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. Eldaka Terrell

    I am an Escoffier-online Baking Student and
    we are encouraged to seek out resources and try new things. Since beginning my bread class I have been wanting to try a loaf recipe, however my text does not explain Pan sizes.

    I think this is a really great article and it definitely answered my questions. Not only did you explain about the pan sizes but have relevant examples as well. Now I’m going to try your classic Sandwich bread recipe, it looks promising.

    Reply
  2. christopher sanders

    Hi,

    Super helpful article. I was using two 9.25 x 5.25 x 2.75 to make loaves from a 5 cup flour (plus starter) recipe and although the loaves were nice and airy, they were short and squat. Now I know why. Too much pan volume.

    Thanks,

    Chris

    Reply
  3. Kerry d Nordick

    Why are your prices so high?? I would think you’d be in competition especially when you make your customers pay for the postage on your 30% jacked up prices.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Kerry, thanks for reaching out with your feedback on our prices. Pricing is a process our team takes seriously, and our interest is in balancing quality products with the cost to customers. Our team looks to ingredients and resources that meet an exceptionally high bar when considering them for our lineup of offerings. While we believe this leads to superior products, it can also affect the cost of the goods themselves. Regarding shipping costs, we offer free shipping specials around once a month. The best way to keep abreast of these special offers is to sign up for our email list, which is where we share updates about special deals with our customers. We hope you find that baking with King Arthur Flour really does make a difference in your kitchen, but in the end we hope you find goods best that bring the joy of baking to your life. Kat@KAF

  4. Janice

    I want a loaf pan deeper than the normal 2 3/4″ to bake cakes in. Do you foresee any problems using the Gluten-Free Bread loaf pan for cakes? Wouldn’t it be comparable to using a bundt pan?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      That seems like it shouldn’t be a problem! You’ll of course want to grease the pan very well, as it can sometimes be more challenging to get a cake out of a deeper pan than a shallow one, but it shouldn’t be too different from using a tube pan. Happy baking! Kat@KAF

  5. Veevee

    I’m making Peter Reinhart’s Rich Man’s Brioche. I do not have the little brioche pans do I am going to do loaves. My problem? The recipe calls for 3 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 pans. I have 9 x 5 and 8 x 4. I’m using the smaller. Will there be much difference?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Veevee, your pans are about 15% smaller than the ones Peter calls for. Depending on how full he fills the pans, you may or may not be OK; but I think you will be… I’d suggest you don’t let the brioche rise too high before putting it into the oven; e.g., I’d let it come just about to the rim of the pan, then bake. Good luck — PJH@KAF

  6. Bakerette

    Can’t believe that KA is still writing articles with cups instead of weight. Rural New England here, and I use weight for everything, and I use metric besides. My cooking has become so much easier since I went to weights and metric. I grew up with the old-fashioned volumes and ounces and all that, and it took a bit if experimenting to see if I wanted to go metric, but I’m never looking back.
    The we get to loaf pan sizes. They are all so different. Where do you measure from? Is your pan 2″, 2.25″,2.75″ deep? What we need is for all this 8-1/4×4-1/2″ nonsense to go metric, and then tell us the VOLUME of the pan. Oh, I know that we all talk about 1 pound loaves and all that, but really it would be so much easier if we used volumes. Everywhere I look, I see the same questions and answers, and it is all because there is little standardization.
    There is a bread recipe on this site that calls for 3 C of flour, and when I click the weight button, it says 360 g. I use all KAF here, and I just went in and measured a cup of flour several times and ways. They all came out to pretty much 140 g per cup, not 120, as this website says. See why I have converted all my recipes to weight? KA should just bite the bullet and convert all the recipes to weight. It’s no wonder that so many beginning bakers have so many questions.
    Of course, much of baking, I opine, comes down to experience. Knowing just when to add a bit more water or flour to get that right feel. But it all starts off with some values, and if I see a recipe that calls for 3 C of flour, and for me that means 420 g, not 360 g, I am not off to a good start.

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid

      Dear Bakerette: We are all for baking by weight. Every one of our recipes can be displayed in volume, ounces, or grams- all you have to do is select how you’d like to see them at the top of the page. We’ve done some pretty extensive research of our customers, and less than half of them are using scales (thankfully, more are making the switch all the time). Since we want to meet bakers wherever they are, for now we are displaying all three forms of measurement. We also completely agree with you that reacting to the look and feel of your dough is a critical skill that only comes with practice.

      As for pan sizes, the standard way to measure a pan is from one top inside edge to the opposite inside edge. And there is no universal standard for pan sizes; the allowable variances are WAAAY more than you’d expect. We’ve measured “8-inch” pans from grocery stores that were 7 1/4″ across. Volume measurements aren’t a curveball, either, because the useable volume of a pan varies depending on what’s being baked in it. A loaf pan that can hold 8 cups is large enough for 6 cups of cake batter, but can’t accommodate more than a 3 1/2 cup of flour yeast bread. It’s bakeable capacity is a variable, not a constant.

      Our flour measurement is based on this method, what we affectionately call “fluff, sprinkle, and sweep”. If you switch to the gram display on our recipes, I think you’ll take a lot of the roadblocks you’re perceiving out of your way. I hope this helps. Susan

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