Challenger Bread Pan: A Home Baker’s Review

by Heather

I’m a home baker who makes sourdough bread for my family each week, and this is my review of the Challenger Bread Pan.

This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.

When I started my bread baking, I used the Tartine Bread sourdough cookbook as my guide, my compass, and my bible. Whatever Chad Robertson said, I did. I used basic plastic proofing baskets, I lined those with linen towels, and I got myself a Lodge cast-iron combo cooker.

It was the combo cooker that would be my baking vessel of choice for the next three years to come…

Until the Challenger Bread Pan came along.

Why are baking vessels important?

The shape and structure of your baking vessel will impact your final loaves. The most important feature is a tight-fitting lid.

Baking your loaves in a vessel with a lid ensures the dough is surrounded by steam as it bakes. This maintains a soft crust in the first few minutes of baking, allowing the bread to expand to its fullest. Steam also creates a softer, less crunchy crust that’s more pleasing to eat.

Professional bakeries have steam-injection ovens, which fill the whole oven with steam and so they can bake on open pans. But home ovens are specifically designed to remove steam, which puts the home baker in a conundrum. Lidded vessels solve this problem!

As far as materials go, cast-iron is the champion of even heat distribution. It maintains equal heat throughout the baking process, so your loaves are evenly baked every time.

What’s so great about the Challenger Bread Pan?

The Challenger Bread Pan was born when its founder, Jim Challenger, grew frustrated with the lack of options for bread baking pans. With the help of baker friends, he made his bread pan with specific adaptations like a sloped lid that keeps the heat close to the loaf as it bakes, a spacious interior that can bake large boules, batards and demi-baguettes, and handles on the top of the lid for easy removal.

In essence, the Challenger Bread Pan was designed specifically for baking amazing homemade bread.

Esthetically, it’s a beautiful pan. It bears the Challenger Breadware logo of a stalk of wheat, and just begs you to cook with it. You can tell that, from the inside out, this pan was designed for bread baking. No other cooking vessel for making homemade bread even comes close.

This is the bread pan for bread bakers.

Sourdough Bread in the Challenger Bread Pan
My sourdough bread in the Challenger Bread Pan

How does this pan compare to other baking vessels?

I still love my Lodge combo cooker, but it simply wasn’t designed with bread bakers in mind. Internally, it only has space for small to medium round loaves (boules) or small oval loaves (batards). This can be limiting if you want to bake bigger loaves or baguettes.

The Challenger Bread Pan has so much space inside, you can bake large loaves and demi-baguettes without a problem.

You can also use the bottom pan for cooking and roasting! Cooking on cast iron is always more nutritious and the results are better every time.

What’s it like baking with it?

As with any new kitchen equipment, practice makes perfect. I’ve baked with the Challenger Bread Pan three times now, and I’ve got it down to a science already.

One thing to note? It’s not light! As anyone who cooks with cast-iron knows, these pans bear some weight. For me, I was used to my 13.5 lb combo cooker, so this nearly 22 lb beauty took some getting used to. It’s definitely a two-handed operation, but that’s a fair trade off considering how much larger and more accommodating the pan is.

I also had to make some minor adjustments to my baking temperatures. Previously, I was preheating my combo cooker to 500°F, then reducing and baking at 470°F. My first loaf in the Challenger Bread Pan came out darker than I’m used to, so I adjusted my temperatures and now preheat at 475°F and bake at 450°F. Color aside, that first loaf still had epic oven spring and a delicious crumb. Plus, lower oven temps mean less energy used!

Sourdough bread in the Challenger Bread Pan
Look at that beautiful pan – and the beautiful bread it produced!

Would I recommend the Challenger Bread Pan?

Yes! I would absolutely recommend this pan.

It’s more expensive than some other options out there, but if you’re a committed home baker and baking bread regularly, this pan is for you. At the time of writing, the Challenger Bread Pan is $275 USD, but this price may change. Just know: There’s literally nothing better out there for us home bakers, and the quality of the cast-iron is second to none.

It’s equal in price to the 5-quart Le Creuset Dutch oven, which I’ve heard can burn your forearms from its’ high edges if you’re not careful. The Challenger Bread Pan eliminates that risk entirely!

