Proofing bread in the oven

A Guide On Proofing Bread In The Oven – How Does It Work?

Proofing bread in the oven
Updated on
December 26, 2022
Gareth Busby
Gareth Busby

Controlling the proofing temperature when making bread is one of the most challenging tasks to conquer in bread baking. Too warm and the bread can overproof. Too cool, and you’ll be waiting ages for it to rise! But what if I told you the solution to this was right in front of you? Well, possibly – depending on where you are standing. You can proof bread in the oven, and, hey, you can even use the microwave to proof bread as well! Here’s my guide on how to proof bread in the oven.

Why do we need a proofer anyway?

Yeast and enzymes inside bread dough operate at different rates of activity, depending on the temperature and humidity. Changes in proofing conditions alter how long the dough takes to rise, and also the bread’s texture and flavour. By controlling the temperature and humidity in the proofing environment you can take much of the stress out of timing, and quality control of your bread.

Professional bakers wheel racks of dough into a walk-in proofer. Each proofer will hold 1 to 12 racks at a time. Once the dough is ready to bake it is removed from the proofer through the exit door which is opposite the entrance. It’s a conveyor-belt system where the rack that’s been in the proofer the longest will be pushed to the exit as new racks are loaded. 

But at home, it’s not so easy! Trying to follow the proofing timings from a recipe is almost impossible without a proofer. We never know how long it’s really going to take a new recipe to rise, as we don’t have the ability to control the proofing environment. Or do we…?

Can I use my oven to proof bread?

Yes! Many premium ovens come with a dough proofing setting, but if yours doesn’t you can still turn your oven into a home proofing box. Set the thermostat to a low temperature. This will often be before there are any numbers on the dial. If you can’t do this, just turn on the light to warm the oven gently. It will take around an hour to warm up like this, but you can speed it up by adding a cup of boiling water to the oven.

To keep a check on the temperature of your oven when using it as a proofer, you need a thermometer. The best way to do this is by using an instant-read infrared thermometer, but a temperature probe can also be used. If using a probe, leave it in the oven to be turned on when you open the door to make intermittent checks.

How to proof bread in the oven

  1. Start by adjusting an oven rack so that there’s enough room for both a proofing basket (bread tin) and a deep-lipped tray or ovenproof container below it.
  2. Turn the light on, or set the thermostat to 30-35C (86-95F).
  3. Shape the dough and place it in the proofing basket.
  4. Put the dough on the shelf, pour a cup of hot (~50C (122F)) into the container at the bottom and shut the door.
  5. All you need to do now is check the temperature and humidity of the oven every 30 minutes. When the dough does start to dry out, replace the water with fresh.

Proofing hot cross buns in the oven
Tip: Remove the dough before it’s fully proofed, so you can preheat the oven. You may find it necessary to cool the dough in the fridge if it’s gone a bit too quick! Just remember once the dough is out of the humid environment you will need to cover it to stop it from drying out.

How long does it take to proof bread in the oven?

It depends on the amount and type of levain used. Proofing bread in the oven is a lot quicker than on the counter, especially if you live in a cool climate. Expect the bread to rise in around 1½-2 hours. 

Do you cover dough when proofing in the oven?

When proofing dough on the counter it is necessary to cover it to prevent air from drying out the skin on the outer surface of the dough (skinning up). When proofing in the oven we can use a container of warm water instead. This increases humidity in the makeshift proof box, so you don’t need to cover the dough.

Can I use a microwave to proof bread?

Yes. Place your dough inside the microwave and close the door whilst leaving it slightly ajar so that the light remains on. Wedging a piece of cardboard in the door is a step you might find you need to take. The light will gently warm the dough’s proofing area. You can place a cup of hot water inside to raise the humidity and increase the temperature further! Depending on how open your door is to keep the light on, your dough may dry out inside, so you may need to cover it to prevent it from drying out.

Is there a more accurate solution to proofing bread at home?

If we hot water to increase humidity, the temperature of the proofing chamber is going to rise. You may be tempted to use boiling water but this can make your home proofer too warm. As the water cools your DIY proofer’s temperature will drop. Temperature swings can damage the proofing quality, and you’ll find that you are continually tweaking the conditions by opening the door and adding hot water to cool or heat the environment. This can be a bit of a challenge, and there are also times when we might want to slowly proof our bread by lowering the temperature. Or even preheat the oven whilst proofing the dough! Using the oven to proof bread does have its limitations… Especially when there is only one oven!

If this sounds like you, the best solution is to buy a home proofing box. The Brot & Taylor home proofer allows you to set the temperature accurately, so you can have the same controls that a professional baker has. No more having to time the proofing perfectly, so you have time to preheat the oven. No varying temperatures. Perfect control to make baking bread at home easier.

There seems to be only one proofing box for home users that I’ve come across, and it’s this one! They are often selling out, so you might have to wait for your order to arrive. Get yours direct from the supplier, or at Amazon.

Brod and Taylor home proofer

How to proof dough in the winter

To proof dough in the winter, you’ll most likely need a warm space to proof your bread. Suitable conditions are an oven with just the light on or low heat, a microwave with the light on, near a radiator, in an airing cupboard, or a home proofer.

Proofing bread in the oven – rounding up

In this short guide, we’ve covered the basics of how to proof bread in the oven. Don’t forget that (like most things in bread baking) you will want to tweak my method to fit your routine, environment and baking styles. You may want to use more water, hotter water, no water, warmer temperatures, or you might find that turning the oven on heat bakes your bread even when set at a low temperature! The first handful of times you try this out may require you to regularly get your temperature probe to check what’s going on. This is what I had to do to master this process. But once you gain confidence, proofing bread in the oven becomes easy!

Have you tried this method to proof bread before? If so, how did you find it? Let me know in the comments below, so we can share it with the community.

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