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.
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.