Of the many foods we eat, bread is one of those closest to the heart. Even for those who grew up with pale, spongy commercial bread, the smell of a fresh-baked loaf warm from the oven is both appetizing and comforting. With popularity on the rise for local and artisanal foods, more home enthusiasts are exploring artisanal bread making. One useful tool is a proofing cloth, or couche, for the dough to rise on.
Purchase a length of plain linen or fine canvas, slightly larger than your bread making work surface. One metre of linen or canvas will make a large proofing cloth. Alternatively, cut one-third of the fabric for a small cloth to line a bowl and use the remaining two-thirds for your main cloth.
Hem the edges by hand or on a sewing machine, This makes the cloth look neater, and prevents threads from getting into the bread dough.
Roll up the cloth. Unroll 30 to 60 cm (12 to 24 inches) of fabric and sprinkle it lightly with flour. Rub the flour into the cloth with a circular motion, until the flour is trapped into the mesh of the fabric. Repeat the process until the cloth can't hold any more flour.
Unroll another 30 to 60 cm (12 to 24 inches) of the fabric and infuse the cloth with flour. The couche is ready.
Proof baguettes in your couche by bunching the fabric like corduroy. Place a baguette on the cloth, raise the fabric to form a wall, then place a second baguette on the other side. Repeat, until all the dough is supported by cloth.
Line a bowl or wicker basket with the couche to proof round loaves, or just form the cloth into a freestanding bowl shape on the counter.
Refresh the proofing cloth periodically by rubbing more flour into it. If the dough sticks, allow it to dry onto the cloth and then peel it off.
Never wash your proofing cloth or allow it to get wet. This will promote bacterial growth, and will make dough stick to it. If your proofing cloth does get wet, wash it several times in cold water until it is completely clean. Dry it thoroughly -- without fabric softener -- and follow Step 3.