The Fresh Loaf

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bread clothe: is burlap/jute similar to flax in terms of using it to proof bread?

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koloatree's picture

bread clothe: is burlap/jute similar to flax in terms of using it to proof bread?


I am looking for bread cloth alternatives that can be purchased at a lesser price than what is available at popular online stores.  I went searching at JoAnn Fabrics and found jute fabric, which according to the wiki, is NA burlap? If so, is this suitable for breadboards and allowing bread to proof?


Thank you.



inlovewbread's picture

You have to read this!

Proth5 did an amazing article about flax being made into linen. Very informative. A must read before buying a couche.

In my opinion, burlap and jute "stink"- so I wouldn't use it on my dough. 

There is a reason linen is used for proofing cloth. You'll the article, it's totally amazing- justifies the price of linen.


koloatree's picture

Thank you! That post was very very informative. Since I am looking for the best product to start my business, flax linen seems the direction to go.

proth5's picture

you noted TMB baking as a linen source.  Somewhat more reasonable than another popular on line dealer and more oriented for larger volume baking.   If you have the funding to use linen at start up, it is a wise investment - with proper care linen will outlast you...

Although cotton canvas is certainly acceptable.

For anyone who cares about this, I did some research on jute.  I have not had any first hand experience with processing jute.  Jute is a bast fiber as is linen.  Its distinguishing characteristic is its strength and weather resistance and unlike linen is not particularly sought after for its wicking quality (which is what makes linen an ideal couche).  It is the second most used fiber worldwide after cotton and is used for clothing.  It can be spun very finely into a type of imitation silk.  I would think that one would need to be careful about the quality of the fabric when using jute fabrics as they range from the very coarse and "wooly" burlap to this type of imitation silk. 

Hope this quick rundown on jute is helpful to someone... 

Happy baking!

Yumarama's picture

Linen is undoubtedly the superior material but if that's out of your price range or just not available in your area, then a heavy smooth and tight-weave 100% cotton canvas is a good second choice.

A tightly woven heavy canvas like that used for artist's paintings is a good, less expensive alternative to linen. Check out an art supply store, they may sell it by the meter/yard. It is also sometimes used for tent material or awnings for windows, as well as in boating supplies for sails.

In North America (and likely elsewhere) you can find plain, unbleached & uncoloured canvas in home supply stores like Home Depot that sells it for paint drop cloths. Because it's meant to be sold as something as boring as drop cloth and not something "fancy", it's a whole lot cheaper. You can usually get a really big drop cloth, cut out a length of it for your couche and you still have a huge piece left to use as a drop cloth!

And of course, you might find heavy canvas in a fabric store. 

Think of the weight of the fabric used for blue jeans, except of course not blue. You want natural and uncoloured cotton.

Burlap/jute is pretty "hairy" stuff. I wouldn't want to use it with dough.


Edith Pilaf's picture
Edith Pilaf

While I wouldn't say it "stinks", jute and burlap are not odorless, especially when damp.

mrfrost's picture

Our Belgian canvas is made of natural flax fibers that have not been treated with chemicals of

any kind. Untreated flax canvas is used to line French bannetons and is used, as pictured in our

catalogue, to allow shaped dough to rise in its folds. Its unique absorbent quality helps create

the special crisp and crunchy crust we associate with French bread.

Because it is a natural and untreated fabric, the odor you may experience is completely natural.

It will not affect the aroma of your bread and it will dissipate in time. In addition, we

recommend that you limit the use of the couche to the type of dough for which it's intended -

a "straight" dough made without eggs, butter or milk, as those ingredients may be absorbed by

the canvas and give it an "off" smell.

Please don't wash your couche; doing so washes away the yeasty, floury surface that'll give

your bread the unique crust for which French baguettes are known.


celestica's picture

I have found a few inexpensive and effective alternatives to purchasing a dedicated "couche" for rising dough.

