Update May 2011:
We recently learned that our favorite 8½ by 4½-inch loaf pan has a new manufacturer, though its name remains the same. Curious as to whether this new pan could live up to the original, we made double batches of our Classic Pound Cake and American Sandwich Bread and divvied them up to bake in the new and old versions. Good news: The similarity wasn’t just a matter of looks (the pans were almost impossible to tell apart). The new pan produced even browning and effortless, perfect release for both bread and pound cake. With pound cakes, it performed every bit as well if not better than its predecessor: The old pan left slight traces of cake in its crevices; the new pan, none whatsoever. Loaves of bread rose and browned evenly in both pans, and left perfectly intact edges when released.
Seven years after our last testing, we wanted to see if anything new could best the bargain loaf pan we had previously chosen as a winner, (which is still available for $6 in supermarkets). Seven pound cakes, seven loaves of sandwich bread, and hours of baking later, we had a motley crew of baked goods and some new thoughts about loaf pans.
Size was one primary factor that made a difference. Bigger pans allowed the sandwich bread to bake up a bit fluffier than did smaller pans but yielded dense, square pound cakes. Narrower pans were the only correct choice for pound cake and fine for sandwich bread.
Our other primary concern was browning. Light-colored aluminum finishes yielded pale, anemic-looking baked goods. On the other hand, the dark nonstick surface on our previous winner actually browned the bread and pound cake a shade too much. Despite its wide availability and low price, it's no longer our top choice. Glass Pyrex browned nicely, but the real star of the show had a gold-colored nonstick surface that yielded baked goods with a perfectly even, honeyed-copper crust.