If you splash out on one item only for bread baking, it has to be a cast iron Dutch oven to bake your bread in. I took the plunge and bought one in my early days of sourdough bread baking and it made THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE to my bread than any other tweaks I was making at the time. Baking in a Dutch oven improves rise, crust, and bread texture, giving you a really professional looking loaf of bread. It’s the closest thing you’ll get to using a professional oven.
The Lodge 5qt (Amazon link) I bought a while back was brilliant when I was a beginner baker on a budget, but it had some limitations. You are restricted to the size and shape of loaf you make with it. It served me well but I eventually outgrew it and now I am COMPLETELY in love with the Challenger Bread Pan. Invented by Jim Challenger, who is a bread baker himself, this bread pan essentially has all the benefits of an excellent quality Dutch oven, but with the added benefits of being designed specifically with bread baking in mind, giving you BETTER than Dutch oven results!
The bread pan is so much in demand that there is currently a waiting list to buy it! For more information on pre-ordering one, click here to go directly to their website where you can order and learn more about their story. (NOTE: The Challenger Bread Pan is made and shipped from the US, but they have excellent international shipping rates for any orders outside of the US too.)
I’m going to discuss here why I think the Challenger Bread Pan is the gold standard of sourdough bread baking at home. After years of experience using different Dutch ovens and various steaming methods in my oven at home with varying results, I’m ecstatic about this pan. But I’ve also listed a couple of things you should bear in mind before purchasing (more on that later).
Why I Like the Challenger Bread Pan
The unique thing about using the Challenger Bread Pan instead of a regular Dutch oven, is that it is designed specifically for bread baking. It is designed BY bread bakers, FOR bread bakers, and I can tell you this…it gives EVEN BETTER bread results than using a Dutch oven. Here are some reasons why I like it:
It’s Made of Solid Cast Iron
Baking your sourdough bread in a solid cast iron vessel that is well sealed, is definitely the way to go if you want to bake a professional looking loaf. This pan is made of solid quality cast iron, which is well crafted, giving your bread the best oven spring possible in a home oven. The weight of the cast iron also ensures the pan is well sealed, keeping all the steam inside the pan, giving you the best chance of a beautiful crust formation.
Large, Strategically Placed Handles
Because the pan is designed especially for bread baking, they have thought of everything. There are handles on the base so you can hold it like a tray, making it easy to carry in and out of the oven when it is heavy and loaded. But there are also handles strategically placed on the cover, so that it is easy to take the lid off half way through the bake; (after the initial oven spring in order to darken the crust and give it some color).
The handles are also big enough to get your hands through and get a good grip even with oven gloves on, making it safer than my other regular Dutch ovens, which have smaller handles.
The Base is Flat for Easy Transfer of Dough
The flat base is a big plus for me. It allows you to very easily and safely place your dough in the pan with minimal risk of burning or accidentally degassing your dough before baking. In a regular preheated Dutch oven, it can be pretty tricky to quickly slash your dough and then place it neatly into the center of a deep sided Dutch oven when it is so hot. The challenger bread pan makes it easy to transfer the dough onto the base in a safe and relaxed manner, because the base doesn’t have high walls. Rather it is flat like a tray so you can simply slide your dough onto it and slash while it is on the base.
The Size and Shape Allow for Multiple Types of Loaves
One of the restrictions of using a regular Dutch oven for me was that I was restricted to making loaves that were the same shape and size of the Dutch oven. The challenger bread pan allows me to make batards, boules, sandwich loaves, challahs, and all sorts of varieties of breads, all in the same vessel.
This is a BIG plus for me. I used to have to make my dinner rolls and burger buns in a make shift roasting dish with a lid over it, but now I can easily make them in this pan with better results, as well other varieties of loaves.
The lid is also quite deep, and high enough for your bread to grow as much as it wants without any obstruction.
QUICK TIP: The pan is also big enough to add a few ice cubes next to your bread dough during baking, in order to give it an even bigger oven spring with extra steam. Something a regular Dutch oven simply doesn’t have the space for!
It’s Seasoned by Hand
Most cast iron Dutch ovens come ‘pre-seasoned’ in a factory, but the seasoning is not usually sufficient enough to make it non-stick. When you order a Challenger Bread Pan, each one is individually seasoned by hand to a high standard. This makes it ready to use with a seasoning that should last many years before you have to re-season it.
QUICK TIP: I always use baking parchment under my dough to make the seasoning last even longer!
What I Don’t Like About The Challenger Bread Pan
There a couple of things that I will mention here that are worth considering….
You can only use the Bread Pan Exclusively for Bread Baking
For me personally, this was never an issue. Because even when I used to use my regular Dutch oven, I only ever used it (and bought it especially) for sourdough bread.
But if you are interested in buying a suitable regular Dutch oven that you can ALSO use for things other than bread baking, check out my Complete Buyers Guide to Purchasing a Dutch oven for Sourdough Bread. It’s packed full of useful information guiding you through what you need to check for when purchasing a Dutch oven suitable for sourdough bread.
You Should Check that it Fits in your Oven!!!
This bread pan is awesome because it is big enough to fit many different sizes and types of bread, but do double check that the bread pan does in fact fit in your oven! It will fit most ovens pretty easily, but if you have a particularly small oven like I do, then it is best to check before you order.
I originally wanted to buy 2 of these bread pans but discovered that the length of one pan fits snugly into the length of my oven, with little room for anything else. The dimensions of the outside of the bread pan (including the handles) are:
- Length – 15.4 in / 392 mm
- Width – 10.2 in / 260 mm
- Height – 5.4 in / 136 mm
For more information on the internal dimensions, care instructions, and current price, click here to visit Jim Challenger’s website.
For information about other products I love, check out my Baking Tools section, or if you’d like me to show you how to make great sourdough bread in an easy step by step format, check out my online course here.