Glass or metal or stoneware: Which is the "right" pan?

When it’s time to bake, you reach for the pan you have, often without thinking about what it’s made of. If your recipe calls for a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan, you grab the one in your cupboard and fill ‘er up. What might surprise you is that your results can be dramatically different, depending on whether you’ve baked your recipe in a glass or metal pan. Stoneware, another common material in bakers’ kitchens, has its own set of behaviors.

Glass or metal or stoneware? Does the pan you bake in make a difference? You bet! Click To Tweet

Let’s explore how the pan you’re baking in can change your results.

glass or metal via@kingarthurflour

Glass or metal pan? It’s all about heat transfer

When you put something in the oven to bake, the ideal scenario is for a smooth, even transfer of the oven’s heat from the air around your pan through its sides and in turn, through the batter or dough within. As the ingredients warm up, the magic happens. Leaveners are activated, things rise and are eventually set in their finished form, all while the kitchen smells heavenly.

The ideal vessel for baking in most cases is a light-colored pan made from a metal that’s an efficient heat conductor. (Read more about pan colors and their effect on baking.)

Aluminum is the material that most professionals reach for.

glass or metal via@kingarthurflour

Glass pans are extremely common – and they have advantages of their own – but be aware that they are insulators. Glass slows the flow of heat between the oven’s air and your batter, until the glass itself heats up. Then the glass retains heat far longer than metal will.

Because of these properties, batter baked in glass often takes longer. At the same time, it’s easier to over-bake brownies in a glass pan, because it takes longer for the center to cook. By the time the center finishes, the glass is acting like a heat sink, and the outer edges of your brownies are getting very tall and probably pretty hard.

What’s good about glass? It’s non-reactive, which means it won’t corrode from the acid in your lemon cake, or change the flavor of anything you bake in it. You can see through it, which is great for pie crusts; just peek underneath! And once glass heats up, it will do a good job of making sure bottom crusts get crisp and golden.

Stoneware: the wild card

After doing some research, I learned why I’ve had such inconsistent results with stoneware. With this kind of pan, it’s all about the composition of the clay, and in some cases, how it’s made.

Hand-thrown pie plates will bake differently than a stoneware pan made from liquid slip poured into a mold. A hand-thrown plate is likely to have more air pockets in it, which will slow down heat transfer. The amount of minerals and metals in the clay itself also determines the rate at which heat can move through the pan.

glass or metal via@kingarthurflour

The brownie bakeoff

We make several batches of our Fudge Brownie recipe, and bake them side by side in the same oven for the same amount of time.

See the edge of the glass pan batch climbing up and curling inward? The glass heats up more slowly than metal, melting the sugar in the batter. Once the glass is hot, it holds on to the heat instead of transmitting it inward. The hotter edge causes the batter to climb higher and cook further than the batter in the other pans.

glass or metal via@kingarthurflour

Brownie lineup, left to right: corner pieces baked in metal, stoneware, and glass.

As you can see, the different shapes and dimensions of the pans give some distinct differences when you line them up.

All three brownies have nice, shiny tops. The metal pan is a true 8″ square. The stoneware pans’ sides are slightly sloped, and the dimensions are more like 8 1/2″ square, so the batter is spread a little thinner.

The glass pan shows the most dramatic difference between the top and bottom dimensions, but the curve you see at the back of the brownie is on display, as well as the downhill slope toward the brownie’s inner corner. The outside edge of this brownie is much crunchier and harder than brownies from the stoneware or metal pans.

glass or metal via@kingarthurflour

Pound cake prospects

Pound cake is a high-sugar, high-fat formula that takes more than an hour to cook all the way through. As this lineup of cakes shows, reaching for glass or metal or stoneware will change the way the cake bakes. The shapes of these pans are different, with glass having the widest span across the top.

It’s interesting to note that the dome of the glass-baked cake is the lowest; that’s a function of slower heat transfer. The outside edge also shows the rounded, souffléd edge we saw on the brownies. The taller tops of the metal and stoneware cakes are a result of the heat traveling faster from edge to the center, activating the leavener before the center set and sending the middle upward.

glass or metal via@kingarthurflour

Surprising slices

The cross-section of these cakes are a surprise at first. I expected the glass slice to have the darkest, thickest crust, but the reverse is true.

On further reflection, I realize the insulating properties of the glass protect the bottom edge to a degree. The metal and stoneware pans have darker edges; as the heat moves through the batter, it helps the tops get higher, but the sugar and fat in the formula cook more efficiently (and get darker) where they’re in contact with the pans.

glass or metal via @kingarthurflour

Choosing the right pan

King Arthur Flour recipes are tested in metal pans, for their baking efficiency and accuracy for size. Glass pans’ dimensions can be all over the place (try taking a measuring tape to the store next time you shop; you might be surprised). Stoneware composition varies too much to rely on for testing (different levels of conductivity and sizes are often not exact).

