My (Non-)Bannetons

A while ago I wrote about brotforms, the German coiled cane proofing baskets that leave a spiral pattern on the crust of your loaf. What if you don’t have a brotform, or don’t want that spiral pattern? A banneton, French cousin to the brotform, is a woven wicker basket that usually has a linen fabric liner sewn into it.

A basket provides support for a proofing loaf; the linen liner reduces sticking and yields a smoother crust than an unlined basket. While I do proof most of my boules and batards in linen-lined baskets, they’re not official bannetons. Instead, I use loose pieces of natural unbleached linen that I lay inside of whatever basket or other vessel I want to use use for proofing. This works very well and has quite a few advantages over sewn-in liners:

It’s flexible. Any basket or bowl can be used; you don’t need special “proofing baskets.” I have been known to use decorative wicker or sisal baskets; the basket from my salad spinner; plastic chip baskets; and salad and mixing bowls made from wood, ceramic, plastic, or metal. Whatever size you need, you probably already have it around the house. Of course if you already have a brotform, you can lay a linen liner in that too, if you feel like it.

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Proofing bread in a basket gives support to an expanding loaf and helps it maintain its shape. When the basket is a brotform, it also imprints the crust with a beautiful spiral pattern that lends the finished loaf a rustic European flair.

A brotform (German for “bread mold” – see why we stick with the German name?) is a coiled cane basket that holds the shaped dough during its final proof. My brotforms (or brotformen, if you want to keep strictly to the German) are round and oval, but they also come in rectangular, square, triangular, and a variety of other shapes. A 7.5- or 8-inch diameter round brotform is a good size for up to a 1.5-pound loaf.

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Flour 101

Flour is flour is flour. Ground up wheat. And wheat is wheat is wheat. Right?norwich sourdough crumb

No! While using the right flour will not guarantee perfect bread (no one thing can guarantee that, after all), a very wrong flour might all but guarantee a flop. When choosing a basic white flour suitable for most bread baking, there are a few things to look for.

What’s not helpful are the labels “Bread Flour” and “All-Purpose Flour.” There is no standardization for these terms, and some flours designated “all-purpose” may be preferable to some “bread flours” for most bread baking (especially “artisan” hearth breads). On the other hand, some so-called “all-purpose” flours are definitely not. You’re much better off looking at the characteristics of a flour rather than its name.

But in case you just want to cut to the chase, I’ll give you the bottom line up front. Here’s a list of flours that I have known and loved:

  • Central Milling Organic Unbleached All-Purpose. This is the flour I currently use. I buy it at Costco in 20-lb. packages. I believe many Costcos nationwide, and perhaps other club stores, carry it.
  • Giusto’s Golden Haven. I haven’t seen it in stores but I have a natural foods store that will special-order it for me. Giusto’s is based in San Francisco and I don’t know about availability in other areas. Organic.
  • Heartland Mill UBAP (unbleached, unenriched, malted “All Purpose”). I have ordered this directly from the Heartland Mill website. Unfortunately, exorbitant shipping charges prevent me from continuing to use it. Maybe it is available locally where you live. Organic.
  • Gold Medal Harvest King (alternatively labeled “Better for Bread” in some parts of the country). It is widely available in supermarkets. Non-organic.

What makes these flours wonderful?

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Sprouted Wheat

Last year I took a workshop on whole grain breads at SFBI, in which we sprouted some wheat berries and used them in two breads. I loved those breads so much that afterwards at home I promptly got some wheat berries of my own, set them to sprouting, ground them up, and put them in the refrigerator with the intention of baking with them within a few days.

Well… one thing and another kept me from getting to that sprouted wheat for quite some time… and when I finally opened up the container I got a nose full of fumes that left no doubt as to what “grain alcohol” is all about. So consider yourself warned: sprouted wheat does not keep forever in the refrigerator; it will, given enough time, ferment itself into oblivion. If you’re going to go to the trouble of sprouting it, make sure you have a plan for using it.

That batch was destined for the compost pile, but I did better this time. If you guessed that this is a batch of ground sprouted wheat berries that I prepared for my BreadBakingDay #11 (bread with sprouts) offering, you were absolutely right.

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What’s Wrong With This Miche?

What’s wrong with this miche? Absolutely nothing.

I’ve written about this high-extraction miche before. It’s one of my favorite breads, and this loaf I made yesterday did not disappoint. I used the same recipe, same method as always. But something differentiates this particular miche from the other high-extraction miches that have gone before it, and indeed from all the other breads I have ever posted here.

This bread was made with tap water. Not only that, but the starter that leavened it was raised from scratch on tap water too. Now maybe this doesn’t seem like a breakthrough to you, but it is to me.

We drink and cook with tap water. Tap water is, by most accounts, safer, cheaper, and more environmentally responsible than bottled. But until now I have always used bottled water for starters and doughs, because I had heard that chlorine or chloramine (chlorine’s more stable, longer-lasting cousin) would inhibit yeast activity. Frankly, I’m not sure why I bought into this without my eyebrows raising even so much as a flicker. I am usually the world’s biggest skeptic, and certainly the phrase “don’t believe everything you hear” is one my kids are sick and tired of hearing from me.

Then a couple of weeks ago, Jeremy (Stir the Pots) challenged me. Is bottled water really better for bread? It was a fair question; time to find out for myself.

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Baker’s Percentage Tutorial, Part 4

This final installment in the Baker’s Percentage tutorial series concerns breads that are made with preferments. (A preferment is a poolish, biga, sponge, sourdough starter, etc., where a portion of the flour is fermented prior to the mixing of the final dough.) If you missed the first three parts, you’ll want to read them before diving into this one. An index of the entire tutorial is here.

A preferment can be thought of in different ways. On one hand, it is a dough unto itself, and it has a BP formula all its own. But a preferment is also an ingredient in the final dough.

Look at this formula for baguette dough made with a poolish. The blue table shows the formula for the final dough, scaled to make 2340 g of dough. The yellow table shows the formula for the poolish, scaled to make 936 g, the amount needed for the final dough. Note that the formula for each part is based on the amount of flour needed for that part. Also note that the poolish is listed as an ingredient in the final dough formula.

Poolish Final Dough
Ingredient % Grams % Grams
Flour 100% 468 g 100% 900 g
Water 100% 468 g 52% 468 g
Instant Yeast 0.06% 0.3 g 1% 9 g
Salt 3% 27 g
Poolish 104% 936 g
Total 200% 936 g 260% 2340 g

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