A proofing basket is a simple yet effective tool bread bakers can’t do without. While this tool makes the proofing process easy, you don’t have to buy one if you know you won’t be needing it often.
Luckily, there are a number of proofing basket alternatives you can find in your kitchen at all times.
What are the best proofing basket alternatives? The best proofing basket alternatives include a bowl, colander, plastic container, or wicker basket, each lined with heavy fabric. You can also use a wok or a baking tray to support your dough while it proofs. The key is finding an item that will give the dough your desired shape.
Continue reading to learn why you need to proof dough in a basket and how to use the best proofing basket alternatives to get perfectly shaped bread.
We will also give you some proofing tips for the best results when you use a proofing basket.
What Is Proofing?
Proofing is one of the most important steps in bread baking. It is the process of letting the dough rise and rest. This term is used by bakers to refer to the final rise of the dough before it goes into the oven.
As the dough rests and rises, the yeast in it starts to ferment. During the fermentation process, the yeast produces gas, causing the bread to rise.
The gas released during the proofing process creates the air pockets that we all love in bread.
Can You Skip Proofing?
You can never skip proofing. You should always give the bread time to rise as this is when the yeast releases carbon dioxide.
During the proofing process, the gluten stretches to hold the air bubbles created as a result of the fermentation of the yeast.
You can skip proofing only if you are using instant yeast. In any other case, you should never skip the proofing step.
But it is equally as important to proof the bread for the right amount of time. Under-proofing will produce a dense loaf of bread.
Over-proofing the dough, on the other hand, will cause the bread to collapse due to the air bubbles popping, resulting in heavier bread.
What Is a Proofing Basket?
A proofing basket, also known as banneton, is a round or oval basket made for proofing the dough. The most widespread type of proofing basket is rounded with coils.
As the dough sits in these baskets for hours, the coils create a beautiful pattern on the dough that can be seen on the bread when it’s baked. You can line the basket with a smooth cloth for a smooth finish.
A proofing basket supports the shape of the dough and prevents it from spreading too much as it rises.
Many people prefer free-form proofing, i.e. shaping the dough as they want and letting it rise without any support.
While this method works well for some people, as it allows them to bake bread of different shapes, free-form proofing calls for a strong dough that can hold its shape without the support of a proofing basket.
Depending on the material the proofing basket is made of, it can also absorb some of the moisture from the bread.
This makes the outside of the bread slightly drier, which then bakes into a crunchy crust. The drier layer is also helpful when you are making cuts on the bread before putting it in the oven.
How It’s Used
When using a proofing basket, you should coat the insides of the basket with rice flour. Wheat flour will cause your dough to stick. If the basket is lined with fabric, coat it with rice flour the same way you would the bare basket.
Form a loaf. Before you put it into the proofing basket, dust its top part with flour. Put the bread into the basket, making sure that the top part meets the bottom of the basket. You should be seeing the underside of the loaf when it’s in the basket.
Remove the dough from the basket by flipping it on the baking peel. Bake the dough immediately after removing it from the basket.
Note: You should never use proofing baskets for baking. These baskets are made for proofing the dough and not are not made of materials that can be heated to high temperatures.
It is extremely dangerous to put a proofing basket into the hot oven.
For a more in-depth look at how to use a banneton once you choose your alternative, or if you decide to buy yourself a proofing basket instead, here’s a video from Baker Bettie on the finer details of bread proofing.
What If You Don’t Have a Proofing Basket?
Not having a proofing basket should be the least of your baking concerns. You can always find a fitting bowl in your kitchen that you can use for the final rise of the dough.
So long as you find a bowl that is twice the size of your dough, you are good to go. You will also need a smooth towel or cloth. The best cloth material you can go for is linen. It is sturdy and doesn’t get stuck to the dough.
If you don’t have a linen cloth at hand, go with something that is clean, smooth, and doesn’t shed, like a handy kitchen towel.
7 Best Proofing Basket Alternatives
If you don’t bake bread often, you may not want to buy a proofing basket. While there are many affordable options on the market, not everyone wants to spend extra space and money on something they won’t be using often enough.
Luckily, numerous proofing basket alternatives can be found in every house. The important thing is finding an item that will give the dough your desired shape and support it while it rises.
Here are eight proofing basket alternatives in case you don’t have any idea about what can be used as a proofing basket.
1. A Bowl
If you don’t have a proofing basket, you surely have a bowl in your kitchen that you can use to proof dough.
A bowl will give you a round-shaped dough. While this may not be something you want every time, it is certainly better than proofing the dough with no support.
You can use both plastic and ceramic bowls to proof bread. Wooden and bamboo bowls can also be used for proofing dough.
It is only the metal bowls you should avoid using as a proofing basket alternative. This is because the coldness of the metal bowls can interfere with the fermentation process.
When using a bowl to proof dough, dust the inside with flour or oil it lightly to prevent sticking. However, as the sides of bowls are generally smooth, the flour won’t cling to them well.
This is why it is recommended to line the bowl with a smooth and clean fabric, dust it with flour, and only then place the dough inside.
