Turn Your Oven Into a Proofing Oven

If you have ever worked in a commercial kitchen, you may have had experience with a proofing oven. It’s simply a big metal cabinet with racks for trays of dough (rolls, doughnuts, loaves of bread).

It maintains a warm, moist environment for the yeast to prosper and create perfectly-risen baked goods. Few of us are going to have one of those in our kitchens, but we improvise. I have a sister-in-law in whose rear car window can regularly be seen a bowl of pizza dough. Sunny windows, heating vents, & radiators are often made to do double-duty in this way.

I use my oven. This is for ovens with no pilot light–I have heard those make the ovens too hot.

How-to:
1. Set up your oven racks. You need a rack for the pan of dough in the upper portion of your oven. Be sure to allow enough space above the pan for the dough to rise. You need a rack below the pan of dough for a medium-sized pan of boiling water. Alternately you may be able to set the pan on the bottom floor of the oven provided the heating element is not in the way.
2. Place the dough on its appointed rack in a cold oven. Boil a pan of water and place on the rack below it. Close the door of the oven and turn on the heat to 400 degrees F. for exactly one minute. Time this exactly! Don’t forget and go off to do something else! Turn off the heat and don’t open the door. Leave your dough for the amount of time recommended in your recipe.

You will not need or want to cover your dough under these conditions. It will be sufficiently humid inside the oven from the boiled water to obviate the need for a cover. (And of course plastic wrap would melt when you turned the heat on. A towel might scorch.) Just don’t cover it.

No special equipment required. And you’ll never forget and drive around town with a pan of Parkerhouse rolls sliding around in the backseat.

Leave a Reply

  1. Thank you so much for this! I grew up in a house with a very large natural gas stove. It had a cast iron griddle in the middle between the burners, which itself had a pilot light underneath. My mother used to put her rising bread on top of that and it was just right. I later got to work with a commercial proof box in my jobs, but of course those are so spendy!
    I guess many people don’t cook anymore and aren’t familiar with rising bread. (I am shocked at the number of people excited when they find out I can COOK! Whoopee! I had thought everyone could cook. Silly me.

  2. Thank you so very much for the proofing in the electric home oven. I have been looking and looking some more for these instructions and knew this should be a possibility. My husband & I are retired and to be able to make my own bread in the winter in the Pacific NW is going to help out a lot. Will be trying this out in the AM. Wow, am so happy I found this. Thanks.

  3. I have a gas oven with electric igniter, do I leave the oven on for one minute from the time the oven lights or one minute from the time it reaches 400 degrees? Please clerify? Thanks for the tip.

  4. If you use your oven as a proofing oven, do I still cover the dough? Usually when I make bread, after I’ve kneaded the dough, I place the dough in a bowl and cover the dough with plastic wrap. If I don’t put the plastic wrap the dough develops a crust on the top. If I put the dough in a lightly heated oven with a pan of boiling water tongive off extra moisture moisture, will that impede the development of the crust while the dough is rising. Thanks in advance for the answer.

  5. Daniel–I find that the humidity in the oven keeps the bread surface from drying out and forming a crust. I leave it uncovered. Plastic wrap would get melty and cling to the dough.

  6. How about putting the boiling water on the top rack with the dough below? I tried proofing croissants with the boiling water underneath and the butter melted out.

  7. Phil–Yes, anything to keep things below butter melting point. I wouldn’t even turn on the oven either. Just the moist heat from the water at the most.

  8. Sorry to ask a silly question but if I’m using an electric oven then turning it on to 400F for one minute won’t even begin to heat it up at all, any ideas what the internal temperature should reach before you cut it out and put the pan and the dough in at?

  9. Adam–Not a silly question. I have an electric oven, too. The whole oven doesn’t heat up (thankfully), it just takes the chill off, maybe gives it a little warmth, and the hot water you put in there will do the rest. I don’t have an oven thermometer so I can’t say, but again, it isn’t supposed to reach 400 degrees, not by a long shot. Just slightly warm.

  10. On my oven I have to do the whole pre-heating thing to turn the oven on. Should I put the dough and boiling water in after I start the pre-heat and then turn the pre-heating off after one minute? I’m not sure if I’ll be using an electric or gas oven, dose it matter either way? I’m trying to make yeast donuts and I haven’t been able to figure out a good way too proof the dough yet.

  11. Melissa–Since I’m not really sure of your set-up, I’ll explain what the ultimate goal is–to take the chill off the oven and make the atmosphere in there just slightly warm and nice and humid. Test out what happens when you try it both ways and see which method gets it to warm but not hot and humid but not clammy and drippy. Save me a donut.

