Cake

Why the Material of Your Loaf Pan Matters More Than You Think

April 26, 2017

I would like to say a word of appreciation for my glass loaf pan.

A little longer and leaner than the standard (it's 9 1/2 by 5—the dude on the far right in the photo below), it turns out the most reliably lush quick breads, be they yogurt, banana, or zucchini: Not only does the glass make it easy to keep tabs on baking status (because you can see the color of the exterior as the cake bakes), but I find that the finished product is more likely to slide out without a shorn bottom. Plus, the glass itself is easy to clean, with no schmutz-catching cracks and crevices.

But does my glass baking pan really do a better job at baking quick breads? And if so, why do metal pans seem to be more widely recommended? We conducted a mini-experiment to find out.

All three of these cracks resemble C. elegans! Photo by Julia Gartland

We baked three loaves of Dorie Greenspan's French yogurt cake in different pans: light metal, dark metal, and glass. Because the pans had slightly different dimensions, we split that batter into thirds by weight so that each one had the exact same amount. We generously buttered all three, then baked them in the same 350° F oven for 55 minutes.

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And, as you'll see in the photo above, when the loaves came out of the oven, they all looked sort of... the same.

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Top Comment:
“The glass pan is more massive, and takes longer to heat up. This means slower thermal activation of leaving agents, and a longer time to set the center. This results in a higher dome in the center, and smaller bubbles in the interior. At the opposite end is the lighter weight dark metal, which transfers heat more rapidly both during heating and cooling. That leads to a shorter loaf with bigger bubbles, and likely a more done center. Light metal is in between, but closer to the dark metal. The edge browning is more significant in glass again because of slower heat transfer, but now during cooling - it bakes longer from carryover heating. As for sticking, yes the surface roughness plays a role. But proteins love to bond to metal (think egg or steak added to a pan). They will release once cooked enough. Without the metallic element there is less cohesion with glass. If you really want to show the difference in heat transfer add silicone bakeware, a very poor thermal conductor, into the mix. Also you might try brownies in 8” sq. pans of the different materials to better see the differences between edge and center.”
— Eric B.
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The real reveal came when we flipped the loaves over. Ready, set, gasp:

Bald, half-bald, full head of hair. Photo by Julia Gartland

The loaf we baked in the lightest pan was the palest and most tender all over, with no distinctly hard, buttery crust, and it also suffered the most significant balding. Next came the loaf baked in the dark metal pan: It was less patchy, with darker and denser exterior. Lastly, the glass! The glorious glass. The cake practically slipped out of the pan (a dream!), no crumb left behind, and the entire bottom was an even shade of the deepest, most glistening gold.

But when we flipped the loaves right-side up and sliced into them, that aesthetic difference disappeared. Sure, the cakes baked in the darker metal pan and the glass pan had a slightly more distinct crispy crust (and some, like me, would argue that this is the best part of a quick bread). And they had less soft give—a finger pressed into the surface was met with more resistance.

But in the end, all the three slices were nearly indistinguishable. Was the loaf from the glass pan the tiniest bit drier in the center? I could not tell.

The slices themselves are nearly indistinguishable. Photo by Julia Gartland

Yet most baking experts would advise against switching willy-nilly between loaf pans of different materials—and all those I consulted prefer light-colored metal pans to glass, and for good reason.

Why? Let's rewind to fourth grade-level science. Whereas metal is a conductor, glass is an insulator: It's slower to heat, but once hot, it does a better job of retaining that heat. And while that can result in more even baking (see the beautiful expanse of the bottom of the far-right loaf), it can also mean that the edges and bottoms—especially of a sugary cake—will brown too quickly, and sometimes before the inside has cooked through. Once out of the oven, your loaf will take longer to cool down (which might result in a slightly drier finished product).

The indomitable baking expert Alice Medrich told me she "NEVER" (her caps, not mine) uses glass pans because they overcook the sides and mess with the timing. She steers clear of dark metal pans for a similar reason (they'll absorb more heat than light-colored pans), and lines nearly all her loaf pans with parchment to prevent the outsides from overcooking (and for the sake of convenience).

Rose Levy Beranbaum also relies on non-stick metal pans loaves to avoid over-browning. Plus, she finds that because the metal pans heat up more quickly, they're hotter "at the initial critical baking phase," which makes for a higher rise (especially important for yeasted loaves).

