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
The Author

About PJ Hamel

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!