For the dough:
- 7 1/2 cups unbleached, unbromated flour
- 2 cups water
- 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon vegetable shortening
For the caramel "paint":
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 (11 by 14-inch) piece styrofoam approximately 2 inches thick (it doesn't matter what size as long as it is big enough to accommodate a 10-inch diameter circle in the
- 21 (12-inch) long wooden skewers
- 3 (each 1/4-inch thick and 1 foot long) dowels
- Glue gun
- Decorative ribbon optional
To make the dough: Place all of the ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle. Mix until well combined. The dough will be sticky but you will be able to form it into a ball. Use additional flour for your hands and work surface to keep the dough from sticking.
To prepare the basket weaving structure: This recipe will make enough dough to yield a basket that is about 10 inches in diameter. Use a piece styrofoam as a base. I used an 11 by 14-inch rectangular piece, which was about 2 inches thick. Using a pen, draw a 9-inch diameter circle in the center of the rectangular styrofoam. Insert 21 wooden skewers in a circle following the pen line of the 9-inch diameter circle. Space the skewers somewhat evenly apart. When inserting the skewers, tilt them slightly outward. This will be the outside shape of the basket.
To make the basket: Roll a piece of dough into a long rope that is at least 20 inches long and about 1/2-inch in diameter. Place the end of this rope inside the basket leaving a 1 1/2-inch long tail resting in what will be the interior of the basket. Weave the rest of the dough in and out of the skewers. This should make one complete layer and may give you enough to continue into the second row. When you are coming to the end of your rope (no pun intended) and you need to stop, make sure you leave a tail inside the basket. This will help the dough stay in place and avoid any unraveling later on. Roll out another dough rope and start the second layer in a different spot than the first one so the starts and ends are staggered throughout the basket. This will help develop a stable structure to the basket. When you have completed 4 full rows, put it in the oven at 200 degrees F (if the oven temperature is higher, the Styrofoam will melt) for about 30 minutes. This is just long enough for the dough to dry slightly and will provide a strong base for the weight of additional layers. Remove from the oven and let cool. Repeat the same process adding another 4 layers to the basket. Put it back in the oven for another 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.
To make the decorative braids for the top rim of the basket: Using 3 ropes of raw dough approximately 28 inches long, weave the dough ropes into a long braid. Place the braid on the top rim of the basket, gently pressing it down to make it secure. This is now the final row on the basket.
To make the bottom of the basket: Make a long rope of dough approximately 1/2-inch in diameter. Tightly coil it starting at the center of the inside of the basket. This will be the bottom of the basket. If the rope you made is not long enough, you can roll out another rope and connect the 2 ropes by squeezing it securely to the end of the already coiled rope. Make the coil disk slightly bigger than the base and push the coil into place so it fits snugly.
To make the handles for the basket: I used a 1/4-inch thick wooden dowel as a base and wrapped a long rope of raw dough, by spiraling around the dowel from top to bottom. I used 3 pieces of dowel to give my basket handle an artistic shape. The length of the dowels depends on 2 things. How tall the side of your basket is and what you want the handles to look like. Cut dowels to desired size. Lay the raw dough wrapped dowels on the baking sheet and bake along with the rest of the basket. The handles will be attached after all the parts have been baked.
Place the entire basket and the handles in the oven for the final time. I put mine in the oven for about 1 hour, then turned off the heat and left it in the oven overnight. Remove the basket from the oven (it should be cool or room temperature for final assembly).
To assemble and finish the basket:
- Use a glue gun to stick the handles in place. Place a thick line of glue starting from the inside bottom (where your coiled disk is) going up to the rim of the basket in a straight vertical line. Adhere 1 of the basket handles to the glue line resting the dowel end on the bottom of the basket, where your coiled disk is. Do the same thing on the opposite side of the basket. The placement of the final dowel is an aesthetic decision. I placed mine on an angle. Start just shy of the top of 1 dowel to meet the second dowel just shy of half way down. Glue in place and tie at the corners with the decorative ribbon if you want.
Make the caramel for painting the basket: Place the sugar and water in a saucepan and place over medium-high heat. Stir only until it is combined. Let the caramel cook until it burns. You will see white smoke and the caramel will be very dark. Remove from the heat. Add a little water and stir. You will need to keep adding small amounts of water until the caramel is a consistency liquid enough to use as paint. Use a pastry brush to apply the caramel to the basket and the handle. Allow it to dry completely before filling the basket with your pastries.