How to Make an Oven Proofing Box

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!

cinnamon rolls rising inside an oven proofing box

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 stovetop 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).

cinnamon rolls lined up in a baking dish

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 (59ºC), the yeast is dead and will never ferment, so be careful!

cinnamon rolls after being inside a proofing box

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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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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11 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Dana says

    So you proof your dough for 1 hour & remove it from the oven to preheat the oven. That takes about 15 min. What happens to your dough during that 15 min? Does it deflate?

  2. Michael Brennan says

    I’ve been working on some ideas. I have a quarter oven countertop Waring and it doesn’t seem to be able to get down low like it used to. Might get a coffee mug warmer or I am currently testing a heating pad. Also maybe one of those mini crock pots that you put wax in or potpourri

  3. Lourens Erasmus says

    I have built a proofing box out of a black plastic container with a 60-watt electric globe in it. Fits 2 large loaves. Place on a cup of boiling water in it and switch the lamp on. Achieve my 75% humidity and a temperature of between 27& 30 deg C. Proof for between 50 &60 min. Perfect results every time. Fitted a small fan as well which I switch on if I want to dry biltong (BeefJerkey) as well. Therefore it serves a dual purpose.

  4. Robin Newberry says

    I turn my oven into a proof box years ago, but because I do sourdough I need a much longer risetime than just an hour.

    My first attempt to keep the oven at a reasonable temperature was to put boiling water in a pan as you suggest, but put that on top of a heating pad which I had put at the bottom of the oven and turn to high. That was OK, it at least prolong the time that I could have an acceptable temperature range, but it didn’t last as long as I needed it.

    I finally hit upon what is turned out to be an excellent solution. I happen to have an electric skillet. I feel it full of hot water, turn the knob so that it is just barely on, and place it at the bottom of the oven. I have to keep an eye on it because it does want to go north of 110° if you’re not careful. I have also turned it up higher, and cracked the oven door.

    You’ll have to play with the settings a little at first to get it where you want it, but once you know where that magic point is on your electric skillet you’ll have a warm and humid environment all day long.

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