So why did our loaf baked in the glass pan end up looking so much better, especially from the bottom up? Erin McDowell—who, let it be known, also owns only metal loaf pans—had a smart theory: "People tend to scrub metal pans with the scrubby side of the sponge (or worse—steel wool or a green scrubbie to get off stubborn stuck stuff), which can seriously mar the finish (even on pans that aren't specifically 'nonstick')" and cause the bottom to stick. Glass, on the other hand, doesn't scratch as easily and, with its smooth surface, facilitates clean un-molding. A-ha! Might that be it?

Personally, I'll likely continue baking with my trusty glass pan until I see burnt edges and under-done insides. And if you, too, have a glass pan you know and loaf, you might consider a recommendation from the bakers at Ovenly in New York City: They suggest lowering your oven temperature by 25° F when baking in glass or dark-colored metal to compensate for the material.

And in the end, how bad can banana bread be, really?

Any experiments—baking or otherwise—you'd like to see us conduct? Tell us in the comments below.

95 Comments

Eric B. October 26, 2018
The effects you note have been well known for decades. Corning Glass has been long recommending a 25F lower baking temp for Pyrex. The differences in “doneness” are attributable to differences in heat transfer from oven to pan to bread during heating, and from bread to pan to envirnment during cooling. This affects both the bread edge in contact with the pan, and extends to the interior. The glass pan is more massive, and takes longer to heat up. This means slower thermal activation of leaving agents, and a longer time to set the center. This results in a higher dome in the center, and smaller bubbles in the interior. At the opposite end is the lighter weight dark metal, which transfers heat more rapidly both during heating and cooling. That leads to a shorter loaf with bigger bubbles, and likely a more done center. Light metal is in between, but closer to the dark metal. The edge browning is more significant in glass again because of slower heat transfer, but now during cooling - it bakes longer from carryover heating. As for sticking, yes the surface roughness plays a role. But proteins love to bond to metal (think egg or steak added to a pan). They will release once cooked enough. Without the metallic element there is less cohesion with glass. If you really want to show the difference in heat transfer add silicone bakeware, a very poor thermal conductor, into the mix. Also you might try brownies in 8” sq. pans of the different materials to better see the differences between edge and center.
 
Eric B. October 26, 2018
Another difference between glass bakeware and metal - glass bakware (borosilicte glass) is very absorptive of radiant energy in an oven, dark metal less so, and shiny metal even less. So while it is a poorer thermal conductor than metal, and there is more of it (think mass), glass bakeware likely reaches a higher temperature than metal at the interface with the contents during the baking cycle. This translates to a higher edge temperature for the bread at the same oven temperature near the end of the bake, and increased browning and edge doneness. This, coupled with slower cooling, is why a 25F lower baking temp produces comparable results - it takes a bit of time, but the pan gets hotter.
 
Amy F. February 15, 2018
Why didn’t you re-do the test with the correct temperature for thr glass pan? I thought everyone knew to do that (lower the temp 25 degrees)
 
Nomaste December 24, 2017
I was thinking along the same lines as your conclusion, since you made such a great case For glass why can’t we just bake it for 5 minutes fewer. But looks like you already have a lower temp suggestion :)
 
Ursula S. October 25, 2017
<br /> Hallo -- <br /><br />❥❥I find the bits of information on this blog here really interesting and helpful – thank you, all of you!! <br />I think it is good to use those bits of advice, and then try out what helps best – because even every metal baking pan is a bit different (some have aluminum added, that conducts the heat differently..../I personally avoid anything with aluminum).<br /><br />I just found a recipe for "Apple-Pie Cake" from Betty Crocker that recommends this: <br /><br />🍓🍓🍓"Heat the oven to 350°F (325°F for dark or nonstick pan)". <br /><br />• bettycrocker.com/recipes/apple-pie-cake/92032a9b-1144-41dc-bd22-871a2358615e <br /><br /><br />P.S. If you make this apple sheet cake – try also with this filling: <br />6 apples (peeled and sliced) <br />• Brown sugar (to your liking) <br />3 T flour<br />3 T lemon juice<br />3 T melted butter <br />½ - 1 t cinnamon <br />¼ t nutmeg <br /><br /><br /><br /><br />❥❥I can't remember, where I read this (but it was on Food52 – maybe within this discussion?). This is a recipe for "baking grease": <br /><br /><br />🍓 How to Grease Baking Pans /Food52<br /><br />½ c flour<br />½ stick butter<br />½ c canola oil<br /><br />Process in the Cuisinart until paste-like consistency. <br /><br />Brush on with brush or paper towel.<br /><br />Keeps in the fridge for several weeks.<br />🍓 🍓 🍓 <br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />❥❥And by the way: I watched a top-notch cooking show on stews, where they said that it is 'absolutely baloney' NOT to add the salt at the beginning, when cooking lentils – the lentils WON’T be hard at all – but they will be more flavorful, and you need less salt altogether when you add it right away.<br /><br /><br />🍒🍒🍒 Ursula <br /><br />
 
