I think there are as many pieces of bake ware for bread as there are days in the year. Many specialty breads have specialty baking pans and pans come in a myriad of metal types, stone ware and silicone. For the purposes of this journey, we’re talking about a basic free-form loaf that is shaped and then baked or a loaf of bread made in a traditional loaf pan.
If you are making a free-form loaf, I strongly recommend a baking stone. If you don’t have a baking stone, a cookie sheet or an air-bake sheet is second best. The baking stone, when preheated with your oven, provides a very evenly heated baking surface, making for a crisp bottom crust. I form my loaf on a piece of parchment paper, allow to rise or rest as the recipe calls for and then place the loaf – parchment and all – onto the stone. This method has achieved great results. I've also used a silicone baking sheet instead of the parchment and had good results.
Glass and metal loaf pans are most common for baking traditional bread loaves. In my experience the metal ones allow for slightly quicker baking time as the glass takes longer to heat up. If using a dark metal pan or non-stick pan, you may want to reduce your heat slightly. Every oven bakes differently so you will need to experiment. An oven thermometer (which I have yet to invest in but should) can take some of the guess-work out of the baking process by giving you your actual baking temperature.
Generally, you will not get a crisp a crust on a loaf pan bread as you do on a free form bread. You can cheat, however, and start the bread baking in the pan for 1/2 to 3/4 of the called for cooking time. Then, quickly remove the bread from the pan and place it on your baking stone (which has been in the oven) and allow the loaf to finish cooking. This will crisp the crust up nicely.
Once you have your dough and bake ware established, it’s time to bake bread! Tomorrow, we bring it all together with one of my favorite easy bread recipes.