Brotforms: Yay or nay?
February 25, 2013 1:27 PM   Subscribe

Well, our wild yeast sourdough starter was a raging sucess. We're keeping it in the downstairs fridge, feeding it once a week. But it does it need a special brotform bowl come baking time?

Of course, this means I have to bake more. I don't mind. But when going through the whole rigamarole of prepping sourdough loaves, the cookery book--The River Cottage Handbook--recommends using a brotform (scroll down to equipment).

Well, brotforms seem to a bit more costly than I can afford to buy right now. But does it make a difference for the finished product? If you don't recommend nor use one, how do you hack it? I used a pair of regular bowls in combination with tea towels this past weekend for our inaugural loaves, and while fine, it pretty much borked my tea towels no matter how well floured they were.

What bread-making equipment do you recommend? (We've a pretty well-stocked kitchen but bread-making is a new venture for us.)
posted by Kitteh to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe those can be the dedicated floury towels?
Lots of olive oil and flour in the bowl and forget the towels?
You can also just use a loaf pan with sourdough.
If you don't care about the shape of the bread, you can also just shape the dough and put it on some parchment paper to rise and when the time comes just pop the whole thing in the oven.
Consider baking the bread inside of a heavy preheated container with a lid, like a casserole dish or dutch oven or even a heavy soup pot, if you have one available.
posted by steinwald at 1:38 PM on February 25, 2013

No - you totally don't need one.

Try using rice flour for proofing.
posted by JPD at 1:38 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

The nice thing about a basket (brotform, banneton, proofing basket) is that it's porous so excess moisture can escape instead of making the dough surface sticky. But you don't need anything super-special-custom-fancy. There are plastic proofing baskets that can be found much cheaper.
posted by jon1270 at 1:39 PM on February 25, 2013

I like a brotform, but they aren't necessary. You don't actually need a form of any kind. You could shape the dough into a boule or batard (or whatever), spray it with oil, cover it loosely with a towel or plastic wrap, and just let it do its second rise on some parchment that is on top of a peel or the back of a cookie sheet.
posted by Area Man at 1:46 PM on February 25, 2013

I've heard that cheap cloth-lined bread baskets, like what's used to serve rolls at restaurants, are a good alternative to expensive brotforms.

Try spraying the towels with oil before flouring them.
posted by WasabiFlux at 1:50 PM on February 25, 2013

Nice to have, but unnecessary. I have a few towels I dedicate to making bread, just rinse them afterwards then throw in the regular laundry. I don't even wash them after every loaf, it's not a big deal. Enjoy your bread!
posted by epanalepsis at 1:52 PM on February 25, 2013

Brotform are traditional for German bread baking. In France, they use baskets lined with linen cloth. Other solutions are workable, but have a greater tendency to get sticky (either because they are non-porous, like your regular bowls or because they are cotton, which sticks much more than linen).

I baked for many years using some linen cloth bought from the ends section of the fabric store and some dollar store baskets. Many people also use plastic colanders plus linen to avoid sticking. Linen makes a huge difference compared to cotton in terms of sticking. There are plastic baskets available as well, but they are not that much cheaper.

Also, using a coarser ground flour sprinkled on your cloth, like a semolina or even just whole grain red wheat, will help.

Chinese-made brotform are available on eBay for significantly less than the EU-made brotform. They are of passable quality for the purpose.

The Fresh Loaf forums are good for questions like these.
posted by ssg at 3:26 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I make sourdough every week. I bought these flour sack towels and these bowls.

Basically I knead, let it rise in my mixing bowl, fold, let it rise again in the mixing bowl. Then I flour the towels and put them into my bowls and shape the loaves. Good shaping is essential - if you don't get good surface tension there will be way too much sticking.

