Before actually talking about bread proofing baskets and everything about them from what is a proofing basket for bread to what are the best proofing baskets to how to use one, we must start with the fundamentals.
Let me just make one thing clear from the start. Proofing baskets are not essential tools for making bread. They don’t compare with how important it is to use a good loaf pan or a fantastic Dutch oven or an excellent baking stone.
They are somewhat on the level of a flour sifter. It can be very nice to have one around but you can do without.
Proofing Bread: Short Intro
When we mention the words bread proofing basket, we all know what two of the three words mean. The term proofing might not be completely understood by everyone.
Proofing bread simply refers to the step when the yeast is activated in the dough. Proofing happens in yeast breads and it is the last rise in the process. It takes place after the dough has been shaped and it lasts until the dough is ready for baking.
We have the bulk fermentation (the first rising phase, before shaping) and then we have proofing as the second rise after the dough has been shaped.
If you are completely committed to making fantastic bread, the basic steps of making bread dough until it’s ready for scoring and baking are the following:
- after kneading (can be done by hand, with a stand mixer or by a bread machine), the dough is shaped into a ball and placed in a bowl (you can lightly oil the bowl), the bowl is covered with a towel, and let to complete its firs rise
- for an ideal rise, the best temperatures are between 80°F – 90°F
- it can take anywhere from 45 minutes up to 2 hours
- the rising phase is considered complete when the dough has doubled in size – another way to test is to stick two fingers until the second knuckle and, once you take them out, the indentations should still be there and not filled entirely by the dough
- you can punch down the dough and shape it
- now comes the moment when you can move the dough from the bowl to the proofing basket, when the second rise or the proofing can begin
- if you’re using a loaf pan instead of a proofing basket, you can place the dough directly into the phase for its second rising – you see now why proofing happens after the dough has been shaped
- the proofing will give the dough a much better flavor and an increased volume than what can be achieved by simply doing the bulk fermentation
- to determine if the dough is done proofing, simply touch the side of the dough with your fingertip, just enough to make a small indentation
- if the indentation remains, you’re ready for baking
Proofing is the last stage of fermentation for the yeast, when the yeast feeds on sugars and starches (carbohydrates) and expels carbon dioxide, which makes the dough rise and rise until it’s time for scoring and then baking.
Sourdough breads also require proofing as a last stage before baking.
But proofing bread is not only necessary because it expands the dough, it’s what actually gives the bread its flavor. It’s an important step when making all kinds of yeast breads, sourdough bread, and definitely important for pizza making but maybe a proofing basket can be a simple and wonderful solution to a step so important, we’ll see.
By the way, if you are interested, check out this article from weekendbakery on the myth of double in size. To be honest, I’m still going by the double in size saying but it’s an interesting read for bakers.
Now, let’s get back to what interests us presently.
In this article we’re going to take the proofing bread concept and expand it to bread proofing baskets, to see how useful they are to have around or if you can do without.
Proofing baskets won’t influence the proofing process, you still need to experiment with the temperature and the timing, they just help preserve a nice round or oval shape with a few light circle imprints in the form of a coil.
You don’t bake the dough in a basket for proofing either.
What Is a Proofing Basket?
Bread proofing is not an exact concept and it can also lead to either underproofing or overproofing.
In a very warm environment, the dough can rise in as little as under an hour, while a colder setting might make the proofing go on for two-three hours.
Since I mostly rely on my bread machine to make all kinds of breads for my family, I am still experiencing all the wonders and intricacies related to making bread by hand.
The proofing applies if you’re using a stand mixer to make dough because the mixer only kneads the dough, then you have to shape it and let it rise. Or if you’re using a bread maker just for its capabilities to knead the dough.
Which is why I’m happy that we get to learn together which are the essential baking tools and which are just nice to have around but not essential to bread making. Let’s see where bread proofing baskets belong on the list of essential items. Hint: not that high.
Let’s start by explaining what is a proofing basket. Bread proofing baskets are also called bannetons.
A proofing basket for bread is a round or oval-shaped small basket made mostly of rattan and usually they are handmade. Rattan is the thin pliable stems of a palm and it’s a material used for making furniture but it’s also preferred for bread proofing baskets.
The rattan is coiled and it will leave beautiful imprints into the dough that will be preserved through baking. If you’ve seen circles on a loaf and you wondered how they were made, now you know that they were imprints from the proofing basket.
Most of the round proofing baskets have a 9-inch diameter, while the oval ones usually measure 10 inches.
They also come with a linen liner cloth. The linen liner cloth has two purposes: to prevent the dough from sticking to the basket, which would transform into a cleaning ordeal, and for ensuring a smoother crust by providing a barrier between the dough and the rattan lines of the basket.
People actually tend to prefer using the basket without the cloth because they want those beautiful circles, it certainly elevates the design of a loaf.
But what is actually the role of a proofing basket?
It just helps you achieve a very nice shape. The shape can be nicely round or oval.
The time needed for proofing the bread and the temperature will still have to be determined by you, the proofing basket won’t help you.
