A banneton is a basket in which free-formed bread that is not baked in bread pans (such as a French country loaf or a “boule”) is set to rise. The purpose is to shape the dough, and to let some moisture leave the surface of the dough.
The basket can be made of wicker, rush, cane, or even plastic. It does need, though, to be something “woven” as opposed to something solid, to allow the dough to breath. Otherwise, the dough will get moist and stick and collapse.
The shape of the basket can be round, or long, depending on the loaf being made.
Some people just use a well-floured basket, and clean it afterwards with a stiff brush. Others like to first spray the basket with a light spray oil, and then flour it.
Many people, instead, line the basket with a porous, floured cloth (such as linen or canvas), both to absorb more moisture, and to guard against possible small splinters or basket staples getting into the dough.
Using a banneton without a cloth can allow more of the basket’s woven pattern to imprint itself on the dough. However, much of the pattern in the dough may be lost anyway when the dough is put in the oven and oven-spring occurs.
Lined or unlined, when the dough is risen, the basket is tipped upside down either onto a baker’s peel then slid into the oven onto a baking stone, or directly onto a baking sheet.
The baskets are never put in the oven.
While a banneton is similar in usage to a bread couche, a banneton provides more support than a bread couche does, allowing for higher loaves.
Plastic bannetons can be put through the dishwasher periodically to sanitize them.
Clayton, Bernard & Bernard Clayton, Jr. The Breads of France. Berkeley, California: Ten Speed Press. 2002. Page 10.
Glossary at Brasserie Bread. Retrieved February 2009 from http://www.brasseriebread.com.au/baking/faq.aspx
HACCP Compliant Proofing Basket. Internet Discussion Thread. June 2007. Retrieved February 2009 from http://sourdough.com/forum/topic/927.