Then I plop the shaped loaves upside down in the towels in the bowls and wrap the whole thing up in saran wrap (or put in a large tupperware container) and put it in my fridge overnight. When I wake up in the morning, I bake the loaves. If I'm not letting them rest overnight I give them at least 2-3 hours in the fridge anyway. They pop right out. I bake them using a cloche, which is one of my favorite kitchen tools ever.

I also make a sourdough pullman loaf based on this king arthur sourdough pullman loaf recipe that just rises in the loaf pan.
posted by lyra4 at 3:50 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've given up using tea towels in my bread making for that reason. I do the second rise in place on a baking sheet for free-form loaves, or in the loaf pan for others, covered with a piece of plastic wrap that has been sprayed with cooking oil and then sprinkled with flour. Shake most of the flour off, and then lay it loosely across the bread. It won't stick.

For the odd loaf that I want to do in my cast iron pot (and the cast iron pot gets heated up in the oven before I put the loaf in), obviously I can't rise it in place, but I just use a large plastic bowl, well oiled and floured, but not lined, and covered with the plastic wrap as described above.
posted by lollusc at 4:19 PM on February 25, 2013

My sweet daughters bought me one years ago, and I'm sad to say, I've only used it once. Maybe I should try again. But I just free-form the sticky dough on the baking sheet. Works fine for me.
posted by mumimor at 2:29 AM on February 26, 2013

In my very extensive experience baking sourdough, there is a noticeable difference in shape between free form and bowl-raised breads. The banneton is not strictly necessary, but with a fairly light dough a bowl of some sort makes a big difference for a high rather than wide loaf.
posted by OmieWise at 5:44 AM on February 26, 2013

When using tea towels, you basically have to give up your tea towel to bread making. Keep using it and saturating it with flour. Don't wash it in between uses except to scrape off chunks of dough. It will get better over time.

That being said, brotforms don't have to be $30 plus, I see some for as little as $13 on Amazon.
posted by rocketpup at 7:03 AM on February 26, 2013

I'm def with OmieWise on the superiority of proofing in something with support. But it doesn't need to be a brotform.

(That said I use a brotform for my boules vs a banneton for longer breads)
posted by JPD at 7:06 AM on February 26, 2013

I bake two boules at a time. One enjoys a final rise in a brotform I got as a Christmas gift. The other makes do with a 59-cent cotton tea towel in an inexpensive plastic colander. Both form & towel are liberally dusted with a 50-50 mix of white rice flour and white AP flour. I replace the tea towel about once a year. There is no difference in outcome other than the fact that the brotform imparts a subtle spiral pattern. I have no problem with sticking, even at 70% hydration. I specify white for these dusting flours because I've been told that whole wheat and brown rice include the germ, which includes oils, which can go rancid.
As for equipment, I have a dutch oven for the boules, some loaf pans (which obviate the need for brotforms or towels) a digital scale, a bench knife/dough scraper for manipulating the dough, a fine-mesh seive for sifting the flour, a lame for scoring the loaves, and one of those clear plastic food buckets through which I watch the first rise of the dough with a deeply-felt sense of wonder. I also like reusable parchment paper for lifting and for lining pans.
Of the above, I'd be most reluctant to give up the scale and the lame. The scale because baking repays precision in ways that other types of cooking don't and the lame because it makes me feel like an implacable pitiless samurai baker, and because it's the best way to keep razor blades in the drawer without risking bloodshed. Oh and also oven mitts because ouch.
posted by jcrcarter at 12:31 PM on February 26, 2013

OmieWise and Rocketpup have it. No matter how good you get the surface tension on your loaf, the final product comes out flat in the end if you don't do the second rise in some type of bowl. The actual bowl really doesn't matter; I linked to the cheapo Corelle bowls I use.

And your tea towel has to be totally floured up to become nonstick. However, I really find that the fridge rise works wonders on the sticking front as well; the retardation also makes the bread taste better. Peter Reinhart goes into this in his books, especially Bread Bakers Apprentice.
posted by lyra4 at 1:24 PM on February 27, 2013

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