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
About

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!

comments

  1. Dee

    If I am baking a banana bread (1.5 C flour, 1 C sugar, 4 bananas, baking soda, salt and vanilla), which size would yield the best results?

    Reply
  2. Evelyn Gutknecht

    I’m looking for bread bowl for baking into the oven ? Also I am looking for a cookbook of how to make good homemade bread and
    Recipes . Thanks Evelyn Gutknecht

    Reply
  3. Marie

    Hi have 2 loaf pans measuring at top/inner dimensions of aprox
    7 1/4″ d 3 5 /8″ x 2″. My 9 x 5 x 2 recipe will fill 2 of these smaller loaf pans.

    do you carry this smaller size?? Or what Pan size can I substitute?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Marie! Hmm… we don’t have anything quite that size. The closest option would be our Bakeable Paper Loaf Pans. A typical 9″ x 5″ recipe will fill 3 to 4 of them. Metal wise, we do offer our Mini Loaf Pan which makes 8 mini 2 1/2″ x 3 3/4″ loaves. Kindly, Annabelle@KAF

  4. Ed

    I want to use 7 inch loaf pans as quick bread gifts. The mini pans are too small for my taste. Do I need to adjust the volume of the recipe ( not that I know how) and how about the baking time for this smaller loaf? Thanks

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Ed! You probably won’t need to adjust the volume of the recipe, you’ll just have to make up a batch of whatever recipe you’re using to see how many small loaves it will make. The bake time will likely be a little shorter, so it’s a good idea to check earlier, you just want the interior temperature to reach 190°F on a digital thermometer. Then you’ll know it’s ready! Annabelle@KAF

  5. Signe Winters

    For two loaves, my recipe calls for 6 c flour but also for 2 c oatmeal. What size pan should I use? Also, if the pans don’t have the size imprinted on them, where do you measure them since they’re wider at the top than at the bottom?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi, Signe! When measuring a loaf pan, you’ll want to measure across the top of the pan, not the bottom. We would suggest trying your recipe out in a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan, the dough should fill the pan 2/3 of the way. Happy baking! Morgan@KAF

  6. Kris

    Can I put the 1 1/2-2 pound recipe dough from the Bread Machine-Easy as Can Be recipe in two 8×4 pans or would the 1 pound recipe fit in the 8×4 pan?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Kris, it looks like the one pound recipe would fit beautifully in your 8×4 pan. Half of the larger recipe would leave you with less than two cups of flour in each loaf, which is significantly smaller than we recommend for a pan of that size. Happy baking! Kat@KAF

  7. Veronica

    I bake my bread by weight, not volume. Could you please add total dough weight to your pan-size guidelines above?
    Thanks!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Veronica. The weight of the dough will vary depending on the recipe, but generally, recipes that call for approximately 360 grams of flour will fit in an 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ pan, and recipes calling for approximately 450 grams will fit in a 9″ x 5″ pan. Recipes calling for 480 grams or more will likely be a recipe designed for a Pain de Mie Pan or an extra large 10″ x 5″ loaf pan. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Teena, if you’re using a Pain de Mie Pan, we have some guidelines to offer you. A small, 9″ Pain de Mie makes a 1 1/2-pound loaf, so use recipes that call for approximately 3 cups (360 grams) of flour. A typical, 13″ Pain de Mie make a 2-pound loaf, which holds bread recipes calling for between 3 3/4 cups to 4 cups (450 to 480 grams) of flour. (You might be able to fit a 5 cup (600 grams) of flour recipe in here.) You can bake a whole host of different kinds of dough in this kind of pan, but enriched sandwich bread like this recipe for Honey-Oat Pain de Mie works especially well. Just be sure you follow the volume guidelines above when matching your pan and recipe, and extend the baking time by about 10-20% if you’re baking with the lid on. (Check the internal temperature for doneness if possible. It should reach at least 190°F when it’s done.) We hope this helps and happy baking! Kye@KAF

  8. neera

    I’m in India and gave been baking gluten free breads, pies, cakes etc for a number of years. To date I have not been able to make a perfect or even a near perfect gluten free bread. My breads are edible, but definitely not great. My daughter is gluten free and eats the bread as she loves her bread & butter!!! For the flour I use Asian rice flour, Tapioca, potato starch etc is this what is making the bread so – bleh? The bread never rises in the oven, is often very dense and gets hard withing 24 hours. the dough is sticky and impossible to shape as it sticks to my fingers/hands .
    What am I doing wrong?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      The good news is, Neera, you’re experiencing things that all gluten-free bakers have to deal with when making yeast breads. There are a few things that can help. First, know that gluten-free bread dough is really more of a batter than a dough. Using rice flour and potato starch are just fine, but you’ll want to make sure there’s some xanthan gum in there as well. Since gluten is what gives bread and other baked goods their structure and strength to rise and stay risen, when you take it out, it needs to be replaced with something. We use xanthan gum but other bakers have found that guar gum works too. We recommend trying our recipe for a Gluten-Free Flour Blend and this recipe for Gluten-Free Sandwich Bread.
      We’d also recommend using a slightly narrower bread pan with straight sides. This helps the bread grab onto the sides and rise up easily. It will also help the loaf keep its rise better.
      Gluten-free breads do get stale quickly, so one thing to help with that would be to slice and freeze your loaf after the first day. It will keep in the freezer for about a month. We hope this helps! If you have any other questions, feel free to reach out to our free and friendly Baker’s Hotline by chat or email on our website. Happy GF baking! Annabelle@KAF

  9. Carolyn Bane

    Wondering if I could use pottery bowls to make round loaves? My recipe calls for 5 cups of flour. Thanks

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      If you have a bread baking bowl like ours, Carolyn, go for it! If it’s similar in size to the one we carry, (2¾” x 8″) it would only hold about half of your recipe, or 1 1/2 pounds of dough. Make sure that the bowls you have are meant to be used to bake bread in, and check with the manufacturer to see if they recommend preheating it empty or treating the bowl with any liquid or oil first. Annabelle@KAF

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