Why do bakers use couches or baskets to do their final proofs in? Why not just form it and let it rise on the baking sheet or baking paddle?
Sometimes a slack dough needs a little support. Yet you don't always need a basket/couche. I rarely use mine.
breads like baguettes - where scoring is an important part of how the bread turns out - a couche is used to prepare the surface for scoring. Baguettes (and other breads) are proofed seam side down on linen couches. The linen draws a small amount of moisture from the very surface of the bread preparing it for scoring. I find the difference between the side in contact with the couche and the side not in contact to be quite profound and it does have an impact on scoring.
Baskets are used to give support, but if used, the linen liner serves a similar purpose there - it pulls a small amount of moisture away from the surface of the dough and prepares it for better scoring. Also, it holds flour better for better release. Also linen (not to be confused with cotton) is a lintless fabric so it is naturally a little more "non stick" than other surfaces.
I also find it is handier to dust a couche or linen liner with flour or finely milled bran to get a decorative effect on the surface of the bread. This can also be accomplished bby seiving flour over the bread, but I find the tops down approach to be easier.
Hope this helps.
Proofing shaped breads in a banneton/brotform or lined rising basket prevents softer doughs from spreading too much, and a coiled willow brotform also gives it an attractive pattern.
I think the breathability of the wicker brotforms and cloth lined bannetons is a point that is not brought up enough when discussing them. Even a plastic bowl will keep soft dough from spreading, but there is a distinct difference (I find anyway) in the development of the outer skin of the dough between being allowed to rise in a smooth solid bowl and one that breathes a little. A very long extended final proof in a plastic bowl may still result in a thin moist skin, while the same time in a banneton might result in a thick almost leathery skin, and these characteristics lead to obvious crust differences. The pattern left by the coils is nice, but I believe the real benefit to me is developing that unbeleivable crust I crave so much in my sourdough.
also just let it rise in a greased bowl for the last proofing. But as hanseata said, it looks better, supports a soft dough and also helps w/ sticking. You can also just line a bowl with a sack towel, cover that w/ flour and let it proof in there. Not as expensive, but also not as good b/c the dough can't breathe (that tip is from Reinhart, I think).
Thank you all for the helpful replies. I've already had better results baking today using a colander and a lightly floured piece of cloth to do the final proofing in. I got a better shape and it didn't spread into a pancake like last time. Now I'll try to find a real banneton if I can or at least a wicker basket.
Wondering if there's a difference between wicker baskets and plastic baskets? Is there a benefit to wicker?
Nope. Use what's around you. I have fashioned bannetons out of everything possible. As long as the dough can breathe, you're good to go.
Thank for your help :) The breathing part is not happening enough for me now. I used a colander and rice flour on a regular 100% cotton tea towel, and that seemed to work well.
I like using woven bannetons for many of my breads because of the attractive pattern it leaves on the bread. And you don't need an extra liner.
I also like having pretty kitchen utensils. Other than that - there is no difference in performance.
Love the look of this loaf, Karin! Did that sunburst shape result in your cuts?
Thanks, Tangy. Yes, I scored the bread in this pattern of "rays" all around, and the circular openings happened during the oven rise.