Whether you’re a veteran baker or a newbie just getting started on your adventures in bread baking, knowing what you can use instead of a proofing basket will definitely up your game. Baking bread is both an art and a science, and proofing is the step that can incorporate both. Proofing allows the dough to rest and rise, a proofing basket gives shape and depending on the type of basket used, a beautiful texture or pattern to the final product.
What are your options when you don’t have a proofing basket, but you want to give shape and/or a pattern to the baked bread? Here are some handy alternatives you’re sure to find in your kitchen or home that you can use in a pinch:
- Linen cloth, or heavy fabric with a raised weave pattern
- Bowl (wood, bamboo, ceramic, plastic or metal)
- Wicker basket
- Plastic containers
- Terracotta gardening pots
It’s important to note that a proofing basket differs from a baking pan in that the dough is removed from the proofing basket before baking. Traditional proofing baskets are generally made of wicker, but there are cane, rattan, terracotta and other materials used in modern proofing baskets. Consequently, it’s pretty easy to find some great alternatives to conventional proofing baskets.
What is Proofing?
Bread proofing is the step in the bread-making process that allows the dough to rest and rise before being baked. It’s during this step that the leavening happens. The yeast begins to ferment, producing gases that force the bread to rise and gives an airy quality to the final product.
What is a Proofing Basket, and What Does it Do?
A proofing basket, also known as a banneton or brotform basket, usually round or oblong, is used to give shape, structure, and even pattern to bread during the leavening process. If your dough is quite sticky or too soft, a proofing basket is ideal to force the bread to take an upward shape, rather than expanding outward.
In addition to shaping and providing a pattern, they also help draw off any excess moisture from the crust, adding to a crispier darker final result.
Although proofing baskets are relatively inexpensive, most novice home bakers do not have one. Knowing some of the alternatives is an easy way to solve the problem until you go out and get one for yourself.
If you don’t feel like poking around your house for a proofing basket alternative, and you’re in the market for one, make sure to read about our top pick right here before you go out and buy one.
Don’t Have a Proofing Basket? Here Are Some Great Alternatives
Here we’re going to get into a little more detail as to how the alternatives (listed above) to a traditional proofing basket can be used.
Linen or Heavy Cloth Proofing (aka Couche)
Depending on the type of bread being baked, a proofing cloth, also known as a “couche” can be used during the rest and rise stage. Traditionally, a proofing cloth is a coarse and heavy fabric (like linen) that is used to prove a freeform bread such as a boule or a baguette. Flouring a piece of linen, or a heavy cloth (i.e., canvas) a great alternative to a proofing basket,
it keeps the dough from sticking to your counters and the more you use it, the better it gets.
To start, you’ll need to season it by dumping a generous amount of flour (at least one cup) and rub it into the cloth. Dump the flour and it’s ready to use. Place the dough onto the cloth and wrap. Each time you use the cloth you’ll need to re-dust it with flour, but that’s easy enough.
This option allows the bread to proof, freeform and if the weave pattern is pronounced, it will imprint onto the dough. Note: Avoid using cotton, as the smaller fibers permit the dough to stick to the cloth.
Wood, ceramic, plastic, and even metal or bamboo salad bowls can be used. While a bowl can be used on its own, by dusting it with flour or oiling it well, using a cloth with the bowl will help with flour slipping of the side of the bowl as most bowls are smooth and do not have ridges that can hold the flour the higher up you get in the bowl.
It also gives the shape of the bowl as well as help reduce any excess moisture. Lining with a cloth is a nice option if the bowl being used doesn’t have a pattern to imprint. You can also plop the shaped dough on to a large enough piece of parchment paper, place this in the bowl and cover with a tea towel or linen cloth. The dough is allowed to rise evenly and take on the shape of the bowl and will release from the bowl more easily as well.
Using the same principle as above, lining a wicker basket with a cloth is a great alternative to a traditional proofing basket. If you’re using a cloth, any old wicker basket will work. If you don’t plan on using a cloth layer between the basket and the dough, flour the basket and make sure that the wicker basket is food safe. Either way, you’re likely to get a gorgeous shape and texture to your bread.
A word of caution. If you wicker basket is not tightly woven i strongly suggest to use a linen cloth. This is to prevent the dough from proofing into the spaces of the weave and sticking to the basket.
Essentially the same process as the bowl and wicker basket options. Place a tea towel or linen cloth dusted with flour into a plastic or metal colander, drop your shaped dough inside and loosely cover with the cloth overhang.
Plastic Containers Or Tupperware
If the shape, whether round or square, isn’t important to you then plastic containers can be a great option. When choosing your container, make sure it’s one that will allow the dough to double in size. As long as the container is properly oiled, it should also be fairly easy to remove.
An unglazed terracotta garden pot is a creative option for proofing your bread, letting you use it as a proofing basket. I know some people that go above and beyond and use it as a baking pan but I tend to avoid it, simply because you can’t tell for sure what materials that pot is actually made of. In high baking temperature the clay can release some hazardous chemicals you don’t want anywhere near your bread. Therefore as a baking pan, I say.. pass.
Back to the terracotta pot as a proofing basket. Pick one that is about 9 inches or 26 cm in diameter or bigger. This will allow for a 2 lb loaf or about a 900 gr about the standard loaf. If you have one that is bigger, no issue.
Next, wash it out with some soap and water. Let it dry out completely ( This can take several hours).
I suggest using linen or any heavy fabric cloth you have that is pre-seasoned with flour and line the pot and proof your dough in.
If for some reason don’t have one you can always oil the pot. You would have to give it a couple of layers before you can use it as clay has pores in it and will soak up the oil.
To Proof or Not to Proof
Proofing essentially controls the quality of baked bread, not proofing or not giving enough time means a denser bread – no air pockets or flaky layers. Proofing isn’t a step to skip when baking bread.
Time and Proofing
When proofing, it’s important to make sure that enough time is given for the carbon dioxide gas to be released at a rate that allows the gluten to structure to form. You can check to see if you bread has proofed enough buy using the poke method.
Altitude, Weather, and Proofing
A few things to consider when proofing your bread dough is whether you live in an area with a higher than sea level elevation and the seasons.
Thinner air at higher altitudes enables the yeast to expand up to twenty-five to fifty percent faster.
Using less yeast in this instance can help. Seasonal changes, such as the heat of summer, the cooler temperatures of winter, and even the humidity of a rainy day can affect how well your bread dough rises. Placing your dough to proof in a warmer spot of the kitchen on a cooler day, and vice versa on a hot day can make all the difference during the proofing stage.
At the bakery during the summer times we used to use ice in the water to cool it down and slow down the proofing times.
The best way to control the temperature and the humidity level is by using a proofing box.
We have a full review on a great proofing box in this article right here.
At the end of the day you can proof your bread in almost any container you can find. Use a linen cloth to line your bowl and make sure to dust it well.
Proofing baskets do have their advantages but if you are new to baking and are not sure it is the right hobby for you just yet, know that there are alternatives and that your bread will turn out just fine.