Learn how to make a proofing box in the oven to create a warm and humid environment for yeast-leavened bread. All you need is hot water, baking pan, thermometer, and an enclosed space. This technique will help your baked goods rise no matter the temperature in your home!
If you’re an avid baker whole loves to make yeast-risen bread and pastries then you probably know that allowing the dough to properly rise is essential in the final taste a texture. There are a few ways you can tackle this stage. If your home is mild enough you can place the dough covered in a warm, draft-free area, but this can be inconsistent especially as the temperature fluctuates throughout the year.
Another method is to warm an oven, turn it off, and then place the dough in to rise. Although this is effective, I’ve found there’s a risk in over proofing the dough. If you forget to turn off the oven, or it becomes too warm, the yeast produces excessive gas and if not carefully monitored, the dough could deflate before baking.
After trying out various methods, I’ve found the most success with an oven proofing box. The folks at Cook’s Illustrated came up with a clever idea that incorporates steam to create just the right warm and moist environment. You should already have everything you need, just grab a large glass measuring cup, baking dish, water, thermometer, and you’re ready to leaven!
How To Make A Proofing Box
1) Set Up the Oven: Set a baking rack in the middle position, this is where the dough with go. Set another baking rack at the bottom position, this is where the baking dish with water will be.
2) Heat the Water: Heat 3 cups of water (720ml) in a microwave-safe bowl (I recommend a large Pyrex measuring cup) or in a pot on the stove top until the temperature reaches near boiling, 200ºF (93ºC). It takes between 4 to 6 minutes in the microwave. Make sure to check the temperature with a thermometer.
3) Place Dough in the Oven: Cover the bowl containing the large bulk dough, or shaped dough loosely with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Place it on the center rack in the oven.
4) Add the Water: Place a glass or metal baking dish on the bottom rack of the oven. The shape can be a rectangle, square or circle, at least 8 to 9-inches in size. Carefully pour the hot water into the empty dish. Close the oven door and allow the oven to trap the steam and become warm and humid. I like to have an oven thermometer or even a probe thermometer in the proof box to check that the temperature is at the right level, or too cold/hot. The temperature should be between 75 and 95ºF (24 to 35ºC).
The Role of Yeast Fermentation in Bread
Fermentation is the process of where live yeast eats the sugars, carbohydrates, and starches in the dough. After the feeding frenzy, the yeast digests the nutrients and produces carbon dioxide gas and ethanol as by-products. The alcohol gets evaporated during baking, whereas the gas gets trapped in the dough’s elastic gluten network. This process is key for flavor and texture development in baked goods.
What is Proofing?
Proofing is a fermentation stage in yeast bread that gives shaped dough time to rise before baking. Depending on the type of yeast used, fresh compressed yeast, active dry, or instant-rise yeast, will determine if you also need a bulk fermentation step prior to proofing, which allows the larger mass of dough time to rise before shaping.
What is a Proof Box?
When reading through a recipe like my homemade cinnamon rolls, you’ll be asked to cover and allow the dough to ferment or rise. Most home chefs don’t have a proof box like commercial kitchens, which looks like a tall cabinet that keeps the air temperature between 80 to 90ºF (27 to 30ºC) and about 75% humidity. A proof box serves to create a consistent environment to control temperature and humidity for optimal fermentation conditions. The reason you need a warm environment is that between 75 to 95ºF (24 to 36ºC) yeast activity is at its peak, 77ºF (25C) is the optimum dough temperature. Anything below 70ºF (21ºC), yeast is slow, at 34ºF (2ºC) it’s inactive. At 138ºF (59ºF), the yeast is dead and will never ferment, so be careful!
Tips for Maintaining Proof Box Conditions
- I found that this process is good for about 1 hour of proofing. If you’re doing another stage of fermentation check the oven temperature. If it’s below 75ºF (24ºC), simply reheat the water and add it back to the baking dish for the next round.
- Do your best not to open the oven door unless doing a quick temperature check.
- I like using loose plastic wrap on top of the dough so I can easily check to see if it has doubled in size. That way the oven is not constantly losing heat and moisture.
- Work with one recipe at a time to get the most effective rise.
After you’re done proofing the dough, wipe down the oven door to remove any excess condensation before preheating the oven. Now that you have beautifully risen yeast-bread, it’s time to bake them off! I hope you find this method convenient and budget-friendly. I’d love to hear any experiences you have with this technique or other methods you use for proofing in the comments section below.
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