Linen tea towel, rubbed heavily with flour.  Never sticks, can be found new at garage sales and thrift shops as many people buy them on vacation and never use them.  I have England, Ireland, and Scotland in my collection.

When my daughter has taken all the linen to put her dollies to bed I use a heavy cotton non-patterned tea towel...not red or dark blue but natural coloured and older, so there is no dye transfer.

Parchment, unrolled, and I use cylindrical objects to space the loaves.  This works with elongated shapes, and I rest them on the counter.  The first two doughs can be plopped into a big bowl or strainer. 

For overnight retard, I use the first two options, encased in a plastic bag, and my loaves are round by default.  I don't use parchment overnight because I find the dough sweats moisture.  







proth5's picture

I was going to let this pass, but just couldn't. I've spent some considerable effort to try to address fabric "folklore" and trying to square this quote (which I also read while researching my blog) and my experiences has been difficult for me. (Yep, on the soap box, again.)

I have not contacted the KA company (and I am going to try this) to determine the exact process used in manufacturing their linen, so I don't know exactly what "untreated" and "not treated with chemicals of any kind"  mean beyond the marketing implications.  Certainly the process to take flax to woven linen is full of steps that require interesting processes to take place.  If nothing else the fibers have come into contact a few times with water of undescribed provenance.

Durian is completely natural and yet it has a powerful aroma that I prefer to keep as far away as possible.  There are many natural things that cause bad reactions in various people.  ( I have a great cartoon from the New Yorker of a clerk and a customer in a hippie dippie food store with the caption "Yes, but it's naturally toxic.")

KA is adamant that a couche should never be washed.  Ever.  Not even before the first use.  For me, whatever arrives with that all natural linen sets my skin to itching and my sinuses to hurting.  Maybe it was stored in odd places.  Maybe a little mold was in the water used during final processing. I don't know.  If I smell something, the fabric is throwing off molecules of something.  I do know one wash does away with whatever it is that I smell (and to which I react). None of the linen that I have - and have washed- (and I have considerable amounts of linen including couche cloth) has any smell wet or dry. I'm sure that this "completely natural odor" would eventually go away if its own accord.  In my case, I would do some suffering while it did.  It isn't worth it to me.

But if the linen is not treated in any way, how can washing the linen compromise its functionality in any way?  It can't shrink.  It is a durable fabric.  I can take out any puckering (if that bothered me) with a few passes of an iron (although because of the natural waxes in linen there are subtle differences between ironed linen and unironed linen.)  If it truly is untreated how can washing it change it?  It can't.  Not linen.  Other fabrics perhaps, but not linen.

What I consider is that KA has gotten a lot of complaints that the fabric ravels.  It does do that when it is washed and people unaccustomed to this (and who have paid a fairly high price for about half a yard of couche linen - even considering the cost of linen) feel that somehow they have not gotten a quality product. Folks like me trim off the threads and continue on.

Of course, after that first washing, it is  best not to wash couche cloth as it does benefit from allowing many flourings to permeate its weave.

The "off" smell would come from oils transferred to the cloth from a rich dough going rancid or bacteria feasting on other ingredient residue from enriched breads. This is not inherent in a linen couche.

As I've said before, I like the good folks at KA, but I continue to attempt to not confuse good marketing with facts.

Okay.  Off the soap box...

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

A floured clean old pair and use the back pocket in the middle of the loaf.  Make my jeans live for ever!  Think I'd come out with any motif?  Could be interesting...  Think of the scoring!

"Show me your pockets!"


koloatree's picture

thank you all for the helpful advice!

janij's picture

I have been using pieces off canvas drop cloths.  You can get them at any home improvement stores.  My husband uses them for his business and I washed some and thought they would make great liners for proofing baskets.  Ever since I have bought a couple new ones and washed them and marked them as baking ones. 

breadbakingbassplayer's picture

Also, the kitchen towels at Ikea are pretty nice...  I don't know the name, but they are $2.49 for 4 of them...  I use them to line baskets before putting the dough in...