While most home bakers do not have a proofing box, there is an easy way to proof dough at home. Follow this tutorial to learn how to proof bread in the oven with no specialty equipment!

What is proofing?

Proofing refers to the final rise a yeast dough goes through before it is baked. Sometimes the word proof is used interchangeably with the word fermentation because it is a continuation of the fermentation process.

Fermentation, and therefore proofing, refers to the process of yeast feeding on sugars and starches present in yeast dough. As the yeast feeds, it produces ethanol and carbon dioxide which makes the dough rise. This process is also what develops the distinctive flavor of yeast breads.

Can I proof my dough at room temperature?

Proofing can be done at home without any special equipment and even without a warm environment. However, note that a cooler room temperature will slow down your proofing time, while a warm temperature will speed up the proofing time. Slower fermentation always leads to more flavorful bread, so if you are not in a rush there is no need to try to rush the process.

However, if you do need to get your dough moving you can do so by simply placing your dough in a warm spot. A great spot for this is right by a preheating oven. The issue some of us run into is when our home does not maintain a consistent environment. Temperatures fluctuate throughout the year and depending on where you live you may be in an overly humid area or one that is too dry.

Yeast likes warm temperatures and the temperature range most favorable for proofing is 68-81ºF (20-27ºC). The warmer the temperature the faster your dough will rise however if it’s too hot you can kill the yeast and it will not rise at all.

sourdough cinnamon roll dough in bowl after bulk fermenting, it is double in size

What is a proofer?

A commercial proofer looks like a tall cabinet with a door. The inside temperature can be controlled and maintained anywhere between 60-115ºF (16-46 ºC) and at about 60-90% humidity. It is designed to keep a steady environment so that you get consistent results for every proof.

There are also portable and foldable electric proofing boxes made for home use if you are interested in having precise control over the temperature your dough proofs at. If you are a serious home bread baker or sourdough baker, this might be a helpful investment. However, you can easily make your own diy homemade proofer without spending any money!

How to Proof Bread in the Oven

If you bake bread often enough or if you just like the idea of controlling your environment to ensure successful results- you may want to think about setting up your own proofer. This can be done easily in your home with little to no equipment.

Hot Water Method

This method creates a more humid environment which can be helpful for proofing dough, especially if you live somewhere that is particularly dry. If you’d rather not deal with boiling water, see the next method for an even easier process.

  1. Prepare your oven: Place one of your racks on the bottom position. Place another rack in the middle position.
  2. Add your dough: Place your bowl of dough (or shaped dough) that is loosely covered into the oven on the middle rack.
  3. Find your pan: Find a large metal pan (a 9 x 13 inch/ 23 x 33 cm casserole dish works great, but do not use glass or ceramic as it can shatter!) and place it on the bottom rack in your oven.
  4. Warm your water: Warm 2-3 cups of water on the stove or in the microwave until boiling.
  5. Water to pan: Carefully pour the water into the pan and close the oven door.

Oven Pre-Heat Method

This method is extremely quick and easy and is what I tend to use if I’m in a pinch and just need a bit more proofing on my dough.

  1. Position your oven rack to the center position.
  2. Turn your oven on for 2 minutes without anything inside.
  3. Turn the oven off.
  4. Add your dough: Place your bowl of dough, covered, on the middle rack in the oven and shut the door.

Try to not open the oven door as much as you can so you don’t allow the heat and moisture to escape. After about 30 minutes, you can do an oven check and feel for the temperature and humidity. A thermometer is a good tool for this. Rewarm the water if you still need more proofing time.