Keep that scorchy flour off your lens!
People have asked how to prevent free-form loaves from spreading sideways, especially if the dough is a little too wet or it’s near the end of its batch-life (two weeks). Using a banneton (or in German, brotform), is one gorgeous solution to the problem, and they work well with our method. But, you’ll have to make a few adjustments. Interested? Bannetons (brotforms) are wicker rising baskets available from baking supply places or on Amazon. By containing the rising/resting dough, the basket prevents sideways spread with wet dough, and creates a beautiful pattern of flour that contrasts nicely with slash-marks. Since very small bannetons (5 or 6 inches would be ideal) are hard to find, you’re stuck making large loaves, like the one in the picture, with my 8 to 9-inch banneton. That’s OK, but keep in mind that rising/resting times, and most importantly, baking time, will have to increase dramatically. To make the loaf in the pictures took nearly 3 pounds of Italian Peasant dough (page 46 in the book). So, here’s how to use the banneton:
Put some white flour into the bottom of the banneton and then shake it all around so it coats the sides. Be generous with the flour!
Shape and “cloak” a round freeform loaf as usual, pinching together the loose ends underneath. Choose a loaf-size so the dough comes about 2/3’s of the way up the sides of the banneton. Place the loaf into the banneton with the irregular side up. The smooth cloaked side should be in contact with the wicker basket. For the 8 to 9-inch banneton, this took about 3 pounds of dough, so the loaf needed along rest to come close to the top of the basket, about 2 hours. Twenty to forty minutes before baking, preheat your oven to 450 degrees F, with a baking stone near the center of the oven and a broiler tray on any other shelf that won’t interfere with rising bread:
After the dough is rested, use your fingers to be sure that it isn’t sticking to the wicker (it wasn’t). Don’t dig way down or you’ll start deflating everything. Gently turn the basket over onto your preheated stone; it should gently drop onto the stone. If it doesn’t, help it out with your fingers and make the best of it. It should be salvageable even if it deflates a bit, because of oven spring. Slash the loaf in a cross, which will be beautiful with the concentric circles of flour:
Now comes the tricky part; this is a beastly huge bread. It took about an hour in my oven at 450 and I was happy with the result (crumb pictured below, crust above). When you make a large loaf you risk doughiness in the center; let the crust get deep, deep brown. Frankly, mine could have gone even longer. It’s tough to overbake large loaves made from high-moisture dough. But the result was worth the effort. If I can find a small banneton, I’ll post again.
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