Fully proofed dough

Shaping a Pan Loaf

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One of the exciting aspects of working with pan loaves is the pan affords some wiggle room to experiment, to push the boundaries. Because the pan provides added structure, you can increase the hydration (making it softer), push the number of mix-ins, and even experiment with new grain types. This guide outlines my go-to method for shaping rectangular loaves of all shapes and sizes.

I can summarize what I love about pan loaves with one word: Toast.

I often bake pan loaves because the shape of the loaf makes them perfect for sandwiches and toast with butter and jam. Plus, who can argue with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? No one.

Many recipes at this site that are shaped as a boule or bâtard can be adapted to use a pan loaf instead. Simply shape the dough as described below, steam your oven, and turn your free-form loaf into a pan loaf.

Common Dough Weights for Different Pans

Finding the right pan to hold a dough can be a challenging thing. I've tried 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″ Campbell's Bread Pan1400g

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 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 stretch and folds during bulk fermentation are usually my approach.

Read more about dough strength and 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. Use 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 it down into a long tube (imagine rolling down a beach towel or yoga mat).

At this point, you can choose to top the bread dough by rolling it on a towel spread with oats, seeds, or other toppings.

Whole Grain Wheat and Spelt Pan Bread via @theperfectloaf
Whole Grain Wheat and Spelt Pan Bread via @theperfectloaf

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, use 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 forming on the dough, inhibiting optimal rise.

Shaping a Pan Loaf via @theperfectloaf

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

The photo below shows how puffy, soft, and well-risen the dough is in my pan. When poked, the dough springs back very slowly and doesn't 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. I would have baked it much earlier if this were a hearth loaf.

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 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:

If you're looking to shape other styles, check out my guide to shaping bread dough for guides on oval bâtards, round boules, buns, rolls, and more.

Happy baking!

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9 Responses

  1. I would like to know with the pullman pan when do you use the lid? Do you bake with it on or is it used only while the dough is rising and then taken off to bake the bread?

  2. Does using the pullman pan cover achieve the same results as putting the pan in a plastic bag? What are the disadvantages to baking a sourdough sandwich loaf with the pan cover on in the oven?

    1. I don’t like to proof the dough with the cover on only because I like to see what’s happening in there. As long as you feel it’s air tight, yes, that would work just fine. When you use the cover to bake, you end up with a square loaf of bread that’s truly in the “Pullman” style: square slices with very minimal and light crust.

  3. Hi Maurizio, I have a question about loaf pans for sourdough. I would prefer not to use aluminum pans or pans with a nonstick coating and was considering between either a stainless steel, cast iron, or stoneware (glazed or unglazed) loaf pan to make sourdough loaves from sandwich bread to babka. My question is, can the cast iron/stoneware work if allowing the dough to proof in the pan? I wouldn’t want to jeopardize the loaf’s rise given that cast iron and stoneware take a while to heat up in the oven, and I wouldn’t want to risk an extremely hard crust by using these materials either. Do you have any thoughts as to whether people use these materials for sandwich bread and the like or if metal is best for this use?

    1. That’s a great question. I’ve never baked a loaf in a cast iron pan where I also proofed the dough. In my experience with something like banana bread and other quick breads, cast iron pans usually tend to give them a slightly thicker crust. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing, in fact, I love this with my banana bread—the Staub cast iron loaf pan imparts a little crunch to an otherwise super soft bread.

      My feeling is it will likely result in a thicker crust.