What is baker’s couche?
A high quality baker’s couche is professional grade 100% flax linen that is natural, untreated and unbleached. It is used to support dough, especially baguette, during proofing. Linen is durable, flexible and light, and is the best material to proof bread. Placing the dough between the folds maintains its shape, absorbs the excess moisture and prevents them from sticking to each other as they increase in size. Only a 100% linen cloth can do all these and release the dough without sticking. It has a wicking property that absorbs a little of the moisture on the surface of the dough without drying it out thus gives baguette a chewy, thin, crunchy crust. The couche should have durable seams on all four edges to prevent fraying over time.
Beware of "fake couche" when shopping for a baker's couche at online marketplaces such as Amazon, Walmart, Ebay, etc. It unfortunately has become more and more common that these marketplaces have products which claim to be "professional couche" when in fact they are not. These products tend to be cheaper, made of cotton or other thick fabrics, are far inferior for the purpose of proofing compared to 100% flax linen, and are most likely made by some fabric factories in China.
For authentic, high quality couche, we recommend that you visit a trusted bread specialty store in town, or buy online from a trusted source, including our own. Our Saint Germain Bakery couche is made by directly importing the fabric from a specialized couche manufacturer in France, then carefully hand tailored right here in the U.S.A.
How to use a baker’s couche?
Knowing how to use and care for your couche properly will make it last a long time. Flour the couche lightly and evenly. Too much flour will spoil the texture and appearance of the crust. Fold the cloth into a series of wavy creases to hold the dough during proofing. The linen should have sufficient body to stand up. This keeps the shape and structure of the dough intact. Then transfer shaped baguette dough into the folds, cover and let rise. When ready to bake, use a transfer peel or flipping board to move your dough into a baguette pan or baking stone. After using the couche, simply brush off excess flour and air dry. If the dough sticks, let dry and scrape off carefully. Don’t exert too much force when doing this to avoid tearing off the linen fiber. Hang the couche to air dry and roll-up to store. Never wash a baker’s couche. Water will wash away the yeasty, floury surface of the couche responsible for making baguette’s unique crust. In case you need to wash, use only tap water but expect it to shrink and become rigid.