That said, any pan is the right pan if it helps you put baked goods in the oven. The standard advice for baking in glass is to lower the oven temperature by 25°F from what the recipe calls for, and bake up to 10 minutes longer. The hard edges we see here are more pronounced in high-sugar, high-fat recipes; your casserole or bread pudding are less likely to be adversely affected.

Stoneware just takes some getting to know; once you learn how your pan bakes, you can make any adjustments that work for you. And you can always reach out to the Baker’s Hotlineif you’re not sure where to start.

Let us know what your favorite baking pan is made of, and what you’re baking in it, in the comments below.

Susan Reid
About

Chef Susan Reid grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Bates College and the Culinary Institute of America, and is presently the Food Editor of Sift magazine. She does demos, appearances, and answers food (and baking) questions from all quarters.

comments

  1. sandy

    Hi Susan- I just made an Applesauce Oatmeal Quick Bread using the KAF recipe and my new KAF 9X5 loaf pan. The results were good but could be better. I think I over baked the quick bread a little. The outside was a little darker than the pictures on the website – sort of crunchy too. There was also a little “canal” around the outside of the loaf (I am not sure how to describe it). The very edges had a ridge then a little indent. I used spray on the pan and lined the very bottom with parchment. I am wondering if it was the over baking or the way I sprayed the pan the made the strange edge.

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Hi, Sandy. The KAF loaf pans are made of aluminized steel; and steel isn’t as efficient a conductor as straight aluminum. From what you’re describing, I think on your next try it would be worth lowering your oven temperature about 15°F. I find the KAF pans bake a little bit hotter because the steel is holding on to more of the oven’s heat. Susan

    2. sandy

      Thanks Susan. Your suggestion worked. I often bake things for in my grandsons’ school lunches and look for new ideas. They like things that are not so sweet and not messy to package like cakes can sometimes be. Making quick breads will help add variety. However, I want to make sure the outcome is as good as it can be. Reducing the oven temp was just the right thing.

  2. Debra Getting

    Has anyone compared silicone loaf pans to the others? Would you recommend spraying them, coating them with oil or butter or leave them plain, before putting the batter in for quick breads or loaf cakes?

    Ive tried spraying with Pam in the past but cleaning them, unless I used a spritz of hydrogen peroxide and a dusting of baking soda, then leaving them sit for about 10 minutes and then washing them with dish soap was the only way to get the residue off of them.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Great question, Debra. We’ve found that silicone pans are not all created equal, and that each one takes some trial and error in figuring out ideal temperatures and baking times. As you’ve noticed, silicone pans are very hard to clean, so the manufacturer typically recommends baking without any greasing or pan spray. Annabelle@KAF

  3. Laura

    I wish I had learned to make bread but although I tried several times, I never had any luck whatsoever with bread baking, alas. Whenever I look at the yummy breads on the King Arthur website, I always want to try again but since I have no one around me who bakes bread, to show me step by step, I’m afraid to give it another try. My favorite bread is sourdough and I was wondering if there’s an easy-peasy recipe for this one (or any type of bread) that is virtually foolproof, or isn’t there such a thing in bread baking?

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Actually, Laura, there is. I’d recommend for your first try to go with a no-knead recipe. Make sure your yeast is fresh and not a rapid or quick-rise type. From there it’s a matter of measuring, stirring (the dough will be pretty wet and on the sticky side), then dumping it into a casserole dish and baking. If you can get that to work (and they’re very tasty breads), you can build your confidence for pan loaves. Start with our no-knead crusty white bread and you can always call or chat with us on the baker’s hotline if you get intimidated! Susan

  4. John McNelly

    I should have added to my previous comments that my choice for a standard loaf pan is light-colored, heavy-gauge sheet aluminum.

    Reply
  5. John McNelly

    I have come to baking loaf yeast breads almost exclusively in cast iron pots/skillets/dutch ovens. I also prefer to use Bundt pans for baking loaf quick breads when that is appropriate. I also am a solid fan of using my Thermopen instant-read thermometer when cooking and baking for EVERYTHING from meats and baked goods and liquids and all else in between. It is the way to go….

    Reply
  6. Tom

    Interesting. I tend to use glass for all my breads (don’t make many other baked goods except occasionally brownies). I also have some cast iron loaf pans that are used but I’ve never tested the results directly against the glass. Size and shape of the sides, it seems to me, can also impact the final results and the rise. Of course, cornbread is ALWAYS in a preheated cast iron skillet.

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid, post author

      If you’re baking in a loaf pan, metal is fine; if you’re doing a no-knead or large boule, I’d go with a dutch oven or large casserole, if you have it. Susan

    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Hi, Jen. Le Creuset would behave like glass and cast iron; slow to heat up, but a good heat retainer. Good for high hydration doughs in general, where you’re looking for a crust with some oomph to it. Susan

  7. Rita C.

    The pan I love more than ANY I have is black carbon steel, and I use it for sweet breads and loaf bread.

    Reply

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