The baskets we sell 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 are not an alternative to a baking tin.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For training in the use of proving baskets - and to benefit from over 35 years’ of artisan baking experience - why not come on a Bread Matters course?