A loaf is a, usually rounded or oblong, mass of food, typically and originally of bread. It is common to bake bread in a rectangular bread pan, also called a loaf pan, because some kinds of bread dough tend to collapse and spread out during the cooking process. Doughs with a thicker viscosity can be hand-molded into the desired loaf shape and cooked on a flat oven tray. The shape of doughs with a thinner viscosity can be maintained with a bread pan whose sides are higher than the uncooked dough.
The same principle applies to non-bread products such as meatloaf and cakes that are cooked so as to retain their shape during the cooking process. In determining the size of the loaf, the cook or baker must take into consideration the need for heat to penetrate the loaf evenly during the cooking process, so that no parts are overcooked or undercooked. Many kinds of mass-produced bread are distinctly squared, with well-defined corners on the bottom of the loaf. Loaves of rectangular shape can be made more or less identical, and can be packed and shipped efficiently.
The modern English word loaf is derived from Old English hlaf, bread, which in turn is from Gothic hlaifs. Old High German hleib and modern German Laib derive from this Proto-Germanic word, which was borrowed into Slavic (Polish chleb, Russian khleb) and Finnic (Finnish leipä, Estonian leib) languages as well.
Loaves and biscuits were introduced in Bengal during the British colonial period and received popularity within the Sylheti Muslim community. However, the middle-class Hindus of Cachar and Sylhet were very suspicious of biscuits and breads as they believed they were baked by Muslims. In one occasion, a few Hindus in Cachar caught some Englishmen eating biscuits with tea which caused an uproar. The information reached the Hindus of Sylhet and a little rebellion occurred. In response to this, companies started to advertise their bread as "machine-made" and "untouched by (Muslim) hand" to tell Hindus that the breads were "safe for consumption". This incident is mentioned in Bipin Chandra Pal's autobiography and he mentions how gradually culinary habits of Hindus eventually changed and biscuits and loaves became increasingly popular.
- Cottage loaf, an English double-decker loaf of bread.
- Malt loaf, a sweet dark bread, sometimes with fruit.
- Nutraloaf, a type of food served in some US prisons.
- Sugarloaf, a solid form that refined sugar has been sold in.
- Sandwich loaf, a layer-cake like party dish, made from a loaf of bread with savory fillings.
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- American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th ed, 2003.
- Victoria Wise, Susanna Hoffman, The Well-filled Microwave Cookbook (1996), p. 100.
- Stanley Cauvain, Linda S. Young, Technology of Breadmaking , p. 146, 231, 380.
- Keith Cohen, Artisan Bread: Techniques & Recipes from New York's Orwasher's Bakery (2014), p. 59.
- Harper, Douglas. "bread". Online Etymology Dictionary.
- Diakonov, I. M. (1999). The paths of history. Cambridge University Press. p. 79. ISBN 0521643988.
Slavic langues retain many Gothic words, reflecting cultural borrowings: thus khleb, (bread) from an earlier khleiba from Gothic hlaifs, or, rather, from the more ancient form hlaibhaz, which meant bread baked in an oven (and, probably, made with yeast), as different from a l-iepekha, which was a flat cake moulded (liepiti) from paste, and baked on charcoal. [the same nominal stem *hlaibh- has been preserved in modern English as loaf; cf. Lord, from ancient hlafweard bread-keeper]
- "The Etymology of the Word 'Bread'". Bon Appetit. Retrieved 30 September 2016.
- Ray, Utsa (5 Jan 2015). Culinary Culture in Colonial India. Cambridge University Press. p. 175.