When you walk through the store, you see lots of packaged breads all lined up, nice and uniform in shape and size. This rectangular bread shape may be the one you are most familiar with and therefore, when you think of making bread, you automatically reach for a loaf pan.
Well, it is time to think outside of the loaf pan and make bread without it! While loaf pans are definitely nice to have, you don’t need them to make bread – not at all!
Give the ideas below a try, then move on to my other bread baking tricks!
Boules (aka Round Loaves)
The first think you need to forget about when making homemade bread without a loaf pan is trying to make a perfectly rectangle, sandwich style bread loaf. No one needs a square loaf of bread anyway!
Know what shape is better? A round loaf of bread which is also called a boule. Doesn’t “boule” sound fancier anyway?!? It is!
In fact lots of artisan breads are shaped into boules. So ditch that old loaf pan and make a nice, round, fancy boule!
Begin by preparing a sheet pan by lining it with a piece of parchment paper. Allow your bread dough to rise one time. Then, divide your bread dough into pieces making them about as large as you would like your bread (remember that as your bread bakes, it will get about 40% bigger than when it is in raw dough form).
Roll each dough piece into a tight ball and place it on the parchment lined sheet tray. You should leave about 4-5 inches around each boule on the pan so you may only be able to fit one or two larger loaves on each sheet pan.
Cover the sheet tray and boules lightly with plastic wrap and let the dough rise again. Remove the plastic wrap and then egg wash the boules and slice the tops of the dough to help release steam as it bakes (you can make a simple “X”, a few dashes or even a pretty design slashed into the top of the dough).
Brush the dough with egg wash if you’d like. Bake the dough in a high heat oven following your bread recipe. Once cooked, let the bread cool before slicing and then enjoy warm!
You can also cut a circle in the top of a boule, scoop out the middle and have a perfect soup bowl! You can’t do that with a boring rectangular bread from a loaf pan!
For storage tips, check out my article about properly freezing and defrosting bread.
A baguette is a long, skinny bread that is never made in a loaf pan but always rolled by hand. Naturally, this is one type of loaf you can have when baking without a loaf pan.
Baguettes are also quite easy to form once you have practiced a few times (and once you taste fresh baked bread, you will be making these all the time).
Take your dough which has risen one time and place it on a lightly floured work surface. Begin by forming a rough ball with the dough and then push the dough back and forth on the work surface as if the dough was a rolling pin.
The dough ball should begin to get longer and thinner as you roll. Try to keep the baguette uniform in size and shape by moving your hands up and down the dough as you roll. Forward and back, left and right until you have a nice long baguette!
Place your rolled loaf on a parchment lined sheet tray and slash the top with a sharp knife. Just like with a boule, you can use your knife to make pretty designs or keep it simple with one long slice down the center (not cutting all the way through the dough but only about 1/4 of an inch down).
Bake the baguette and then slice and serve warm, maybe with a nice cheese plate or as a side to a saucy pasta where you can use the bread to sop up the sauce.
If you like the idea of having a thick, long bread, similar to what a loaf pan produces, you can simply braid your bread dough. This will make a nice wide bread that is much prettier than anything a loaf pan can make. Oh, and it is actually easy!
Cover a sheet pan with a piece of parchment and set it aside. After your bread dough has risen once, punch it down to deflate and then divide it into three equal pieces.
Roll each dough piece into a long log, making them all the same size. Try to keep the width of each log the same as well and nice and even. Think about making one long hot dog with your dough- uniform in size, long and thin!
Place the logs on the prepared sheet tray and pinch the tops together at one end. Braid the dough as you would braid hair, picking one rope up at a time, crossing it over the others and placing it down in between the two and repeating the process.
Once braided, pinch the bottoms of the rope together. Egg wash the bread if you’d like a nice shine on the final loaf and bake as directed! After it is done, a perfect, gorgeous loaf awaits!
Here’s a nice video that shows some more advanced bread-braiding techniques:
Close to Rectangular
Okay, so maybe you aren’t such a fan of fancier bread shapes and are really looking for a standard, almost rectangular loaf. Can that be done with no loaf pan? Of course!
While you will never get those perfect straight sides without a pan, you can get close.
Begin by taking your pre-risen bread dough and placing it on a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle a little flour on top of the dough and begin to roll it out, working toward making it into a rectangular shape.
Try to keep the bread dough itself as uniform and square as possible. Roll the dough to be about 1/2 and inch thick and nice and rectangular (straight sides, longer than it is wide).
On the side closest to you, begin to roll the dough upward as if you were rolling a jelly roll cake or a sushi roll. Once the dough is completely rolled and is a nice uniform loaf, pinch the seam of the dough to seal it all the way down the loaf. Place the loaf on a sheet tray lined with parchment paper with the seam side down. Bake as directed!
Once baked, the loaf will look a little more round than if you have baked it in a loaf pan but it will be long, thick and uniform in shape! Perfect for slicing for sandwiches or just serving with some butter.
If you are making a quick bread (learn more in my post about quick breads) or one that does not involve yeast, you may be looking at a batter in a bowl rather than a ball of dough.
You can’t exactly shape batter as you are able to shape dough so what can you do when you have no loaf pan but a bowl full of banana bread, for example.
First option- scoop the batter into a muffin tin. Quick breads are great as loaves but they are even more perfect as muffins! Not only will the bread batter bake faster but, once cooked, everyone will have their own “slice”, just in the form of a muffin.
You can bake quick breads in a cake pan for a nice round loaf or you can also use a casserole dish which will make a longer, thinner bread.
Keep in mind if you are baking with a casserole dish that the baking time will be less as the batter will be much thinner in a larger pan.
Got a cast iron skillet around? Pour your quick bread batter into that and bake it in the oven for a picturesque loaf (place the baked bread in the skillet on a table and take a picture- it will look as if it was from a magazine cover!).
Maybe you have a bundt pan you have been dying to use. Grease it up! That will work as a “bread pan” as well!
Pretty much any pan that can go in the oven can be used instead of a loaf pan for quick breads. Get creative- all that will happen is your bread will come out delicious and more interesting than if it was baked in a loaf pan.
Loaf pans are beneficial and, if you like that uniform look, you may want to look into getting one. However, do you really need it? Nope! In fact, your bread will be more artisanal without a loaf pan.
So skip the loaf pan even if you do have one on hand. Your bread will be just as tasty but a little more fancy without one anyway!
If you somehow end up with leftover bread, be sure to try some of my ideas for using leftover bread!
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.