Proving baskets/bannetons

Our proving baskets are made in Germany from compressed wood-pulp. They are designed to hold bread dough while it is proving, i.e. during its final rise before being baked. They aren’t meant to be put in a baking oven.

Proving basket advice

Advantages of using a proving basket

There are two main advantages of using a proving basket:

1. you can make your dough much wetter than you would if it was simply shaped up and placed on a baking tray. Doughs with a higher water content are almost always more open in texture, nicer to eat and slower to stale.

2. you can tip your fully-proved dough directly on to a pre-heated baking stone. Contact with a hot surface quickly ‘seals’ the bottom crust of the loaf and limits the amount of ‘spread’ of the loaf – things that don’t work so well when baking free-form loaves on ordinary baking trays.

We don’t sell proving baskets made from cane. Our German supplier says that the Thai government has imposed export restrictions on rattan cane in order to limit over-exploitation of this rainforest resource, and we haven’t found an alternative ethical supply.
The advantage of wood-pulp over cane baskets (apart from their lower price) is that they have good ‘insulation’ properties and so reduce condensation on the surface of the dough. This means that your loaf is less likely to stick to the basket.

We have a range of different sizes and shapes. The sizes – 500 g, 1 kg etc – refer to the weight of dough that the basket will accommodate, allowing for expansion during proof. Naturally, a basket of a given size will hold a greater weight of denser dough – the kind with more wholegrain flour or additions of seeds, grains, nuts, fruit etc – than of a plain light dough that may almost triple in volume during proof. A little practice is required to establish the optimum weight per basket of the recipes you are making.

Which shape to choose?

It’s a matter of personal preference, of course. Factors which may be worth considering:

  • it is generally possible to fit more long-shaped loaves than round ones in a given oven space
  • some people find baton shaped loaves easier to cut and the resulting slices more ‘regular’.

Use and care of proving baskets

With basic care, these baskets should last for a long time. We send an explanatory leaflet out with each order and full instructions are also available here.

How to prepare your new basket for use

Gently sweep the inside of the basket with a clean soft brush, or with your hand, to remove any loose particles of wood pulp or dust.

When your bread dough is ready for shaping and final proof, rub the inside of the basket with flour to help prevent the dough from sticking. If you use wheat flour, wholemeal is marginally better because its bran particles don’t absorb as much moisture from the dough as fine white flour does. Semolina flour (which is made from wheat) is good. Best of all, use brown rice flour which releases better than any gluten-containing flour. Do not use rye flour which is naturally stickier than rice or wheat.

Placing the dough in the basket

Have a bowl of your chosen dusting flour ready. Prepare your dough piece so that the surface that will go into the bottom of the basket is reasonably smooth, i.e. not ragged or folded. Place your dough piece gently into the dusting flour and gently rock it round so that the majority of the surface picks up a fine coating of flour. Then pick the dough piece up by grabbing its top and, without turning it over or upside down, place it carefully into your prepared proving basket. If you pick the dough up by digging your hands underneath it, you risk folding dusting flour into the impressions made by your fingers. Inspect your dough to check that there are no wet-looking areas in contact with the basket. If there are, cover them with a fine layer of dusting flour.

Turning out

When the dough is fully proved and ready to bake, you need to turn it out of the basket onto a baking tray, baking stone or peel (to slide it on to a hot baking surface like a stone or tile in the oven). Grip the basket with both hands, spreading your fingers across the risen dough. Then, gently but quite quickly, turn the basket upside down, using your fingers to break the ‘fall’ of the dough piece onto the baking tray or peel. Slash the dough quickly with a sharp blade as appropriate and place it in the oven/close the oven door.

Sticking points

If the dough gets stuck to the basket, it means that you may not have covered the surface of the basket or the dough with enough flour. Do not lift the basket sharply away from the baking tray, but try to allow gravity to help release the stuck dough. If you can, gently prise the reluctant dough from the basket using deft fingers – rather like removing plaster from sensitive skin, though without most of the pain.

After use

Gently shake out any loose flour and allow the basket time to dry. If any residues of dough are left in the basket, it is best to let them dry out, whereupon they can be picked off quite easily with a finger nail. If, over time, there is a general build up of doughy residue, allow the basket to dry out thoroughly and brush it with a stiff but not too abrasive brush, i.e. bristle or polypropylene, not metal.

Never stack baskets immediately after use. Allow them to dry out before storing away. A good way to do this is to place them upside down on a wire rack or shelf (or similar) so that air can convect upwards and dry the damp interior.

Foreign bodies

If by any chance, you do notice spots of mould on your basket, dry it thoroughly and brush the mould off as indicated above. Complete sterility and dryness can be assured by putting the baskets in a low oven – not more than 100°C – for about half an hour.

In any floury environment there is a risk of flour mites – tiny creeping insects that you may notice on shelves near flour bags, in the flour itself, or in proving baskets. These can be vacuumed away, but the best form of non-chemical control of such insects in baskets is either to freeze the basket (in a poly bag) for 24 hours, or to put it in a low oven as described above. In either case, knock, brush or vacuum out any detritus after freezing/heating.