Also called brotforms and bannetons, proofing baskets can be found in just about every shape and size--round, oval, or long. You can line them with linen for a smooth texture on your bead, or they can be left unlined and the pattern of the basket will imprint on your dough (like the image above). To use one, first prepare the basket by coating it (either the bare basket or the linen liner) throughly with flour and shaking out the excess. Make your bread right through the shaping step. Instead of proofing it on the counter top, dust the surface of the shaped loaf with flour and invert it into the proofing basket so that the 'top' of the dough is on the bottom of the basket and the underside is visible.
The gluten relaxes as the dough proofs, causing shaped loaves to spread out and flatten as they rise. A basket supports the dough as it proofs and prevents this from happening. To bake, lay a piece of parchment on your baking peel or sprinkle the peel with cornmeal. Lightly dust the proofed dough with cornmeal or flour and invert it onto the peel. Slash the top and bake the loaves immediately. If we're working with a particularly delicate dough or one that didn't rise as much, sometimes we like to use one hand to support the underside of the dough so that it doesn't fall too hard onto the peel and deflate. When we first started using baskets, we had some trouble with the dough sticking to the basket. If this happens to you, use your fingers to gently work the dough out from the cracks. One of our favorite sources for proofing baskets is the San Fransisco Baking Institute. They range in price from $8-$12, and sales of these baskets go to scholarship funds for students. You can also find proofing baskets from King Arthur Flour for $29.95 and from Kerekes for between $13 and $42. Do you use a proofing basket? What are your thoughts? Related: Recipe: Beginner Sourdough Loaf (Images: Emma Christensen for the Kitchn)