The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Caring For Your Couche

  • Pin It
MapMaker's picture
MapMaker

Caring For Your Couche

I have read that you should never wash a couche (linen). I would worry about doing that for a couple reasons but mainly I'd be concerned about the unfinished edges unraveling. That being said I worry that my couche doesn't smell as nice and fresh as you might like. What say you bakers out there? What words of wisdom do you have to share?

Thanks

rideold's picture
rideold

I have never washed my couche (or what passes for one in my house.....a cotton canvas cloth sack from 50lbs of rice).  I always hang mine up to air out and dry after using it.  It really spends a day or two airing being lazy about putting it away.  Once in a while it gets hung up outside and that seems to freshen it up pretty good.  I think the key is to make sure the moisture is all gone before putting it away.  Easy to do here in the arid front range.

fancypantalons's picture
fancypantalons

And if you're worried about the unfinished edges... finish them. :)  Just fold 'em over and sew 'em down (no need to get out the serger, although if you have one, go nuts).

LazySumo's picture
LazySumo

Map, this isn't like a cast-iron skillet where there's an advantage to not washing the pan. Getting the couch with just the right amount of flour seems to be a challenge for me, so I guess I could just never wash it once it got just right. But, yuck, no.


 


At least, that's my take on it.

LindyD's picture
LindyD

Hang that couche outdoors in the sunshine and it will smell nice and fresh.  Smells even fresher in the winter cold air (so long as it's not snowing on it).


I've not washed my couche but I do follow the instructions for my Lodge cast iron and clean it with a stiff brush and hot water after each use.

Eli's picture
Eli

I have made some serious high hydration doughs that didn't exactly, not all of them, work out. They stuck to my couche (which is just a Duck cloth hemmed). I have used it probably 20 times and it became really stiff and seemed to never dry. Also, had crusties even though I brushed and tried to remove. I washed on gentle cycle, dried, and ironed then re-floured. It seems to be better than before. i just make certain to flour well.

LazySumo's picture
LazySumo

Wow, for those who never wash theirs, can you tell me what you expect to gain by not washing it? For a cast-iron skillet I can understand the science behind the treatment of it, anything similar for the couche?

Pablo's picture
Pablo

For the flavour enhancements.  :-)


:-Paul

SteveB's picture
SteveB

By not washing a couche, flour particles remain embedded within the couche material fibers, thereby maintaining the couche's resistance to sticking to the dough.

MapMaker's picture
MapMaker

LazySumo, I am a bit confused by your response. In the first response you say it's not like a cast iron pan (which I thought you shouldn't wash) but then seem to indicate that you don't wash your couche. Then in the second one you ask what people who don't wash their couches hope to accomplish. Am I misunderstanding your intent?

And then I ask one more time - has anyone with an unfinished flax couche washed theirs succesfully? Any hints?

If I do wash it, in the future I will try and follow LindyD's advice. Thanks

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I would start by shaking as much flour as you can from the cloth and maybe vacuume it.  If the edges can unravel, then zig zag or hand sew edges so they don't.  Then soak in plain cold water until all flour and lumps are softened and removed.  Rinse.  Throw into the washing machine with soap, low temp and similar colors, no fabric softener.  Hang to dry.  Iron high heat to sanitize.  Note: Drying in a machine will most likely tighten the fibers and shrink the cloth.


Mini O


 

LazySumo's picture
LazySumo

Apologies MM, I do wash mine after every use. Well, did. Now I proof the loaves free-standing on parchment paper and it works wonderfully.

fancypantalons's picture
fancypantalons

When I make baguettes, I use a razor to cut narrow strips of parchment just wide enough for the baguettes, then place the shaped dough on them. Then I transfer them to a couche for the rise. Works great! And it makes it trivial to transfer them to a peel (or in my case, the back of a sheet pan) for baking (just put the peel/pan against the edge of the counter and slide them on).

LazySumo's picture
LazySumo

Dangit Pants, now you got me to wondering if there is difference between the final physical appearance of bread that's been proofed on a couche (with the sides supported) and free-standing. More bread coming up in a few days, I'll test.

fancypantalons's picture
fancypantalons

I'll be interested to hear your results! My own understanding was that the couche provides support for the rising bread, to ensure it retains it's shape and rises up, as opposed to out (which is why I also put books or something else firm on either end of the couche once the bread is in place).

proth5's picture
proth5

A couche should be hung to dry after it is used. Then it is rolled - never folded - and stored for future use.

My variant on this is that I store mine in an open plastic bag after drying, just to keep the flour from getting all over the storage area. Note the open bag. Note also I live in a very dry climate and in general mold/mildew is not a problem.

