Cinnamon roll stacks are just the beginning.

By Stacey Ballis
May 13, 2020
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We’re all baking banana bread like it’s going out of style (don’t worry, it’s never really going out of style). But it turns out that that loaf pan you’ve pulled out from the back of your kitchen storage is a wildly useful tool that goes far beyond the banana. See what else that little workhorse can do for you:

1. Downsize your mega-casseroles!

Casseroles were practically created to serve a crowd, meaning that enormous lasagna recipe, your grandmom’s famous tuna noodle casserole, or Senator Amy Klobuchar’s award-winning Taconite Hotdish might seem like a bit too much while sheltering at home alone, with one other person, or even as a family of four. Loaf pans to the rescue! Pretty much any casserole recipe you have can be assembled and cooked in two 9x5 loaf pans. Here’s what to do:

1. Line one of your pans with parchment paper.

2. Eat the un-parchmented one for dinner, chill the other overnight in the fridge, then transfer to the freezer while still in the loaf pan until frozen solid.

3. Once frozen solid, remove from freezer. Use the parchment paper to lift the casserole from the loaf pan. Wrap it well with plastic wrap, then foil, and then put into a freezer bag and return to the freezer.

4. When you want to have it for dinner again, unwrap while frozen and pop it right back into a greased loaf pan. Let thaw, covered, overnight in the fridge before reheating. Result? Two fabulous meals for half the effort.

2. Rediscover the wonder that is meat loaf.

Meat loaf is a natural, obviously—I mean, it’s right there in the name! If you don’t have a recipe you love, we have a few to explore, including some vegetarian options. Even if a recipe calls for a freeform loaf, I often make it in a loaf pan, because the only thing better than meatloaf for dinner is a meatloaf sandwich for lunch, and those free-form, football-shaped loaves make for some awkward sandwich prep.

3. Make a totally different kind of bread.

Pull-apart breads are always fun, whether it is a sweet option for breakfast or brunch or a savory version to serve with dinner. I love the shingled look of these breads where squares of dough are stacked up and baked in a loaf pan and you can just peel off the slices one at a time.

It’s also much easier to make something like cinnamon rolls in a loaf pan. Follow your favorite recipe, smear the cinnamon filling on your sheet of dough, but instead of rolling and slicing into rounds, cut the dough into 4-inch squares. Stack the squares up and then lay the stack sidewise in a pair of greased loaf pans for the second rise. You might need to bake slightly longer. You’ll end up with essentially a giant loaf-shaped roll where everyone can pick off as many layers as they want. And again, the second loaf can be frozen for another time; just don’t glaze before freezing. For easy garlic bread, make any basic dinner roll recipe you love, roll it out and spread with garlic butter, stack, prove, and bake.

4. Try a terrine!

Terrine might sound French and fancy, but it really just means any food that is formed and shaped in a loaf and served in a slice, usually chilled (think of meatloaf as a hot version of a terrine). Vegetables lend themselves to this fun treatment. And it couldn’t be easier:

1. Grill your favorite veggies.

2. Layer them with a softened herbed cheese in a plastic-wrap-lined loaf pan.

3. Cover the top with the plastic wrap and compress everything with a weight. Chill overnight.

4. Invert onto a platter, removing plastic wrap, and dig in! Got tomatoes coming in? Try this eggplant and tomato version.

5. Stack up dessert!

One of my favorite uses for a loaf pan, especially if you have an extra one that can live in the freezer full time, is to use it to make a fun, layered frozen dessert. If you’ve pulled out some pints of ice cream for after dinner (or to fuel a Netflix binge), now’s the time to take advantage of the softened leftovers still in the carton:

1. Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap.

2. Spread a layer of softened ice cream on the bottom, then alternate layers with any leftover baked good (cake or cookies), crumbled. Nuts or dried fruit work, too, and you can also consider a layer of leftover hot fudge or caramel sauce.

3. If you have enough to layer up a whole loaf, brilliant! If not, press plastic wrap right on the top of the ice cream, wrap the whole thing well in foil, place in a freezer bag, and wait until the next ice cream night.

5. Keep layering up until your loaf pan is full, and invert to serve.

If you don’t have leftover frozen treats to use up, you can buy new ones just for this purpose (try our Ice Cream, Sorbet and Froyo Terrine) or you can make a frozen layered dessert loaf (like our Frozen Mocha Terrine) from scratch.