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.
Last week I mentioned the Super Peel in my Gift Ideas post, and I’d like to tell you a bit more about it, as it’s one of my favorite tools.
If you bake bread or pizza you know that a peel is used to transfer a loaf or pizza onto a hot baking stone. A traditional wood or metal peel must usually be quite heavily dusted with flour or cornmeal to allow the dough to slide off the peel and onto the stone without sticking — and sometimes it still sticks, especially if the dough is quite wet. Parchment paper can help, but it’s expensive, disposable, and burns at high oven temperatures.
The Super Peel is a clever answer to those problems. Modeled after the cloth conveyor belts that professional bakeries use to get loaves in and out of large deck ovens, the Super Peel has its own pastry-cloth belt that gently and efficiently picks up a pizza, loaf, or any other delicate or sticky item from a flat surface and deposits it, unscathed, anywhere you like.
There is no right or wrong way to bake. Or rather, the “right” way is whatever way has you aching with pleasure when you pull a lovely loaf or perfect pie from the oven and taste that first bite of heaven.
So when I say – rather loudly, sorry – “WEIGH YOUR INGREDIENTS, PEOPLE!” please understand that’s just a suggestion. Okay, a very strong suggestion. Some would even say I’m fanatical about it.
If you don’t believe that my way is the only one that merits consideration, think about this experiment I did with a few friends not long ago, using my favorite problem child, flour:
Everyone measured out one cup of white flour from the same bag, using their usual measuring technique. When we weighed each cupful on my kitchen scale we found they ranged from 127 to 148 grams. That’s a difference of up to 15%.
Don’t think 15% makes much difference? In the world of bread, it’s huge. Using 15% more flour can transform what’s supposed to be ciabatta into something more like French bread, or sandwich bread into something as stiff as a bagel. And vice versa.
Meet my new best friend: the Cuisinart Brick Oven BRK-200. I rarely bake one loaf of bread at a time, so I wouldn’t have sprung for this if I didn’t have plenty of other items on its agenda, but this countertop oven happens to turn out a wonderful loaf. Read more of my thoughts on the oven in my review at Just Baking.
I know what you’re thinking: Can she really have written this much about water, the most boring of bread ingredients? This girl really needs to find something to do.
But wait: water’s function is much more interesting than simply that of the matchmaker that brings flour, yeast, and salt together. The quality of my bread really improved once I learned how to adjust the amount and temperature of the water to control some characteristics of the dough. (Read more…)