Mine is unfinished linen. I washed it when it was new because the fabric contained sizing to which I am quite allergic. I washed it on a gentle cycle and air dried it. The edges did ravel a bit but not so much that it rendered the dimensions unusable. I trimmed the edges and have been using it for years without washing it. I proof directly on the linen and have few problems with sticking even with high hydration doughs. It smells OK and I feel no need to wash it.

I would not suggest washing a couche that has had good care, but if you've got something funky going on you might want to take the chance. If you hand wash, raveling should be no problem at all. The worst thing that will happen is that you will need to replace a couche that was starting to be a problem anyway.

If you want to iron it (I did not feel a need to iron mine after I washed it) linen should always be ironed damp. I simply streched mine out a bit and let it dry flat. Just as a linen lesson - linen fibers contain a wax, so that when they are carefully ironed they will get a subtle sheen and should be ironed on both sides to maximize that sheen. This is why old, well cared for linen napkins (for instance) have a wonderful luster and feel. (I've obviously spent wa-a-a-a-y too much time studying fiber care...)

Linen is a durable bast fiber and can stand washing in hot water. For some reason it has gotten a reputation as a delicate fiber, but I assure you (and I have grown, processed and spun flax into linen) it is quite hardy.

Hope this helps, and

Happy Baking!

mattie405's picture
mattie405

This may seem like a very silly question but here goes. Some one who knew that I sewed gave me several bolts of pure linen, none of it in white or natural. Is it possible to serge the ends of this colored linen, wash and use it as a couche? Would the color have a bad effect on using it? Would washing it very hot water help set or remove some of the dye in it and thus make it useable for lining my bannetons or usable as a couche? I had thought of using it for napkins and such but would really like to use some for lining the bannetons. Thanks for any insight. Mattie

proth5's picture
proth5

The first question would be the weight and weave of the fabric itself. If it is very fine - like a handkerchief linen, you might find that it performs poorly as a couche. Generally what we use as baker's linen has some heft to it. Also, in terms of basket liners, most of what I have seen has some significant texture in the weave. A finely woven cloth might not perform as well. So, the fabric itself might not be suitable for this use.

Because of linen's waxy coating, it is difficult to get the fibers to accept dye, but according to my research and experience, dyed linen is colorfast. Washing in very hot water will not set the dye, but it may cause the fabric to release some dye. If I were really intent on using this fabric as a couche, I would wash a sample in hot water and observe how much dye was released. I might wash the sample several times until a minimal amount of dye was released. If dye seems to be released continually, I would not use the linen for baking. It takes some pretty nasty chemicals to dye linen and even though they probably won't leach off under cooler conditions, if the fabric is throwing off a lot of dye in hot water I just don't see any point in taking a chance. If indeed the fabric is throwing off a lot of dye, there is something questionable in the dying process that was used - again, if this is the case I would not risk using the fabric. I am being very cautious in my advice about this as I do not know the origin of your fabric. My guess would be that a good Belgian or Irish linen would not be a problem, but I would be a little more suspicious of fabric from an area where regulations are a bit more lax.

That being said, dyed linen is usually an expensive fabric. If I had several bolts of couture linen, I would use it in clothing or decorating projects. TMB Baking sells baker's linen at $8-10.50 per yard depending on the width (which sounds like a lot, but for linen is a very modest price) and I would just get a yard or so from them to use as a couche. That way I'd have the right fabric for my use. With proper care this would be a once in a lifetime purchase.

Hope this helps.

mattie405's picture
mattie405

Proth, thanks so much for your reply. The linen I have is indeed high quality from Ireland, has a great hand to it. Guess I will head down to the local fabric store and just get some natural canvas and finish the edges and use it as a couche, thanks again for taking the time to answer, I appreciate it. Mattie

proth5's picture
proth5

I would have no fear of using a fine Irish linen - if the texture is right - as a couche or a basket liner after giving it a good wash in hot water to remove sizing, etc.


But I'm not sure I would have the heart to use it under rising bread... Just me.


Are you not in the USA?  TMB Baking will mail you real baker's linen if you are in the US, probably at near the cost for canvas.  Linen has unique qualities when it comes to absorbing moisture athat really makes it ideal for this use.


Happy Baking!


 

mattie405's picture
mattie405

Yes, I am in the deep south of the USA. I have several bolts in all weights and weaves, gave away lots of it when I first received it and kept some here so I might just cut a piece and give it a try, it's 60" wide and about a 24" cut across the width of it should make a deccent size. Will give it a try after the Thanksgiving holiday, right now have a lot to do.......doing 4 turkeys's and all the trimmings so time is in too much demand this week. Thanks again, Mattie