Fully proofed dough

Shaping a Pan Loaf

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One of the exciting aspects to working with pan loaves is the pan affords the baker some wiggle room to experiment, to push the boundaries. Because the pan provides added structure, we're able to increase the hydration (making it softer), push the number of mix-ins, and even experiment with new grain types. Chances are no matter what you do, as long as you can “get it into the pan,” your bread will bake up just fine.

I bake pan loaves rather often because when sliced, they're perfect for sandwiches and simple morning toast with butter and jam. I grew up eating this type of bread from time-to-time, but nowadays my naturally leavened version, with only three ingredients and lengthy fermentation time, is quite a bit more healthy.

Common Dough Weights for Different Pans

Finding the right pan to hold a dough can be a challenging thing. I've tried so, so many pans, always searching for the right one. Below is a list of my favorite pans and how much dough I've been able to fit in each one without it overflowing.

Click on the Bread Style column to view a particular recipe and the Pan column links to purchase each online, if available.

Bread Style (with recipe link)Pan (with store link)Total Dough Weight
Rye bread9″ x 4″ x 4″ Pullman Pan1450g
Pain de Mie9″ x 4″ x 4″ Pullman Pan800-900g
Small Sandwich Loaf (or sourdough banana bread)9″ x 5″ x 2.75″ Pan700-1000g
Large Pan Loaf8.85″ x 4.7″ x 4.7″ Custom Pan11400g

Dough Strength and Shaping a Pan Loaf

I usually push the hydration rather high with my pan loaves. Why? The pan gives you an incredible amount of leeway with hydration because it provides the structure for your loaf. If baking a hearth loaf, especially a highly hydrated recipe, you have to ensure the dough has sufficient strength to keep its shape all the way to bake time. With a pan loaf, the pan gives you all the support you need—no worrying about it spreading excessively in the oven.

However, you still want the dough to be strong enough to rise up and have an even and open interior. Kneading up front, with the slap and fold technique or with a mixer, is a great way to do it, but also stretch and folds during bulk fermentation are usually my approach.

Recommended reading: How to Stretch and Fold Dough in Bulk Fermentation.

Shaping a Pan Loaf

Lightly flour the top of your relaxed dough on the work surface. Using a bench knife and your hand and flip the round over. Fold the bottom up to the middle. Then fold each side, left and right, over to the other to form what looks like an open envelope in front of you.

Whole Grain Wheat and Spelt Pan Bread via @theperfectloaf
Whole Grain Wheat and Spelt Pan Bread via @theperfectloaf
Shaping a Pan Loaf via @theperfectloaf

Then, grab the top and fold it up and down to just above the middle. Using both hands, grab the new top and gently roll down into a long tube (imagine rolling down a beach towel or yoga mat).At this point, you can choose to roll the dough on a towel spread with toppings, such as rolled oats or seeds.

Whole Grain Wheat and Spelt Pan Bread via @theperfectloaf
Whole Grain Wheat and Spelt Pan Bread via @theperfectloaf
Whole Grain Wheat and Spelt Pan Bread via @theperfectloaf
Shaping a Pan Loaf via @theperfectloaf

If you'd like to do this, use your bench knife and a floured hand, scoop up the shaped tube and invert it onto the towel with oats (the seam will be facing up, see below). Grab the tube with each hand and gently rock it back and forth so the oats stick to the outside. Finally, transfer the tube of dough to the pan.

At this point, you should be able to drop the dough in, but if you have trouble, don’t fret; once you drop it in using your fingers to tuck the dough down at the sides. You want a smooth top on the dough when it’s in the pan, so it rises uniformly. Finally, wrap the tin in food-safe plastic bags to proof overnight in the fridge, if desired. You want to keep these covered in the fridge to avoid a thick crust from forming on the dough, inhibiting optimal rise.

Shaping a Pan Loaf: Video

The following video shows me shaping my honey whole wheat barley pan loaf, which is scaled to 1400g.

Proofing and Scoring

In the photo below you can see how puffy, soft, and well-risen the dough is in my pan. When poked, the dough springs back very slowly and doesn't entirely fill in the impression. This is a little past what I'd typically proof a freeform hearth loaf. Why? Since the pan provides added structure, we don't have to worry about the dough spreading when it's baking. If this were a hearth loaf, I would have baked it much earlier.

Shaping a Pan Loaf via @theperfectloaf

I prefer not to score pan loaves. If the fermentation is pushed to the limit, the bread will rise in the oven in a more subdued and controlled manner. With this level of proof, the loaf will not expand dramatically or rupture erratically in the oven.

What next?

I hope this article on how to shape a pan loaf gave you a go-to way for getting that soft dough into shape and into a pan. Now it's time to use these skills! I have a few sandwich loaf recipes where you can put all these new techniques to use right away:

Happy baking!

  1. This pan was custom made by a metal fabricator

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