewed alone, they’re hard to tell apart. Side by side, you’ll notice the slight size difference.

But that 1/2″ difference in each dimension translates to a 15% difference in capacity. Which also might not sound like much… but does, in many cases, mean the difference between a nicely domed loaf, and one that’s barely managed to crest the rim of the pan.

Let’s bake our Classic Sandwich Bread, and I’ll show you what I mean.

Note: I’ve recently rediscovered this recipe and oh, boy, is this bread good! Moist, tender, very slightly sweet, and a very good riser. 

Choosing the Right Bread Pan via @kingarthurflour

Let’s start with a bowl of risen dough. Don’t you just want to lay your head on that smooth, silky pillow? I’ve often wondered what it would feel like to mix up an enormous bathtub-sized batch of dough, then sink into it…

Choosing the Right Bread Pan via @kingarthurflour

I divvy the dough exactly (right down to the last gram) between the pans…

Choosing the Right Bread Pan via @kingarthurflour…and let it rise.

You can see that the dough in the 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ pan is slightly taller, which makes sense; it has less volume to fill before peeking over the pan’s rim.

I bake the loaves, and the one in the smaller pan definitely rises higher.

Choosing the Right Bread Pan via @kingarthurflour

In fact, it creates that mushroom-top shape with which all of us Boomers are familiar, having grown up with at least a passing acquaintance with Wonder Bread.

Still, that 9″ x 5″ loaf on the left, though shorter, looks perfectly acceptable, right?

It’s when you bake loaves that use a bit less flour than normal (under 3 cups); or whole-grain loaves, that you might notice a more significant difference.

Choosing the Right Bread Pan via @kingarthurflour

This is our Vermont Whole Wheat Oatmeal Honey Bread. It rises just slightly less high than our Classic Sandwich Bread. But see what a nice shape the 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ pan gives it (right), compared the 9″ x 5″ ski-slope loaf on the left? I’d hate to make a sandwich out of either of those 9″ x 5″ loaf’s heel ends.

While there’s no hard-and-fast rule for “use this amount of dough in this size pan for the perfectly shaped loaf,” there are some basics you should know. First and foremost: if the recipe calls for a specific size pan, use it! If the recipe doesn’t call for a specific size pan, but simply says “loaf pan,” use the following guidelines.

Choosing the right bread pan

  • Any yeast loaf recipe using 3 cups of flour (or slightly less) should be baked in an 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ pan.
  • A recipe using 3 1/2 cups of flour can go either way. If it’s made 100% from bread flour or all-purpose flour, it’s probably best to err on the side of caution and bake it in the larger pan. If it’s 100% whole-grain, it should bake nicely in the smaller pan. If it’s a combination whole-grain and white – again, best to select the larger pan.
  • A single-loaf recipe using at least 3 3/4 cups flour – white, whole-grain, or a combination – should be baked in the larger 9″ x 5″ pan.
  • Recipes calling for 4 cups of flour (or more) will usually specify a pain de mie pan, 10″ x 5″ loaf pan, or similar. If they don’t, and you don’t have a pan larger than 9″ x 5″, consider baking part of the dough in your 9″ x 5″ pan (enough for the unrisen dough to fill the pan 1/2 to 2/3 full), and making rolls from the rest.

Do you have questions about yeast bread – or any other baking subject? Our Baker’s Hotline is ready to help: 855-371-2253.

PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!


    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Yes! We agree, Anamika, and typically offer a pan size with our recipes, sometimes offering a few alternatives as well. Annabelle@KAF

  1. Gran

    Can you recommend the appropriate amounts of ingredients to make two loaves that will rise correctly. My medium size bread pans have 10 x 5.2 x 2.8 inches dimensions.
    I’ve tried using my large single loaf recipe and dividing it in half but the medium loaves don’t rise high enough. So I assume I need to have a larger amount of dough to divide. Thank you!

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Gran, it sounds like you’re baking with what we call an Oversized Bread Loaf Pan (about 10″ by 5″). These pans are ideal for larger yeasted bread loaves and cakes (recipes using 4 to 5 cups of flour). Any recipe that says it bakes a 1 1/2 to 2 pound-size loaf should rise nicely in this size pan. If you’re looking for a recipe to start with, consider using our Pain de Mie recipe. It’s a classic soft sandwich bread that makes fantastic toast. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  2. Alix

    Hi .. What is the best pan in which to bake quick breads? The KAF loaf pan seems best for yeast breads.

  3. Motoman

    All the posts revolve around yeast risen bread, What about for sourdough. My rustic loaves seem to not rise more than 2-1/2″ to 3″. I have used bread pans but it seems that I pick too large a pan trying to make sandwich sourdough bread. Many of my recipes are 1 cup of active starter and 3 1/2 cups of flour. Use the same sizing as yeast bread or slightly smaller. Also address glass or ceramic pans; I’ve seen some comments that the temperature should be reduced 25 degrees F.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Motoman. The same pan sizing rules will apply for your sourdough breads. As for pan types, we recommend lowering your oven temperature by 25°F if using a glass, ceramic, or dark colored metal pan for best results. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Lia, the temperature will be whatever the recipe is calling for. Thankfully that doesn’t have to change! The time will vary from recipe to recipe, typically most breads bake between 25-40 minutes. Annabelle@KAF

  4. Rachael

    Good evening,
    I use the King Arthur Flour recipe for 100% Whole Wheat bread quite often, we love it!

    I was wondering however, if there is a way to make that bread not so dense and a bit loftier? It can be a bit too moist/hard (strange combo, I know) for a great sandwich… I have heard others adding gluten but that’s really not the solution I’d like to use if there are other options. In the meantime, I will also try using a smaller loaf pan!

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Great question, Rachael. Other than insuring that your dough has plenty of moisture, the best way to get a beautiful high rise in a whole wheat loaf is to add either Vital Wheat Gluten or Whole Grain Bread Improver. The reason why whole grain loaves are often dense is because the sharp pieces of bran cut the gluten strands we work so hard to develop in kneading. Add the Vital Wheat Gluten or Whole Grain Bread Improver gives the loaf some extra strength to actually hold a rise. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

  5. Rhonda rappel

    Just purchased your Pullman loaf pan. Was wondering how many ounces of dough should be put in it. I am worried about not putting the right amount in, hence overflow or too small

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Rhonda. If it’s a larger 4″ x 13″ Pullman pan, that will hold around 2-2 1/2 lbs of dough (between 32-40 oz). If it’s the smaller 4″ x 9″ Pullman pan, that will hold about 1 1/2 lb of dough, or about 24 oz. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

  6. AmyInNH

    Is there a chart?
    X amt flour equals size X lb loaf, needing X size pan, at X temp in metal, at Y temp in glass, for X amt time?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Amy, the conclusions we draw at the end of the article are as close as we’ve got to a chart. We hope they help to sum everything up in as simple a way as possible! Mollie@KAF

  7. davina

    I tried this sandwich bread recipe. I could not make them rise as much as yours. it was very dense. How can I make it rise nicely like what they call ” oven spring”?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Davina, the most common cause of a heavy, dense loaf that fails to rise as high as expected is using too much flour. To ensure you’re using the right amount, we recommend either measuring your flour by weight using a scale, or fluffing and sprinkling the flour gently into your measuring cup one spoonful at a time before leveling off with a knife like this. Using this technique will help you measure light cups of flour that weigh about 4 1/4 ounces per cup, and the dough should be light, tender, and rise about 1″ over the rim of the pan in the center. We hope this helps! Kye@KAF

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