"Bread, that this house may never know hunger." - Mary Bailey, in It’s a Wonderful LifeBe it fried or baked, leavened or unleavened, in loaves or in cakes, bread is a staple of life and is celebrated in almost every culture.
There was even an art exhibition titled, Bread: Daily and Divine, at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem that celebrated this particular food item. In the words of the exhibition curator, Noam Ben-Yossef, bread “symbolizes a multitude of things, from fertility, to plenty, to civilization itself.”
Bread baking has experienced a resurgence lately, and “artisan” bread in particular. Part of this may be due to the growing awareness of the shortcomings of the mass-produced bread that hit store shelves in the 1960s. Or could it be simply that a round or oval loaf of bread with a crust that crunches is just tastier and more appealing?
SOMETHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN
The artisan bread scene is booming, with wheat growers, millers and bakers collaborating to return to traditional methods of making bread. In places like
Phoenix, Arizona, heritage grains are being grown, then ground with mills from Austria, and finally baked in wood-fired ovens. While you may not be prepared to go to all that trouble, there is one simple tool that can help you produce bread with an artisanal flair: the proofing basket.
SAY WHAT? A proofing basket, also known as a banneton in French, a brotform in German and a rijsmandjes in Dutch, is a basket that holds bread dough during the final phase of rising. The basket serves several purposes:
- it keeps the dough from flattening out during the final rise;
- it shapes the loaf and creates delightful patterns on the top of the loaf; and
- it wicks moisture away from the outside of the loaf, resulting in a better crust.
TAKE CARE OF YOUR BASKET To get the best results with your proofing basket, and to ensure its longevity:
Season it… Like a good cast iron skillet, a proofing basket has to be seasoned before use. The fine bakers at VirtuousBread.com suggest this three-part process to get your proofing basket ready for action.
Prepare it… Each time before you invert the dough into your proofing basket, dust the basket thoroughly with flour, then shake out the excess. You have to find the right balance of flour: too much will cover up the spiral on your crust and too little will cause the loaf to stick to the surface of the basket. Dust the surface of the dough also before placing it in the basket.
Proofing baskets get better over time, due to the seasoning on the surface. So it’s not necessary to thoroughly wash the basket after each use. Just lightly brush off the basket to remove bits of dough. If you get flour or dough buildup, scrub the basket in cool water and leave it to dry in the sun. Note: a home baker may never have to wash their proofing basket at all.
Store it… Store your proofing basket in a dry place, with good air circulation, to prevent mold buildup. If possible, avoid stacking the baskets.
YOUR BANNETON AWAITS… At Almac Imports, we are big supporters of any artisanal effort. Whether you plan to produce a few loaves for family or friends, or you have much more ambitious plans, our well-priced proofing baskets will help you create artisanal-quality bread. We have two types of proofing baskets available, both made of sturdy willow: a round basket (8 ½” X 8 ½” X 3 ½”) or an oval basket (10” X 7” X 3”).
Contact us or visit our website. Almac Imports sells baskets and other items for supermarket chains, gift basket suppliers, the food service industry, and--of course--home bakers, all over the U.S. and Canada. Happy baking!