First of all, have you heard of a bread proofing basket? If you haven’t, I’m sure you would recognize it if you saw it.
A bread proofing basket, most commonly made out of wood (but it can also be made out of plastic or wicker), is a round basket used to imprint a beautiful design on the bread, as well as give the bread a perfectly-rounded shape.
Bread proofing baskets, although you can get them cheap, are sometimes a little difficult to find. Not to worry though, there are plenty of different alternatives to bread proofing baskets.
Most importantly, what does it mean for a bread to “proof”?
When making homemade bread, at some point you must let the bread rise (see why this is so important). Giving the bread time to rise means letting the yeast activate so the bread bakes and becomes light and fluffy.
Proofing your bread is the time at which you’re letting your dough rest to develop the flavors of the bread and to let it rise appropriately to form a desirable texture.
Did you know you can make bread without yeast?
Why do you need a special proofing basket for bread?
Well, the truth is you really don’t. But if you want a perfectly rounded bread, or bread with a nice pattern, using a proofing basket is one way to achieve this.
The proofing basket usually is rounded in coils, so when the bread rests in it for a certain number of hours, the coils imprint a spiral-like shape onto the bread (you’ll see this commonly in small bakeries).
Benefits to using a bread proofing basket:
- You get a nicely-shaped bread
- A beautiful spiral pattern is imprinted onto the bread
- It provides a controlled environment for the bread to rise- preventing the spreading of your bread or an oddly-shaped loaf
Drawbacks to using a bread proofing basket:
- They’re hard to find- sometimes your every-day kitchen store won’t have one
- You can really only achieve a round loaf- if you want your bread to be square or any other shape you can’t used a bread proofing basket
- Most baskets do come with the coiled rings so you’ll always have a pattern on your bread
Although it’s nice to have a bread-proofing basket, it’s not necessary. There are many alternative ways to proof your bread, and if you want the results a proofing basket will give, you can improvise with what you have.
Alternatives to bread proofing baskets:
A Wooden, Metal, or Ceramic Bowl
Using a regular bowl is still a great way to proof your bread. You get the rounded loaf, and you give your bread an even rise by letting it sit in a bowl.
I would suggest using either a wooden or ceramic bowl, because a metal bowl can often be cold and doesn’t provide the best place for the bread to rise well (learn more about how your dough is affected by cold temperatures).
Benefits to using a bowl:
- You get the same rounded shape as using a basket
- The bread rises evenly
- Easy to transfer the dough in and out of the bowl
Drawbacks to using a bowl:
- If not floured or oiled properly, it might be difficult to remove the bread
- The bread may not form as well a rounded shape as a bread basket
- It doesn’t give the bread a nice pattern
A Plastic Container
If you happen to have a large plastic container (usually square shaped), this is the optimal space in which to proof a bread dough.
Although you don’t get the rounded shape a bread proofing basket gives, you give the dough a nice texture and a good rise.
Benefits to Using a Plastic Container:
- The dough gets a good rise- in many cooking shows and in many kitchens, you will see the bakers using these large plastic containers to proof their dough
- Easy to remove the dough
Drawbacks to Using a Plastic Container:
- You don’t get a rounded dough
- There isn’t a pattern on the dough
Bowls and Fabric
Okay, here’s where the improvising starts. To get the pattern and rounded shape a bread proofing basket delivers, take an appropriately-sized bowl, and find some fabric that has a pattern that rises from the fabric (in order to transfer that pattern to the dough).
Drape the fabric as evenly as you can in the bowl, and flour it lightly. Put the dough in the bowl and let it proof.
Benefits to putting fabric in the bowl:
- You get the nicely-rounded shape for the loaf
- You get a pattern onto the loaf- any pattern you would like!
Drawbacks to putting fabric in the bowl:
• If you coat the bowl with too much flour, the pattern might not be able to transfer onto the loaf
• The fabric might not be clean- you might have to wash it before allowing it to be in contact with the bread
These are all good methods for proofing your bread without a bread proofing basket. If you don’t mind an oddly-shaped loaf, you can always proof the bread free-form (meaning you let it rise on a mat and let it take the shape it wants).
Another option would be to “slash” the bread. This means you let the bread rise (either in a bowl or on a mat) and then, using a sharp knife, you draw patterns on the bread to give it a beautiful design.
No matter which way you proof your bread, it will look great!
On a related note, check out my article about baking and shaping bread without a loaf pan.