In the interest of full disclosure, Jim sent me a pan to try out before we did our Breaking Bread Interview #3 together. I was thrilled at his generosity, but my husband and I were already making plans to buy the pan outright. It’s not something you can impulse-buy, but I suggest giving it serious thought if you’re a regular home baker like me. It’s solid, bakes better breads, and can be used in regular cooking as well.

I give the Challenger Bread Pan a hearty two thumbs up!

Check out the pan on the Challenger Breadware website here.

Oh, and by the way, if you’re looking for some more help understanding hydration, click here to check out The Beginner’s Guide to Sourdough Hydration.

And don’t forget I have a whole page of resources available to help you in your sourdough journey – click here to find it!

Challenger Bread Pan: A Home Baker’s Review

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MG Pogue August 3, 2020 - 8:02 am

About to buy this pan with today only sale price of 20% off! Want to make sure I can have lighter colored bread as I really don’t like the darker crusty bread but want the spring and ease of this pan. Would love you to confirm. Hope this reaches you in time! Thanks MG

leavenly August 4, 2020 - 2:56 pm

I’m sorry I missed this comment, I was out of town with my family until today! I usually check my comments every day, so I’m very sorry. I still recommend the Challenger Bread Pan, though – you could absolutely get a lighter crust with this pan! Just bake with the lid off for less time 🙂

Ignatius Creegan November 27, 2020 - 12:13 pm

what are dimensions of this pan?

Heather December 1, 2020 - 4:03 pm

The outer dimensions are 15.4″ x 10.5″ x 5.4″, and the inner dimensions are 11.5″ x 9″ x 5″.

JD April 25, 2021 - 10:58 am

The inside diameter of my 3.2 qt. Lodge Combo Cooker is 9.625″. It will make a slightly larger boule that the 9″-wide Challenger. What do people make 10″ boules in? I can just barely make 9″ boules in my combo cooker. But I love it! The Challenger seems pricey for the ability to make slightly longer batards.

Heather November 6, 2021 - 3:42 pm

Are you baking in the deep or shallow pan of the combo cooker? The shallow pan has a larger diameter but I’m not sure what it is exactly.

The Challenger Bread Pan is beneficial for much more than just baking slightly longer batards. You can fit two small batards in at once, it bakes more evenly, and toasts the ear to perfection. It’s definitely an investment but one that will last for generations!

Micaela February 24, 2021 - 5:25 pm

Can you bake other types of breads, beside sourdough, in this?

Heather May 10, 2021 - 12:35 pm

Yes, as long as they’re a shaped bread and don’t need to rely on the structure of a bread pan. Baguettes, dinner rolls, and focaccia come to mind immediately but I’m sure there’s much more!

Ed March 12, 2021 - 10:04 am

Hi, how many banner on loaves fit in at a time. I see most round or baguette in the pics. I usually always bake 2 loaves at a time on the pizza stone.

Heather March 18, 2021 - 8:22 pm

If your loaves are small (dough weighing 650g or less) you can bake two batards at once. I just discovered this myself! Try to get them as far apart as possible, and when the lid comes off, rotate the loaves so the parts that are touching get baked as well. Have not tried two boules as I assume they would end up touching and not bake thoroughly. Hope this helps!

Maggie Abernathy April 1, 2021 - 12:26 pm

How do you score your bread to make it look like the picture on your website? Please send a link for me? The picture is here:
Challenger Bread Pan: A Home Baker’s Review
by Heather April 24, 2020

Heather November 6, 2021 - 3:28 pm

Hi Maggie!

I don’t have instructions for that particular score, but I do have a similar one in my Scoring Workshop.

Hope this helps!

Basia June 2, 2021 - 6:20 am

Thank you for your review. I have been baking bread since right before the pandemic year and have been using my huge Le Creuset. I also have a black chambra for when I am baking two loaves. Can you fit two loaves in this baker? Most recipes, such as Martin Philip’s “Breaking Bread,” produce two loaves, and I have been baking oatmeal bread in a bread pan *within* a large Le Creuset that doesn’t fit any another other loaf. I have been forced to bake one loaf and then the other. I am wondering if the Challenger Bread Pan would solve this problem and be able to fit both loaves.

Heather June 25, 2021 - 9:59 am

Hi Basia, I’ve been able to fit two batards in the Challenger, but it really depends on your loaf size. You can always adjust your recipe to create smaller loaves to fit in the Challenger together!


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