Straight to the Point
Baking artisan, crusty bread at home is best done in a preheated Dutch oven or dedicated bread vessel like the Challenger Bread Pan. Not only does the heavy pot help transfer heat quickly into the interior of the loaf for maximum oven spring, but the closed confines of the pot jacket the loaf with steam, which is essential for that crisp, crackly crust.
Many Dutch oven recipes have you simply plop the loaf into the base of the pot, but anyone who has tried this more than a couple of times knows it’s a risky business. It’s far too easy to either burn your hands on the edges of the blazing-hot pot or to miss the mark and have the loaf end up riding up the side of the pot while trying to avoid burning your hands.
Why Do You Need a Bread Sling?
To avoid third-degree burns and/or misshapen loaves, many Dutch oven bakers instead first set the loaf on a trimmed-down or folded sheet of parchment paper which can be then used as a “sling” to let them gently lower the loaf into the pot. But most parchment paper degrades at the high temperatures the Dutch oven baking demands, which can cause it to burn or disintegrate during the bake. And while parchment is meant to be disposable, frugal bakers often try to get multiple uses out of each sheet, which isn’t possible when it’s used in Dutch oven baking.
This is what prompted people to create reusable, dedicated bread slings using heat-resistant materials like fiberglass and silicone. In fact, the first versions I ever saw were simply repurposed silicone baking mats trimmed with scissors into circles or ovals with tabs on either end to serve as handles. I’ve used a variety of DIY and commercial bread slings for the last few years, and have found one that I think is far superior to the rest: the Rosehill Sourdough The BreadMat.
How Does The BreadMat Compare to Other Slings?
Most bread slings—and there are a maddening number of them available, all more or less identical to one another—are simply prefab versions of the DIY versions I mentioned above. These ones, like their baking-mat cousins, are made from a woven fiberglass core embedded within a continuous layer of silicone. These work fine, including the one I tested extensively, the Breadsling.
But baking-mat style slings do have a few drawbacks. One, they are on the thick side, which means they shield the bottom of the loaf from the heat of the pot, slowing down browning far more than parchment does. (I find my loaves come out paler on their undersides than I’d like with these, but on the other hand, some bakers might welcome a little extra insulation to keep their loaves from burning.) Two, the heavy silicone retains a lot of heat, so the handles on the sling cannot be grasped with bare hands comfortably when it comes time to remove the loaf from the pot. And three, the handles are so thick that they can prevent the lid from sitting snugly onto the pot if they get caught in the interface, letting precious steam escape.
The Bread Mat is made instead by coating the individual strands of fiberglass with a layer of silicone so thin that the fabric’s open weave remains intact. This gives the mat a much thinner cross-section, leaving it less apt to retain heat, so the handles are graspable even with bare hands. The thin, porous mat is also better able to transmit heat to the loaf, so breads brown similarly to how they do with parchment. Finally, the Bread Mat is so thin that even when it gets caught between the lid and the pot, little to no steam sneaks out.
I especially like the shape of the Bread Mat. It’s nine inches across at the widest point, and the handles taper gradually at first, providing an extra couple of inches of space to accommodate oval loaves longer than they are wide. (The extra flexibility of the Bread Mat also means the fabric is less likely to buckle than a thicker baking mat-style one would when placed into a slightly cramped pot.) The Bread Mat is also 16 inches long, which, though two inches shorter than the Breadsling, is long enough to give something to grab onto, even with large loaves.
One minor issue I noted with the Bread Mat is that the fabric can begin to fray at the edges. Of the six I’ve tested, it only happened on one of them, and the flaw never progressed to the point where it was anything more than cosmetic. I reached out to Rosehill Sourdough about the fraying and they mentioned that they’ve also seen it happen occasionally and that an updated version (due out this fall) will get “hemmed” with a solid band of silicone, to reinforce the edges. (They are also coming out with a Bread Mat with a wider, square central area, designed especially for use in dedicated bread pots like the Challenger Bread Pan. I’ve tested a prototype, and it works great.)
Whichever style of bread sling you choose for your Dutch oven baking will be an upgrade from parchment paper, but I think your best bet is to sling it with the Bread Mat.
- Material: A woven fiberglass mesh fully coated and sealed with food-safe silicone
- Oven-safe temperature: 500˚F
- Care instructions: Hand-wash with soap, or on the top rack of a dishwasher.
- Price at time of publish: $17
How much does the Bread Mat cost, and how many come in a single order?
One Bread Mat is $17, while a 2-pack is $27.
What temperature is the Bread Mat rated to?
The Bread Mat can withstand temperatures up to 500˚F, which is at or above the temperature that virtually all Dutch oven loaves are baked.
Why We’re the Experts
- Andrew Janjigian is a Serious Eats contributor and a former long-time test cook at America’s Test Kitchen.
- Andrew’s been teaching baking and pizza classes for more than 10 years. He’s authored many Serious Eats reviews and recipes, including an evaluation of the Le Creuset bread oven and a comparison of baking steels and stones.
- Andrew’s tried more than six of The BreadMats.