Jess F. October 18, 2017
I would like to see silicone testing. Do any of the silicone products compare?
 
Iris June 28, 2017
ever typed 'exploding pyrex' into a search engine???
 
Melissa October 29, 2017
Exploding Pyrex recently happened to two of my friends. I prefer to purchase vintage Pyrex, and have heard that the explosions most often happen to the newer Pyrex pieces. Anyone have research on that? However, in the case of my two friends, both of them mistakenly turned on a glass top stove burner under their Pyrex casserole dishes. The explosions were fierce, and the glass was projected many feet away from the dish.
 
Amy F. February 15, 2018
No. The Pyrex is now being made in Pennsylvania again. No probs. But the manufactuere does say that if you tey to cook meatbin Pyrex pans, you should add water to the pan first. Also, be sure to pre-heat the oven before putting a Pyrex pan in the oven.
 
Amy F. February 15, 2018
Be sure to pre-heat the oven first before you place the Pyrex in the oven. If you are cooking meat you need to first add at least a cup of water to the pan. Pyrex is once again being made in Pennsylvania and no more exploding dishes if you follow these tips. Also do not put the hot pan in cold water in your sink to wash it. Let it cool down first.
 
Felice C. June 27, 2017
Very informative! I always bake my pies in a glass pie plate. I had to lower the temperature when I got a new electric oven so the crust didn't get done too quickly. Now I know why... But I still love my glass pie plate!!
 
Paula B. June 24, 2017
1) The easiest for cleaning....parchment paper. 2). Glass doesn't transmit chemicals. 3) I always double pan...ie...I use 2 metal pans for a more even bake...the bottom doesn't cook first. One loaf pan, one half or quarter sheet pan. 4) when baking I often make two or three or more so using parchment paper, I can wrap and freeze protecting sides of extras. 5) And last but not least...do. You know what kind of metal and or coating is on that metal pan? I don't and won't use them "raw" just for that reason. I do same for meatloaf!
 
Shelly June 18, 2017
And never use a Pampered Chef style loaf pan.... What a mess! Well, unless you like with parchment maybe?
 
Penny M. January 3, 2018
I have great luck with those pans. Never a fry line, and evenly baked throughout.
 
Nicole J. June 4, 2017
I use glass plans and none of my which breads come out that nicely. When do you you remove them?
 
Ursula S. June 5, 2017
Nicole – <br />I bake the bread (⅞ all-purpose flour & ⅛ whole wheat flour) until the internal temperature reaches 200 - 205°F (if the bread is too dry for you, try 190 - 195°). I use for bread metal pans (old & not non-stick, but brushed with a bit of oil). <br />
 
Ursula S. October 18, 2017
Dear Nicole – <br />One more tipp respective your question: <br />I have never baked my bread in glass dishes, but it might work anyway. <br /><br />I use this basic recipe: <br />2 c flour (⅞ all-purpose flour & ⅛ whole-wheat flour) <br />1 c water/sour dough mix (15 T lukewarm water & 1 T homemade sour dough) <br />Salt (to your liking, start with ½ t)<br />⅛ - ¼ t Herbes de Provence (if desired)<br />1 T dry yeast <br /><br />My homemade sour dough is nice and "light", and smells like fresh yogurt. It's not overly acidic, like many sour doughs often are. And I use all-purpose (wheat) flour to make & feed it. <br />I make and keep it in a glass jar with twist-off lid – but I only set the lid loosely onto the glass. <br /><br />The 1 T dey yeast makes the dough rise fast – and bake fast in the oven: then the crust is softer & still a bit moist ↷ and the pan releases the bread easily. <br />🍒 Love – Ursula<br /><br /><br />Sour Dough Starter<br />(Recipe from Red Star Yeast/I use 2 c all-purpose flour/1 package dry yeast/enough lukewarm water to make a not-too-thick paste/no sugar<br />2 cups water<br />3½ cup all-purpose flour<br />1 package (2¼ tsp, ¼oz, 7g) RED STAR Active Dry Yeast<br />1 Tbsp sugar<br /><br />Instructions:<br />In a 4-quart nonmetallic container, dissolve yeast in warm water (110º to 115º F); let stand 5 minutes. Add flour and sugar. Stir by hand until blended. The mixture will be thick; any remaining lumps will dissolve during the fermentation process. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let stand in warm place for 5 days, stirring 2 to 3 times each....
 
