You’ll most likely have seen plenty of videos and read bread books that tell you to use proofing baskets, or bannetons when proofing certain types of bread in a recipe. These baskets are used for good reason as it allows the bread to prove upwards rather than sideways.
Although we know that getting a proofing basket is the best options for a good proof for certain types of bread, most people won’t have these sitting in their cupboards and won’t want to spend the money on them if they’re not going to be using them very often.
Fortunately for you, there are plenty of good alternatives to bannetons that work well. They aren’t perfect, but they’ll get the job done and you’ll be able to bake great bread.
Here Are The Most Effective Proofing Basket Alternatives
It’s important to know what proofing basket alternatives actually work, so I’ll only be going through the most effective alternatives you can use.
It’s important to note that most of these will need to be lined with some form of floured cloth/towel to prevent the dough from sticking.
Alternatively, some of these can be oiled, but I’ll talk about that later on in this article.
Chances are that you own or at least know someone who owns some form of wicker bowl or basket.
The slightly pliable, lightweight, and breathable characteristics of a wicker basket make it a great option for using instead of a standard proofing basket.
This breathable trait allows a small amount of airflow onto the exterior of the dough, which will aid in preventing too much moisture from getting to the cloth and causing the surface to stick.
Depending on what kind of cloth and basket you use, you may also be able to get a nice pattern on the dough when you turn it out for baking.
I should also mention that these wicker baskets almost always cost close to nothing. You should be able to find these very easily in places that stock kitchen and homeware.
Being very cost-effective, you won’t have to worry about spending too much money on these like you might if you were buying actual banneton proofing baskets.
All you have to do is is line the basket with a cloth, flour it liberally, and then pop your dough in it to rise.
Using a colander comes with the bonus of allowing airflow to the dough’s exterior during proofing.
Both plastic and metal colanders can do a great job as a substitute proofing basket because of the holes.
Colanders can also come in at a cheaper price than most proofing baskets, but you’ll most likely have at least one in your home anyway so you shouldn’t have to worry about buying many.
Again, a colander needs to be lined with a floured cloth in order to prevent the dough from sticking.
The next alternative to a proofing basket is something as simple as a basic bowl.
Whether it’s glass, wood, metal, or plastic, any bowl can work well to contain your dough whilst it’s proofing.
Most bowls should be lined with a cloth and floured before the dough can be put into them, so make sure to get an appropriate cloth and flour it to prevent sticking.
Make sure to add plenty of flour to both the exterior of the dough and the cloth in the bowl. It’s best to heavily flour it as a way to prevent any sticking and just gently brush off the excess flour afterward.
If you do find your dough sticking, don’t worry. Assuming that there’s only limited sticking, all you have to do is just gently and slowly pull the cloth off the surface and bake it as normal.
It may sound a bit strange to use a wok as a proofing basket, but it will work just like a normal bowl would.
Make sure that you’re using a small wok with sides that aren’t too shallow as you’re going to want to get a good amount of rising up the sides. Using a wok that’s too big may lead to a flatter loaf.
Again, be sure to line the wok with a cloth. This is very important since you don’t want to dough to react to the metal of the wok, especially if you’re making sourdough.
Any kind of metal, plastic, or glass food container can be used as a proofing basket if it’s the right shape.
You’ll want something large enough to hold both the dough and the cloth. It also needs to be a good shape and tall enough to support the rise of the dough.
If you have storage containers sitting in the back of your cupboard, you might want to try using them again for proofing.
Lined Baking Tray
If you’re stuck without any kind of bowls or appropriate containers to prove your dough but have plenty of clean cloths/towels, you’ll be able to use something as basic as a baking tray to get a decent rise.
All you have to do is add enough cloths/towels to the baking tray to support the dough and allow it to rise into an appropriate shape.
It’s difficult to explain, so here’s a video to show you how to do it.
A couche is a heavy linen cloth that’s used in many bakeries to support the proof of free-form bread like baguettes.
If you’re not needing a proofing basket specifically, one of these can be great for assisting the proof of your dough.
Since this cloth is quite heavy, it does a good job of maintaining the shape of the dough as it proofs. This means that the dough will proof upwards rather than sideways.
All you have to do is heavily flour the surface of the couche before laying the dough on it and bringing the sides up the dough so it can rise properly.
You may want to add some support to each side of the couche in order to help maximize the rise of the dough. This support can be as simple as a baking tray or thick book.
Think About What Material Cloth You’re Using
The type of cloth you’re using to proof your dough is a determining factor as to whether your dough sicks or not.
Some cloths are more prone to sticking than others and can leave you with quite a mess. You might also find that dough can attach to the tiny fibers of some cloths and be left with a dirty surface full of these fibers.
If you’re really wanting to get good results with your proofing basket, the best thing you can do is use linen.
Flax linen is lightweight, sturdy, and resistant to wear and tear. You won’t have to worry about replacing it for a long time after purchasing one.
With linen, there’s a much lower chance of your dough sticking and you don’t have to worry about any fibers getting stuck to the surface of the dough.
You Can Use Oil Instead Of A Cloth
Don’t be confused into thinking that you always need to use a proofing basket and a cloth to get a good rise.
If you’re using something a simple as a bowl to proof your dough, you can simply apply a coating of spray oil to the bowl, shape the dough, and allow it to proof as normal.
Now, this isn’t going to work for everyone and only certain types of oil will work with dough.
Keep in mind that most dough is best in a cloth whilst some can suitably rise and be flipped out of oiled containers.
Lower hydration dough that’s not too sticky may be able to be proofed in an oiled container. High hydration free-form dough should not be proofed in oil for the final rise.
Whilst this method can work well, it’s not optimal or completely reliable. It depends on what dough you’re using, how long it takes to proof, the type of oil, etc.
Spray oil tends to be better for this application because regular oil can actually be worked into the dough slightly whilst proofing and end up sticking to the container. Spray oil is less likely to do this
With that said, it’s always an option for if you’re ever in a pinch and without a suitable proofing cloth.
What Flour To Use To Prevent The Dough From Sticking
Don’t make the mistake so many people make by coating your proofing basket/cloth in regular flour.
This is a big no-no in the baking world since it can cause the dough to stick to the cloth.
This happens because the flour on the surface of the dough can become slightly damp or wet after sitting under the dough for while. This moisture then causes gluten development and therefore creates a sticky mess.
The best flour you can use to stop your dough from sticking to your proofing cloth is rice flour.
This flour contains no gluten, meaning that it won’t stick at all and you’ll easily be able to remove the dough from it.
How Do These Alternatives Compare To Proofing Baskets?
There’s no doubt about it that your own homemade proofing basket isn’t going to be as good as real banneton proofing baskets.
The best thing to use is something that’s specifically made for proofing dough of course.
With that said, a lot of DIY proofing baskets are by no means ‘bad’. Plenty of home bakers don’t want to buy actual proofing baskets so they figure out a way to make one themselves.
After you’ve had enough experience with your DIY proofing baskets, you’ll likely be quite comfortable using it rather than an actual banneton.
Why Buy A Proofing Basket?
You’ll find some home bakers that love bannetons and own plenty of them and you’ll find other home bakers that refuse to spend money on them and make their own alternatives instead.
For the most part, they can just take up unnecessary space where they don’t need to. If you’re not going to be using it often, it is likely best to stick with one of the proofing basket alternatives above.
Once you’ve had plenty of successful experiences with your DIY proofing baskets, you might want to consider purchasing a banneton.
Proofing baskets are for those who bake bread often and will make sure that it’s a worthwhile investment.
Those that aren’t avid bakers and won’t use their proofing basket often most likely won’t get much benefit from buying one.