  12. Daisy- Alright I’ll try it out and see what happens. Hopefully I will be able to figure this out :) I’ll try to save you a donut but I make no promises. Hehe

  13. I make bread quite often and what has been helpful for me is to turn my oven on to 200 (I have a electric stove) then turn it after that temp is reached, I then put my pan of boiling water on the bottom rack and put the bowl of dough which I cover with plastic wrap and a damp towel and let it rise . I also will just leave oven door open with oven on at 200 and put bowl of dough on the oven door it has been my way of having a proof box. This is my first time leaving a comment and I do enjoy all the tips that are given here.

  14. I had my gas oven switched to a electric convection oven. I had originally been using the heat from the top vents to proof my dough but the convection oven takes all that heat away with the fan. So needless to say I had been searching for a way to quickly proof my dough again. I had heard about this and tried your technique tonight for French bread. It worked swimmingly! Thank you so much for the helpful tip!

  15. Thank you for the info on bread making.. This is going to be so much easier… Love your site…

  16. I love to bake andI have a gas range & oven. I have been thinking about making a proofing oven independant from the stove. Do you know of any DIY plans I could purchase as I am not really sure of the correct dimensions. I’m thinking of a simple plywood box outfitted with a couple of 150Watt bulbs mounted towards the back. Any ideas?

  17. Bobbie Janice Carson–That would be cool. I remember the huge proofing cabinets from when I used to work in commercial kitchens. I never questioned how they worked, though, just popped things in there and let the magic happen. They were always metal, the better to deal with the humidity, but that wouldn’t be a deal-breaker. I googled “build proofing box” and found some interesting forum threads and blog posts on the subject, too many to list here, including at least one plywood one. There was one made in an old Coleman cooler.

    I like the idea, and you could also make yogurt in it, I bet.

  18. This is going to sound strange but this is what I do in my 62 degree Northwoods home in the winter. I preheat a cooler with my heated corn pillows or whatever you can warm it up with. This takes a little while if the cooler is cold to start with. Once it’s warmed up I put my bread in it to raise. Works great. You cold also heat up and put the corn pillow right in the ovento do the same. I’ve done it with the microwave….a perfect little proofer!

  19. Once it has risen do you take the bread out of the oven when it comes to cooking to allow the oven to preheat to cooking temperature? If you do how do you stop them from sinking at this point?

  20. J white–I just turn the oven on and start baking. If you have a double oven, proof in one and bake in the other.

  21. Thanks, so you leave the water pan in there too whilst baking I guess? Also, do you start timing you baking from when you turn the oven on or wait until it gets to temperature?

  22. No, I take the pan out so I don’t bake the handle. I’d say split the difference. If it takes 15 minutes to pre-heat, maybe start your cook time 7 minutes from when you turn on the heat. I’m a “it’s done when it looks like it’s done” person and I don’t usually use a timer. Baking times usually vary depending on the oven, the pan, etc. so just start checking and thumping and everything will turn out okay.

  23. Can you tell me if this method is better than using the fridge to proof overnight as I’m in 2 minds of which would give a better rise. I know the fridge method works quite well but would this be improved by at all?

  24. Nikk–If you love the fridge method, I say stick with what is tried and true for you and use this method when you want to proof and bake in the same day.

  25. I really like this oven proofing thing. However, I wound up over proofing my bread and it collapsed and tasted a bit fermented. I figure that I did 1 or possibly 2 things wrong.
    1. after I punched down the dough and divided and put it in my bread pans, I repeated the boiling water/400° thing for the second rise.
    2. with the second rising, I got interrupted and left the oven on for 90 seconds.

    I am going to give this another try today. I am going to not repeat the boiling water and 400° thing but use the residual heat from the first time. I will make sure that I don’t get distracted and go over the 60 seconds.

  26. Thanks for posting this. Tried it today and produced the best bread I’ve ever made. I live in a cold and draughty home in the North of England so finding a warm spot to prove dough has always been a challenge.

  27. Cora Jane–I’m very glad it helped. Hope you find lots of things to keep warm and cozy this coming winter.
    I have to add, I love your name.

  28. Thank you so much for this, proving is the bane of my life, i read instructions which say lay a tea towel or lightly oiled cling film over the bread etc when proving, which ive tried but all i get is bread rolls stuck to tea towel etc! its so frustrating seeing all my ovely hard work deflate but this way i dont have to cover them. Genius! Thanks again (the temptation to open the oven door is huge but ive resisted!

  29. Definitely going to try a version of your tip the next time I bake bread. I have a loaf of bread in the oven right now, but it didn’t rise the way the recipe said it should, (draughty, slightly chilly house today), now I know what to do the next time. Thank you.