Many new sourdough bakers, especially those tackling high hydration dough make the mistake of thinking a banneton will solve all their sticky dough problems right from the start. That just simply isn’t the case, though.
I remember the first day we used our bannetons only to see our dough stick more than when using our tea-towels and glass bowls. Two loaves of bread, bricked. That was a dark day, in fact, well, let’s just say it wasn’t the most composed moment of my life. We’ll leave it at that. 🙂
What we soon learned about bannetons is that they require a bit of know-how to use them properly. But, once they’re used properly, you’ll see zero issues with dough sticking to them.
To keep dough from sticking to a banneton basket use a 50/50 mix of rice flour to AP flour, coating both the basket and the top of the dough before proofing. After several uses, a basket will develop a “season” eliminating the need for rice flour. However, many bakers choose to use a mix of rice flour and AP every time they work with high hydration dough.
Let’s talk about that more, and I also mention a way that avoids using rice flour altogether. It’s not as fool-proof, but it does work. After all, some of you might have purchased a banneton hopeful that you wouldn’t need to use rice flour.
Using Rice Flour
If your banneton is new, you might likely see worse results with it than without it. To start to see great results, you will need to use the banneton several times until it builds up a good cure or season. This is achieved by simply letting a banneton dry after each use (it will be damp from the dough), then brushing it clean without the use of water. If this process is repeated several times, your banneton will become a champ at releasing sticky dough. But, you will still need to use a coating of basic flour (we use a liberal amount) for the best results, but it is quite a game-changer. Before figuring this out, we were having issues with about every other loaf of our high-hydration dough sticking enough to ruin the final bake. Thankfully, that’s in the past right along with the cold sweats I’d get when it was time to dump a basket out. 🙂
But, until the season forms, rice flour reigns supreme. This has to do with the absorption properties of rice flour vs wheat. Rice flour resists moisture at a much higher level than wheat flour does, which means it will form a protective wall between your dough and your basket. It really works wonders. Out of all the “promises” we’ve seen out there in the bread baking world, this is one of the few that has lived up to the hype. You can see our preferred choice over on Amazon. You’ll be able to find it in most grocery stores as well.
Now, all that being said, you will not want to use just rice flour to coat your dough and basket. This will result in a dry almost gritty (exaggerated a bit) texture on your crust. It’s not as bad as it sounds, but you’ll want to avoid it. So simply put together a 50/50 mix of rice flour to AP flour (or bread flour if that’s what you have) and you’ll be all set. In fact, many bakers and bakeries use this mixture at all times.
Additionally, we like to dust the top of our dough off with a brush after dumping out of the basket just before scoring. We know the powder makes for great Instagram worthy beauties (we have a few of those ourselves), but we prefer the texture and taste when most of the flour is dusted off.
*Pro-tip: Keep your rice flour and AP mixture in the freezer as it will last a long time. The issue is flour goes bad over time, and you’ll likely not use enough of this before it goes bad if not kept in the freezer.
Without Rice Flour
If you will be opting to avoid using rice flour, you will need to employ these three tactics:
- Be heavy-handed with your AP or bread flour: When coating your banneton and top of your dough, you’ll want to use a hefty amount of flour. When you think you’ve used enough, use some more. Especially true when your banneton is new. Over time you can be less heavy on the flour, but you’ll still want to use a liberal amount each time. You’ll be able to dust the top of the dough before baking to remove the excess flour.
- Cold proof your dough in the fridge: After your final shape, cold-proof your dough for about 12 hours. This will make your dough stiff when you dump it out, making it less floppy. This is important because it allows you to have the time to dust the excess flour off before baking.
- Cold proof without covering the dough: Not covering your dough allows for better wicking, which means your dough is less likely to stick to the banneton. If you absolutely feel like this is somehow morally wrong (we tend to get more pushback on this step than any other), then use a thin towel to cover. Do not use a plastic cover unless you are using rice flour or you have a very dry fridge. For us, plastic equaled stuck like glue every single time we didn’t use rice flour.
Should I Use The Liner That Came With My Banneton?
Using a liner or not is usually a personal preference but it also has to do with the desired look of a finished loaf. A liner is typically chosen when a baker wants to create a detailed scoring pattern. This is due to a banneton without a liner being prone to leaving lines of flour on the finished loaf. In my opinion, it creates a beautiful pattern that is contrasted nicely by a nice sharp straight scoreline. But I’m a simple man. 🙂 For those beautiful and at times intricate scoring patterns out there, banneton lines just distract from it. A nice smooth white top is needed. The liner helps get that kind of canvas to start with.
Initially, you might actually see less sticking with a liner due to the lack of season on a new banneton. But, if using rice flour, this does not make any difference. It’s mostly a preference thing. Carrie prefers the liner, while I prefer not to use them. Opposites attract. 🙂
Does Anything Else Help With Sticky Dough?
Having a nice tight membrane (skin) on your dough goes a long way to help fight stickiness. A tight membrane happens when tension is created during shaping. Without quality gluten development, though, you’ll struggle to get enough tension to form a good tight membrane.
Most recipes are developed to ensure gluten development is optimum for creating tension during shaping, so follow your recipe as much as possible. Pay special attention to bulk times. Over or under bulking is a major reason for poor gluten development. Choosing a recipe that calls for a pre-shape and rest is a good choice here as well. That pre-shape and rest step really helps with forming a membrane. Also, watch a few shaping technique vides to see how to get good quality tension. You can see how we do a basic round below.