Bread comes in many shapes and styles, ranging from simple flat breads to advanced artisan yeast breads. Such a wide variety means that there are types of bread for almost every purpose. Although some bread can be split and eaten to accompany a meal, some bread types could be perfect for a sandwich. For instance, the pan loaf is a specific style of bread formed by cooking dough in a pan that produces a soft brown crust on all of the sides.
Of course, the style of pan might determine the shape of the pan loaf. Without a pan, dough usually expands depending on how it is kneaded and shaped. With a pan, on the other hand, the shape of the bread is pretty well known beforehand. A pan loaf usually refers to a rectangular loaf where only the top is rounded and the rest of the side are flat. Other pan shapes include smaller squares, circles or rectangular pans with lids.
The pans can be made from a range of materials, such as aluminum, silicone or stainless steel. As with all baking, the dimensions and material of the pan can dramatically change the loaf. Aluminum pans, for instance, usually help bread bake evenly on all sides because aluminum transfers heat well. A silicone loaf pan might provide those same benefits but could cool faster than metal pans.
All of these materials work, though certain ones might be more useful for specific types of bread and baking situations. For instance, if the idea is to make sandwiches with the pan loaf, it should be large enough to support whatever will go on the sandwich, such as slices of cheese or gobs of peanut butter. Another important consideration is the type of flour, because certain pan shapes and materials might work better for different flours. Most pan loaf recipes provide specific pan dimensions, however, making it especially easy to choose the best type and size of pan for a given situation.
The origin of the pan loaf is a bit of a mystery. It's clear, though, that the term was used in Scotland to distinguish the common plain loaf from the pan loaf. Generally, the pan loaf was a less common type of bread and usually was eaten by upper-class citizens.