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A banneton, or brotform, is a basket or mold used often in the process of baking artisan bread. Used mainly with wet dough, a banneton gives the dough support during the final rising stage, but it is removed before baking the bread. The mold is usually made of thin wood, wrapped in coils or woven together in pieces, and is occasionally lined with light cloth. Since doughs that need support are often sticky, bakers rub flour into the wood or cloth before using the mold. Some bakers like to use bannetons because, if handled carefully, the dough will keep the design of the wood even after it is baked.
The main purpose of a banneton is to keep the bread from spreading out too thin during the final rise. A number of bread doughs go through two rising, or proofing, stages. The first stage of rising is often done right in the mixing bowl. After the first rise, the dough is punched down, kneaded, and left to rise again before baking. The second rise can take place in the baking pan, but some doughs are baked on flat pans or baking stones. Wet doughs can be placed in bannetons during the second rise to help keep their shape.
Bannetons are most often made from coils of wood or woven strips of a thin wood-like willow. The shape of the mold varies with the type of bread and the baker’s preference. Sourdough is usually proofed in a round baskets, while baguettes are placed in long rectangular molds. Bannetons are available in kitchen specialty stores, but most any small basket could be turned into a banneton by lining it with a thin cloth-like linen or muslin.
Before use, a banneton should be well coated with flour. Some bakers, in fact, prefer not to wash out the baskets between uses in order to season the wood. If a lining is used, the cloth should also be well floured to prevent the cloth from sticking to the dough and tearing it as the cloth is peeled away.
Linings are not always used because part of the appeal of a banneton is to have the dough retain the pattern from the wood. When removing dough from the basket, many bakers will place a baking sheet on top of the banneton, flip the whole thing over, and then lift the basket gently away. This will preserve the imprint of the banneton, giving the bread an interesting texture and appearance after it is baked.