So what’s a Pullman pan?

It’s nothing more than a straight-sided loaf pan with a lid on it. It yields a loaf of bread with perfectly flat sides all the way around and perfectly square corners. What good is that you say? Well granted it’s an aesthetic thing mostly. A perfectly square loaf — as seen from the ends — yields perfectly square pieces of sandwich bread and pieces of toast. That’s great for us uptight types who like our foods neat.

However baking in a Pullman pan is also functionally different from baking in an open-topped loaf pan. In an open-topped pan the bread can expand freely. Not so in a Pullman pan, at least one that’s been loaded properly. There the rise of the loaf is constrained, not a lot but a little, and that tends to keep large bubbles from forming, so the crumb of the bread is fine and tight.

Just another aesthetic thing? No not really, as sandwich bread with big holes in it can be perilous for the sandwich eater, especially if he’s wearing an expensive tie. Tight holes keep condiments in and soak up melted butter, which make Pullman sandwiches and toasts more civilized experiences with a smaller dry cleaning bills. And really the eating experience is different too since texture effects mouthfeel and flavor.

And speaking of texture, the main reason Pullman pans were first invented in Europe was to do away with crust. I know what you’re thinking: quelle horreur! There were once Europeans who baked bread without crust? On purpose?? Indeed there were, and still are. Think of Pullman loaves like pain de mie as a special-purpose bread where crust isn’t welcome.

Again, consider sandwiches. Lots of people like to try to dress up sandwiches by using hearty country loaves or baguettes. It’s a nice idea, but try biting through one of those. You end up clamping down on one end of the sandwich with your teeth and pulling with both hands on the other. When the portion in your hands suddenly comes loose the fillings go flying in the opposite direction, onto your dining partner and we’ve got cleaning bills again.

No, a pleasant eat-able sandwich is soft all the way around. This is what the Euros were thinking when they invented the lidded loaf pan about 150 years ago.

17 thoughts on “So what’s a Pullman pan?”

  1. Interesting. I’ve never really appreciated the idea of constraining the rise but I do have an especially long and deep bread pan that I use a lot for English muffin bread and for a stacked laminated coffee cake that tends to rise in a conventional pan like a thing possessed. I think it’s a pullman pan that simply lacks a lid. I bake with it all the time. It will be interesting to see how it’s properly employed for a change.

    I have flat things that could fill in for a lid. Should they be buttered? Would something ceramic substitute adequately or should I go searching for something metallic that would transfer heat the same way as a proper Pullman lid?

    1. Hey Rainey!

      A makeshift lid is fine, and it shouldn’t need to be buttered.

      – Joe

  2. I use a cast iron griddle on top of my pullman pan. Most of the time it works perfectly. When it doesn’t, it’s operator error; I’ve used too little or too much dough in the pan. I’d like to see a discussion on how much to use! Since my recipe also makes enough for another standard-sized loaf pan–or 8 burger buns, I can’t just dump the entire batch of dough in the pan. It’s a guessing game. Weigh the pan with dough in it before baking and see how it behaves this time?

    1. Hey Sally! It’s best judged first by weight, then by the type of bread you’re putting in. A Pullman pan is good for a roughly 2-pound loaf of sandwich bread or brioche. It also fits a recipe of angel food cake perfectly. Does that help?

      – Joe

      1. Yes, Joe, very helpful. I’ll cut the burger buns first, then weigh what’s left. That should give me an idea of what to aim for next time.

        My rye bread recipe works very well in this pan so I’ll weigh it too! It’s a recipe that I adapted from a 1960s version of the Lady’s Home Journal cookbook. No molasses in it at all.

  3. I have been wanting to get a Pullman pan for a long time now. I may have to take the plunge soon.

  4. Joe,

    Have you ever tried baking a cake (I’m thinking pound cake) in one? I’m considering it to make an unusual cake I’m working on.

    Your opinion/experience is appreciated!

    Thanks. 🙂

    1. Hi Maggie!

      You certainly can bake a pound cake in one…no problem. You’ll need to increase the recipe to fit the space, obviously, but otherwise you’ll be fine.

      – Joe

  5. Actually, the classic pound cake using a pound each of butter, sugar, flour and 10-12 eggs will work well in the pullman pan. There are few better breakfast “coffee cakes” than a slice of pound cake toasted and buttered. Grease and flour the pan lavishly unless you enjoy cake crumbs. You can guess how I learned that, I’m sure.

  6. I just purchased a pullman pan and the lid has a very loose fit. Is that proper so steam can escape? I don’t want bread squeezing out the top of the pan. Am excited to try it!

    1. Hi Glenda!

      The fit shouldn’t be too loose. Does it not slide on from one end? Odds are even a decent size gap wouldn’t allow dough to squeeze through, but still I wonder if it might be defective.

      – Joe

  7. Just bought a pullman pan and will try it out tomorrow.
    I w ould appreciate any recepies, other than bread, that I can use in the pullman. Links appreciated.

    Here’s the recipe I’ll be trying it’s from Richard Bernitet’s book Dough.
    It’s for 2 500g loaves
    Preperation 20 minutes
    Resting 1 hour
    Baking 20-30 minutes.

    10 g unsalted butter
    20g fresh yeast
    500g strong white flour
    10g salt
    50mls full fat milk
    300 mls water

  8. Is a pullman pan perfectly square ? I recently bought a pan that is almost square (not a pullman) – it’s bottom is slightly smaller than the top – but the bread is perfectly square after baking (which is intriguing).

    1. Hi Silviu!

      Actually it is not, it’s long. I wonder what sort of pan that is? Send me a link if you can!


      – Joe

      1. My mistake, what I mean is this: is the angle between the sides and the bottom 90 degrees or is it slightly greater ?

        1. Mine is just a tiny bit greater now that you mention it. I never noticed that before!

          – Joe

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