A loaf is a shape, usually rounded or oblong, mass of food. It may refer to a whole article of bread, or meatloaf. Technically, any unit of bread is called a "loaf", no matter what its shape, and the loaf can therefore vary in the ratio of length to width, and in its roundness. However, it is common to bake bread in a rectangular bread pan, also called a loaf pan, because different kinds of bread dough have different levels of viscosity, meaning that some doughs will tend to collapse and spread out more than others during the cooking process. Doughs with a thicker viscosity can be hand-molded into the desired loaf shape, and cooked without using any kind of walled pan. However, using a bread pan with sides higher than the height of the uncooked dough maintains the shape of doughs with a thinner viscosity, and allows multiple loaves to be cooked with different dough recipes while maintaining approximately the same shape.
The same principle applies to non-bread products such as meatloaf 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 cooking heat to penetrate the loaf evenly during the cooking process, so that no parts are overcooked or undercooked. Many kinds of mass-produced bread products are distinctly squared, with well-defined corners on the bottom of the loaf. This is in part because it is easier to consistently cook identical loaves of bread in a rectangular form than in a more curved form, and in part because rectangular loaves can be packed for shipping more efficiently.
- Cottage loaf, an English double-decker loaf of bread
- Malt loaf, a sweet dark bread, sometimes with fruit
- Nutraloaf, type of food sometimes served in some US prisons
- Sugarloaf, a solid form that refined sugar has been sold in
- Sandwich loaf, a layer-cake like party food, made from a whole loaf of bread with savory filings
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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.