2. A Colander
A feature that makes colanders a good substitute for proofing baskets are the holes. They promote airflow so that the very outer layer of the dough dries out, creating the base for a beautifully crispy crust on the bread.
Whether your colander is metal or plastic, it will work well as a proofing basket. Colanders are also cheaper than proofing baskets but more versatile.
When using a colander, make sure to line it with a floured cloth to prevent sticking.
3. A Heavy Cloth
If you are not baking a round-shaped bread but something like a baguette or ficelle, you can use a heavy cloth to give the rising dough shape.
If you have linen or a heavy proofing cloth, also known as baker’s couche, use it instead of a proofing basket to support your dough.
Make sure to generously flour the fabric before using it to prevent it from sticking to your kitchen counter and the dough.
To proof and shape the dough using a heavy fabric, create waves or folds and place the dough in between them. While the dough rises, the fabric will maintain its shape.
The good thing about using fabric to shape the dough is that it absorbs some of the excess moisture from the bread, creating a nice crust.
4. Plastic Container
Plastic containers are not the best proofing basket alternatives if you want your bread to have a beautiful round shape.
However, they work well as a proofing basket. Additionally, everyone has plastic containers of different shapes and sizes at home.
Make sure you pick a container that is neither too big nor too small for the dough and oil it to prevent the dough from sticking to the container. You can also use a floured towel to line the container.
5. Wicker Basket
A wicker basket is another great alternative to a proofing basket. You surely have an old wicker basket somewhere around the house. Clean it and line it with a towel, and it will work perfectly as a proofing basket.
If your wicker basket is brand-new and clean and you want to use it without a towel to imprint a beautiful pattern on the dough, make sure the material of the basket is food-safe.
6. Baking Tray
If you don’t have any spare bowls on hand, you can use a baking tray to proof the dough. Use a baking tray with relatively high sides to get a good rise on the dough.
Baking trays that are on the smaller side work better as a proofing basket substitute. However, if your baking tray is bigger than needed, you can solve the issue with the use of kitchen towels.
Fold the towels and put them in the baking tray to create a ‘bed’ of your desired shape for the dough you are about to proof in it.
Cover the tray and folded towels with another towel, dust some flour on it to prevent sticking, and place dough the dough on the towel.
While the shape of the loaf won’t come out as clean as with a proofing basket, the important thing is that the dough will rise supported by the tray and will not spread all over and develop into a free-formed bread.
7. A Wok
This is probably the most surprising proofing basket alternative on this list. However, as we have already mentioned, the important thing is choosing an item that can support the dough while it rises and give it your desired shape.
So, if you have a wok with tall sides that is not very big for the size of the dough you are proofing, you can easily use it as a proofing basket alternative.
Make sure to line the wok with a towel before putting the dough into it, as the latter can react with the metal of the cooking pot.
8. A Proofing Drawer or Bread Maker
If you are passionate about bread baking, a banneton may be your favorite proofing tool.
However, you can make the dough-rising process even more successful with the use of your proofing drawer or a bread maker with the right settings.
A proofing drawer is an oven compartment that provides the right temperature for the dough to rise properly.
If your oven doesn’t come with a proofing drawer, you may buy it separately. However, this purchase would be justified for those who bake bread very often.
If you don’t have a proofing drawer but want to experience all its advantages, set the temperature of your oven to 80-110°F or use the proof setting, if your oven happens to have one.
Cover the basket with cling wrap and put it in the oven. As the dough needs a humid environment to rise, put a bowl filled with water on the bottom rack.
3 Proofing Tips You Should Know
If you are new to baking bread at home, the proofing step may intimidate you. Here are some tips to help you successfully proof the dough and bake soft and airy bread.
1. Prep Your Proofing Basket
When using a cane proofing basket for the first time, you need to prep them properly to prevent the dough from sticking to the basket.
First off, spray your banneton with water. Then, pour a cup of flour into it and spread it evenly on the sides of the basket. Shake off the leftover flour, leaving a light coating of it on the walls of the basket.
If you leave too much flour on the walls of the proofing basket, the crust of the bread will come out too floury, which will ruin not only the appearance but also the taste of the bread.
Coat the insides of the basket with flour before each use to make sure the dough doesn’t stick.
2. Spray Water on the Towel
If you are having a hard time removing the towel from dough, spray it with some water. After you have sprayed the towel with water, try to remove it gently without damaging the beautifully risen bread.
3. Prevent the Basket from Getting Moldy
Not letting the basket dry properly after spraying it with water and coating with flour will cause it to get moldy.
As soon as you notice any signs of mold growing on your proofing basket, put it in the oven preheated to 250*F for half an hour. The hot temperature will kill the mold and you can use your basket to bake again.
Make an Easy DIY Cardboard Proofing Basket
If you don’t have a proofing basket and none of your bowls would work as one, you can quickly make a DIY proofing basket with just a few things you can always find around the house.
Find a cardboard box that would work well as a proofing basket shape. Line it with a towel and secure the towel with clips.
While this DIY proofing basket won’t produce a beautiful pattern on your bread, it will help it maintain its shape while rising.
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