Bannetons - the how to guide
Why use a Banneton?
Bannetons made from natural materials such as the cane and lined wicker ones work by creating a slightly humid micro-climate between the dough and the banneton during proofing. As the dough dries it creates a skin, and this is what makes a superb traditional crust on artisan bread.
How to prepare a new banneton?
When you get a new banneton it needs a little conditioning to get the best from it. They need a build up of a thin layer of flour in the nooks and crannies. If you ever have the opportunity to peek into the working area of an artisan bakery your will see that all their bannetons are like this and it is this that helps the dough leave the banneton easily before baking.
The idea is to put a permanent layer of flour onto the banneton so that it adheres to the fibres. This in turn, holds the dusting flour in place when dusted for each use. It takes a couple of uses of the banneton to build up this layer for the perfect banneton and so, in the first uses, be generous with the dusting flour.
The very first time that you use your new banneton you can help to condition it by lightly misting it with some ordinary tap water and then dusting your banneton liberally with flour, tipping out the excess. Do this the day before you want to use it.
When it comes to using your banneton every day you need to dust it. Ideally the flour gets between the cracks of the basket - but do not to over do it. Too much flour will spoil the spiral effect your banneton creates. On the other hand you do need to have a good coverage because equally you don’t want your dough to stick. You will get used to the amount required after a few uses.
Which flour should I use?
Your choice of flour really depends on what finish you want your bread to have. Some people love to use rye flour. It absorbs moisture well and gives your bread a good crust and pattern. Personally I love to see the French style white spirals on my bread so I use 50:50 mix of rice flour and stoneground white. It makes it easy for the dough to come out of the basket and leaves a beautiful clean white pattern, but try different combinations and find out what works for you.
Can I bake in a banneton?
No. Bannetons are for proving only - do not bake in the bannetons! (Yes, we do hear of some that try it and report a damaged basket and ruined loaf).
Do I cover my banneton during proving?
While the banneton holds most of the dough, the top is exposed so you should protect it from drying out. A dusting of flour and either a light cotton or soft linen will also to the job and a build up of flour is also a good thing on your cloth.
Where should I leave my banneton while the dough is in it?
The best place to prove your sourdough is somewhere draft free at temperatures of 8C to 18C depending on how fast you want your dough to prove, but if you intend on baking the same day with a lighter flavour or you are working with fast action yeast a quicker prove in warmer conditions works well (around 25C), or with longer slower fermentation then overnight in the fridge will develop a deeper flavour bread. For more precision and a humid environment, use a proofer.
How to maintain my banneton?
Traditionally bannetons are left out in sunshine to dry them out between uses. We're not always so lucky here, but if you get the chance, it is a good way to do it, otherwise, leave somewhere warm and dry. Brush with a dedicated bristle brush and store your in a light well ventilated spot.
Apart from the dishwashable plastic bannetons, do not wash your banneton - only ever wash your banetton if you absolutely have to and only if you get dough dried on in such a thick and crusty way that your basket looks scaly rather than smooth then you can wash it. Do not use soap. Use cool water and make it as quick as possible. Certainly do not soak your basket for longer than about 2 minutes or it will expand and unravel, and nothing can reverse that. So be very careful as you can ruffle up the natural fibres by scrubbing too hard and your basket will unweave. In a professional bakery you would just brush them out dry with a stiff brush once they are dried out. If you dust your banneton well then a home baker’s banneton should never really actually need to be washed.
How do I store my bannetons?
If you can allow your banneton to dry out in direct sunlight after each use, a windowsill is ideal for this. Then store in a dry airy area when not in use. Avoid stacking bannetons on top of each other because stacking them creates more humid environments suitable for mould and if you stack damp bannetons then you encoiurage mould, which is not ideal as it will taint your bread. (If you do store them accidently on top of each other and find mould then just pop your banneton in a warm oven (130C) for 35 minutes. At this temperature all moulds will be destroyed then brush them with a bristle brush).