Using a Couche
I have been using heavy canvas as a couche for all of my ciabatta and baguettes, but I am still a bit confused by it. I am now putting about 3 or 4 shaped loaves side by side, with the canvas pleated between each, and the whole thing on a half-sheet pan. Here are some of my difficulities:
- I often have issues with the amount of flour I put on it. Sometimes I overflour, but what is worse is when I underflour. If I have a fairly hydrated dough that proofs for any significant amount of time, I run a huge risk of having it stick and tear apart when I try to put it on the peel.
- I'm not quite sure how to get it off the canvas. I've been moving the edge loaf close to my peel, and then trying to flip the whole thing over. I've been using my bowl scraper to roll it over if I feel any stick.
- When I'm removing one loaf from the canvas, I have to worry about ruining the other loaves. If someone else is around, they can usually hold the back of the canvas in place, but if not, I have to try to get the piece I am working with slack, while the other half holds its shape.
Any tips on using a couche? What material do you use?
Danny - Sour Flour
Linen is the traditional material for a couche. But as Eric (ehanner) pointed out to me, a painters canvas drop cloth will work just fine - and for a fraction of the cost. Just be sure to wash it before use, and then liberally flour it and rub that flour in (and never, ever wash it again!).
I've had the same problem you describe with wet doughs sticking. My best advice is that when you're working with high hydration doughs (certainly anything north of 70% hydration), err on the side of too much rather than too little flour. You can always use a soft bristle brush (a good 4" paint brush works well) to get rid of excess flour.
The other alternative is to do your final fermentation on parchment paper. You can spray oil around the loaves and bunch the paper up, like you would a couche, and use rolled up tea towels on the ends. In this scenerio, you transfer the entire piece of parchment paper onto your baking stone or sheet, rather than try lifting and transfering each piece of dough.
Rub rice flour into your couche and the stickage will be a lot less. If you're going to rub flour into it, try to use all purpose instead of bread, since it has less protein in it. Rice flour works really well and I don't really have to flour my (cheap canvas) couche anymore.
Also, alot of us use a flipping board before transferring the loaf to the peel. A thin, light board will do the trick and is easier to maneuver than a peel. Mark at Back Home Bakery uses one in his excellent videos if you've seen them, and so does Susan at Wild Yeast in her videos. If you don't have one, I know some people on the forum have used cardboard, thin pieces of wood, etc. I actually just use a light cutting board that I put parchment on before I flip the dough onto it.
Susan's got a great flipping board usage video on her website (wildyeastblog.com) if you haven't watched it yet. I find it helps to separate the loaf I'm about to flip from the one next to it by stretching the couche out so the fold in between them disappears. It gives me a little more room to stick the board in between the two without disturbing the other loaves.
I have discovered the joy and ease of a flipping board. This made easier by using my canvas laid in the french loaf form. You know the kind that come 2 joined together. Lay the dough on the floured canvas flip any extra canvas up over the dough and then cover with a large piece of plastic. When ready place flipping board on the outside of a loaf and gently pull up the canvas in the center on the side of the loaf you want to flip. The loaf rolls out so nice. It is easy to then place on parchment or directly on to your stone. The whole operation including scoring does not take long and since I preheat my oven about 50 degrees more than I am going to bake at the heat loss is minimal.
Let your bread do its last rising directly on parchment. Yesterday, for the first time, I sprinkled cornmeal on my peel, covered this with parchment (folding over the corners to roughly the shape of the round loaf) and added the dough. It was super easy to transfer to the La Cloche bottom.
Flipping Board (Transfer Peel) Demonstration