There are lots of ways of making your bread look more ‘professional’, for example tightening up the way you shape the dough, but perhaps the easiest way to give your loaves that professional look is to use bannetons.
Bannetons are simply baskets which you use for the dough’s final prove before it goes in the oven. The basket holds the dough in shape and makes it much easier to handle lots of individual loaves which is why they are commonly used in bakeries.
They are traditionally made of cane but you can also get plastic ones that can go in the dishwasher. Personally I don’t think there is any need for that as they very rarely need cleaning. As long as they are well floured the dough just goes in and out and doesn’t really touch the wood. every now and then you can just stick it in a low oven for a short while to dry out any bits of dough and then turn it over and give it a whack to clean it – easy peasy!
You can get different shapes and sizes, the main ones are round or oval. I have a couple of both and probably use the round ones more often but mostly just because they makes bigger loaves! Using these also allows you to handle much wetter dough (and wetter dough = better bread!) because it cannot spread out when it’s proving.
So how do you use it? Well you make the dough as usual then once you are at the point where you are shaping the dough into its final shape ready for baking you get out your banneton(s), flour them well, shape the dough into a boule or baton that is roughly the size of your banneton and place it seam up in the basket for its final rise.
Once it has risen and is ready to go in the oven you tip it out onto the baking sheet/stone (I find it easiest to hold one end and give the other end a firm tap on the tray to get the dough out), slash it, and put it in the oven. Bread made like this looks particularly good if you use a baking stone as you get lots of oven spring and can end up with almost round loaves if you get it right! The flour from the banneton gives those characteristic lines which I think look great.
So there we have it. Bannetons are a great addition to a baker’s equipment as they make great looking loaves and allow you to handle wetter dough and multiple loaves much easier. Lovely stuff.