Laura415 May 12, 2017
I have all three types but I gravitate to the light metal loaf pans with sharp square bottoms. Best looking loaf shape imo. Grease and use a parchment sling from all my parchment paper trimmings and scraps. I don't care for crunchy edges so prefer the more tender cake the light metal pans produce. Parchment keeps the bottoms from sticking and over cooking.
 
Pamela_in_Tokyo May 12, 2017
A different point: I have baked round cake pans with a wet towel around the pan. I don't get a big bump in the middle. The whole cake raises evenly. I wonder if this would work with loaf pans??
 
Terri V. May 12, 2017
I agree with Melanie. I have been using a stoneware 4 mini-loaf pan for years now to make banana bread, and I love it. I clean it with a little baking soda and a plastic scraper. Easy.
 
Brenda H. May 12, 2017
I just gave my son all my metal bread pans. I adore my glass pans. I mainly bake quick breads, so I cannot attest to how they work with yeast breads. I'll lower the temp a bit, but I can't give up my glass pans!
 
Melanie May 8, 2017
I would like to know more about stoneware in comparison. I love my yeast bread in it!
 
creamtea May 8, 2017
Best to butter, then flour the pans, tapping out the excess. Actually, I butter, then flour, tapping out the excess, then use parchment. For loaf pans, you could use only a rectangle of the parchment on the bottom since you're going to use a sharp knife blade to ease the sides of the cake away from the pan anyway, or you can use the parchment going up the sides too with a little extra for easy removal. Cool the cake for 10 minutes after removal from the oven, then invert over a lightly greased metal rack.
 
Paula B. December 24, 2017
Using grease and flour to coat pans...leaves you with raw flour stuck to outside of loaf.....and you can taste it.
 
Julia C. May 7, 2017
Read this article with interest as I've been following this particular controversy since starting to bake 45 years ago. My mother advised light metal for cakes, cookies and bars, but felt glass was the way to go for quick breads. She didn't bake bread or pies so my grandmother advised light metal, I think, tin, using shortening or lard for pie crusts with some butter. My dad baked bread and he passed along stainless steel bread pans "to be used only for bread" (his emphasis 😇). Now, I'm slowly replacing my large collection of baking pans with stainless steel. Thank you, Beth, for the recipe for your Special Grease! I disliked the taste and effect of baking sprays on my pans and found a single grease often wasn't suffice to release whatever I was baking even when applied to parchment paper. Your SG sounds ideal.<br /><br />Does anyone have an idea how to really clean cookie sheets? I don't use silicone covered sheets, I do use parch. paper for baking, it's those other cooking tasks that leave them less than pristine. Any cleaning ideas would be appreciated.
 
Julia N. November 1, 2017
Make a paste of baking soda and hydrogen peroxide. It will scrub those dingy pans right up!
 
Christopher E. May 7, 2017
So now the word dude extends to a piece of bake ware. How about the pan on the left...
 
celmore May 2, 2017
Did you really not know that you must lower the temp by 25 degrees when using glass or dark metal pans? I never use glass pans for anything because they're clunky and heavy, and usually don't have good handles. I certainly would never use them for quick breads because that even brown crust you describe is actually charred bread. I happen to use dark Calphalon nonstick pans; I lower the temp and use cooking spray. If you don't want to use cooking spray and don't want to live dangerously with just butter, use butter and parchment paper.
 
andrea May 1, 2017
I usually only use my loaf pan for banana bread. I have silicone, glass and a metal non-stick. I always use the metal loaf pan lined with aluminum foil. The bread pops out of the pan with the foil. I wrap the loaf in the foil, wait until it cools, then just peel the foil off. It makes a nice moist crust. I like my bread to have a moister, softer, crust. Not a crisp one.