Turn Your Oven Into a Proofing Oven

by Daisy on 01/11/2009

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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.



{ 58 comments… read them below or add one }

Alexis Harrington March 18, 2015 at 6:09 pm

I guess it depends on how big the baking project is, but for a loaf or two I just use the built-in microwave over my stove with its light turned on (you know, the bulb that lights the cooktop). It stays warm, the light bulb maintains a low, steady heat, and there are no drafts or drying out. I think of it as a mother hen sitting on my dough.

Just a thought. :)

Claudia April 7, 2015 at 7:17 pm

Well, I’m disappointed. I’ve been trying to find that perfect proofing method for a long time. My husband is a bit tired of bricks of bread. The first rise goes well, and I can do that on top of a warming oven. I tried your method for the second rise, and…well, it’s been a couple of hours and it’s still not risen above the top of the loaf pan. It’s in a glass pan, and I can see lots of air bubbles, which I think is good, but I’m not sure. I used a 100% whole wheat recipe on King Arthur flour recipe. I suspect the heat is too high, but I followed your instructions. Any help would be appreciated.

Daisy April 7, 2015 at 10:11 pm

Claudia–Sorry about your loaf. I’ve never had dough take that long to rise, so (as by this time you’ve discovered one way or another) it’s probably not going to. As to troubleshooting, I imagine you’ve tried everything: testing your yeast to make sure it’s viable, making sure the liquid wasn’t so hot it killed off the yeast, checking the cupboards for mischievous pixies, etc. The only other thing I can possibly imagine would be if the first rise lasted so long it exhausted the yeast and it was too pooped to pop the second time around; try shorter first rises maybe? Otherwise blame the pixies.

Claudia April 8, 2015 at 7:28 am

You may be right about the first rise…I let it go for 2 hrs…the recipe said 1-2 hrs, depending on the warmth of my kitchen. I didn’t know letting it go long the first time would affect the second rise. I’ll try it again. Thanks.

Claudia April 8, 2015 at 12:14 pm

Update. I used a container for the first rise that had measurements on it, so I could tell if it was doubled in size. My recipe says to leave it for 1-2 hrs, so I set the timer for 1 hour. I felt that was safe, right? Well, it went more than double in just that one hour and now I have the same result as I did yesterday…a pooped out, flat dough. So, I’ll try it again and set it for 15 minute increments. If I can catch it at just double or even a little less, the second rise should be wonderful. AND…my husband had a question….why not do the first rise in the loaf pan, and, after the rise time is over and it’s high and puffy, just bake it at that time? I told him I figured it was because it’s too airy and puffy…punching it down and letting it rise again makes for a dough that is not all air bubbles…am I right?

Daisy April 8, 2015 at 3:49 pm

Claudia–You’re right about the bubbles, a second rise is said to produce a finer crumb and eliminate the huge air spaces. Mainly, though, it makes the bread taste better as the fermentation process produces more alcohol and something called maltose which improves flavor, texture, and helps with browning. You can certainly try a one-rise bread and see how you like it. I’d be interested to see what happens. Some roll recipes I know only require one rise.

Claudia April 9, 2015 at 8:52 am

Two questions…what is the best humidity for proofing bread? When you say “a pan of boiling water”, what size pan do you use? A loaf pan? A 6-quart pan? Thank you!

Daisy April 9, 2015 at 1:35 pm

Claudia–The exact humidity isn’t terribly crucial–it is useful so you don’t have to cover the dough with plastic wrap or a towel to keep the surface of the dough from drying out (mine often sticks to the dough and makes a mess/causes the dough to fall) and forming a crust which would interfere with the rise. I use a small saucepan; it probably holds about a quart and a half. Sometimes smaller. The oven is a finite, smallish space, so it doesn’t take much.

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