Before we get going here, let's talk about what proofing even is! Do you want the long version or the short?
Here's the short: Proofing is when your bread rises.
Here's the long version: Proofing is a stage in bread making when the yeast/sourdough (wild yeast) in your dough activates. The yeast in the bread consumes the carbohydrates and releases carbon dioxide. This carbon dioxide makes the bread dough expand and rise.
Bulk fermentation versus proofing: Bulk fermentation is the first rise after putting the dough together before it’s shaped. Proofing is the term for the final rise, after shaping but before baking. When dough proofs, it will reach a maximum height before it begins to collapse. Ideally, you want to bake at this point.
Proofing is dependent on the external environment (like temperature and humidity). It can be very frustrating when you put a lot of effort into a homemade loaf of bread and struggle to get it to rise. The good news is, there are certain things you can do to control the external environment to help your bread proof the way you want!
Cup in Microwave
Put a coffee cup of water in the microwave. Bring to a boil (about 2 mins). Turn off the microwave and leave the steamy cup in the microwave. Now put the bowl with the dough into the microwave and poof! You have created a cozy proofing chamber that is warm and humid!
Heating pad: When it comes time to proof your dough, put the bowl on a heating pad set to the lowest setting and place a kitchen towel between the bowl and the heating pad. Works like a charm!
This handy gardening tool can work well in the kitchen too! Just like the heating pad, your dough will love the warm mat.
Turn your oven on to the lowest temperature it will go and turn it off once it reaches about 100 - 110 degrees. Place the dough in the oven and close the door. Some ovens don’t go that low (mine goes only to 170F). If that is the case with yours, turn it off before it gets to that temperature. Not all oven indicators show the heat progression so you can make your best guess.
Proof setting on oven: Some ovens have a proofing setting specifically designed for proofing bread dough. Check your oven manual. We just heard from a baker who said they have had their oven for 5 years and just discovered they had a proofing setting!
Find the Sun
If it's a nice day out, find a sunny window and let your dough bask in the sun and enjoy the heat from the sunshine!
Keep it off the chilly granite countertop: This isn't as much of a hack as it is a piece of advice. Your countertop is chilly, and chilly dough doesn't rise as well. Keeping a kitchen towel between your countertop and your bowl will help.
We would love to hear your proofing hacks!
All for now,