I’m a home baker who makes sourdough bread for my family each week, and this is my review of the Challenger Bread Pan.
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…
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.
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!
Would I recommend the Challenger Bread Pan?
Yes! I would absolutely recommend this pan.
At $295 USD 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. 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.