A round bowl covered with a towel can do the same thing minus the perfect shape and that coil imprint on the crust.
You can place a proofing basket in the fridge if you’re more fond of proofing bread in the fridge.
If you’re using a loaf pan for baking the breads, the rectangular ones that we’re all used to, there’s absolutely no point in using a bread proofing basket.
It works if you’re using a Dutch oven or a cloche or a baking stone for bread or even a sheet pan.
How to Use a Proofing Basket
When using a bread proofing basket there are not a lot of things to keep in mind.
If you decide to buy a basket for proofing bread, when you get it, you need to prep it. That’s in case you decide not to use the linen liner cloth that comes with it.
The cloth might prevent the linear pattern that many people want so, it’s up to you to decide if you use it or not.
If you’re using a linen liner cloth, the dough might stick to the cloth when the time comes to turning the dough out of the basket.
If you’re making a wet dough, the linen liner cloth is what you want to use. Dampen the cloth a bit and work rice flour into the cloth to ensure a pretty efficient release, it might stick a bit but the cloth is washable. Wash it by happen to prevent any tearing out.
If you’re not using it to line the basket then just use it to cover the dough while it’s rising instead of a kitchen towel.
How do you prep a proofing basket when you get it?
Get it damp and then dust it with rice flour and they let it dry completely. Use rice flour if you want to prevent the dough from sticking. You could try with wheat flour, as well, but there might be a chance that the dough will stick to the rattan.
Place the dough in the proofing basket after the first rise has been completed.
If you’re using a proofing basket, when the proofing is done, I’m still going by the method of dough doubled in size or left in the fridge for at least 12 hours especially for pizza making, you turn the bread proofing basket upside down on the peel or you can turn it directly into the Dutch oven, on a sheet pan or a cloche.
You could additionally put your hand underneath the dough when you start turning the basket so that you can offer a soft lending to your dough.
Once that’s done, and the basket is empty, give it a few taps to remove the excess rice flour.
You will need to wash it from time to time but only use water, no soap. You can dry it with a towel, it’s okay to leave it a bit damp and then dust it with rice flour. Once it’s dusted with flour, you leave it to dry completely.
Top 2 Best Bread Proofing Baskets
I only chose two bread proofing baskets because these two are well-made from very good rattan and their price is pretty good, too. These two fit all the criteria but if you’re not happy with my two choices, there are a lot of proofing baskets on the market that might be better than these two and I’m not aware of them.
King Arthur also has a good banneton but it’s quite expensive. Still, it can be a good alternative to these two that I reviewed.
1. Forsun Round Bread-Banneton – Best Round Bread Proofing Basket
The Forsun Banneton has an excellent price-quality rapport.
The price is quite affordable, one of the cheapest the you can get, and the quality is excellent, which definitely makes it my first recommendation as a best proofing basket, even though there are many much more popular than this one.
But I think that this one will be worthy of your attention.
It’s made of high-quality rattan, free from dye and chemicals.
There are two options when it comes to available sizes: 8.5-inch and 10-inch.
Both are round-shaped.
The difference between them is that 8.5 inch one holds up to 1.5 pounds of dough, while the bigger size holds up to 2 pounds of dough and it’s good for medium to large breads.
They both come with cotton liners.
2. Saint Germain Premium Oval Banneton Basket – Best Oval Bread Proofing Basket
This oval proofing basket is of quite a high quality but the interesting thing about it is that it has a really good price if you get it on sale.
I don’t think it’s worthy of a full price but it’s a totally awesome deal if you get it on sale.
This is a 10 inch one so, not the biggest but an expected size for an oval banneton. It’s still enough for making a medium to large loaf.
And it’s obviously made of rattan. And it comes with a cloth liner.
This manufacturer also has a 10-inch round basket at a very acceptable price so, you can check that one out, too.
Proofing Basket vs Proofing Box for Bread
As we’ve established, a proofing basket just holds the nice round or oval shape of the dough as it rises and it will be removed from the basket once the proofing is done and it’s ready to be scored and put in the oven for baking.
A proofing box for bread is a totally different tool.
What is a proofing box for bread, you might ask? It’s your oven, your oven can become your proofing box and a perfect better replacement for a proofing basket. Or it can work in tandem with a bread proofing basket.
We use our ovens for baking but we can also use our ovens to make the dough rise. How do you do that?
A proofing box involves a few steps but it can actually influence the proofing process in a positive manner, if it’s done right, while a proofing basket just maintains a nice shape.
A proofing box for bread, also known as a proofer, is a warm area with temperatures ranging from 70 to 115°F. It actually keeps the dough warm and humid.
How can you transform your oven into a proofing box for bread?
It’s quite easy.
Place 3 cups of boiling water into a pan on the bottom of the oven, place the dough on the middle rack, and close the door.
Don’t turn the oven on, you’re not doing any baking yet. The dough should rise the proper amount in about 2 hours.
The dough can be placed in a proofing basket if you want the perfect round or oval shaped and the proofing basket will go into the proofing box for bread.