This bread proofer keeps your dough at a constant temperature while it rises. You don’t need to spend a lot of money! I’ll show you how!
I didn’t start out to make a bread proofer. Last year, my son had a science fair. He decided to see how much bacteria lived on our cell phones and what hand sanitizer what most effective against it. In order to grow the bacteria, we needed to be able to keep the Petri dishes at a pretty consistently warm temperature over the course of a few days.
Through trial and error, we figured out a system that kept the temperature between 80-100 degrees. The perfect temperature to grow bacteria!
It got me thinking, though. If that was the perfect temperature to grow bacteria, could it also be a perfect temperature to grow yeast? Would my bread rise if I provided it that same environment? That is how my dough proofing box was born!
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What is a bread proofer?
A bread proofer is a box that holds a consistent temperature to enable the best environment for yeast to rise. Most commercial kitchens have a HUGE dough proofing box for their yeasted breads and pizza dough to rise in.
But an at home kitchen doesn’t often have the space to have something like that. However, they do make bread proofers for small batches like a home baker would use.
Can’t I just buy a bread proofer?
You can absolutely buy a dough proofing box…if you have a spare $200 laying around! Yup! It costs $200 to buy a box that warms bread dough?!
This option and this option are both really popular options for a bread proofer because they fold up for storage. Maybe I’m cheap, but I just cannot seem to wrap my head around buying something that has only one use. Especially something that’s so pricey.
So that’s why I decided that making a dough proofing box was the way I wanted to go to keep my bread dough at a consistent temperature.
How to make a dough proofing box:
Find a container for your bread proofer:
When I made my dough proofing box, I began with a lightweight, see-through plastic box that I had laying around. I bought them in a 3 pack at Costco. They are called the Iris 45qt boxes. I can’t find them online to buy but this is the one I have. This one is really similar in dimensions so I think it would work great.
But honestly, the main goal of not buying a bread proofer is to save money, so use whatever box with a lid that you have laying around your house!
I do think it is SO handy if it’s see through. That way you can check on how your dough is doing and see if it has doubled.
You could probably get away with a much smaller box than this one for your diy bread proofer, but I do love that it fits two big batches of dough. It’s super handy for when I’m baking in large amounts.
Get a heat source for your dough proofing box:
The next thing you need to do is to provide heat within the bread proofer so your dough can have the help it needs to rise!
If you read my post on how to start seedlings using soil blocking, you’ll remember that I start my seedlings using some reptile heating pads that I’ve had forever! Those have been so helpful over the years. When I started making kombucha, I wrapped them around my jars to keep the temperature even. While I no longer do that, I have repurposed the reptile heating pads to start my seedlings.
And now I use them to heat my dough proofing box! Because I was just using what I had laying around, I used that. However, if you had a typical seed starting mat, that would work perfectly.
I simply tape my reptile mat to the side of the bread proofer box so it stays in place. When I put my dough in the box, I put the bowl against the opposite wall so that it’s not right up against the heat source.
What other heat sources can be used for the bread proofer?
As I’ve been pondering this, I thought that a heating pad you typically use for aches and pains would also work really well.
Alternately, we raise chickens and use this chick brooder and coop heater. Of course, if you’ve used it with chicks, you would not want to put it inside the proofing box. But you could put it underneath to provide the heat source!
If you do that, I’d put the dough on top of a cooling rack so it’s not sitting directly on the heat source. You don’t want to cook the dough – just rise it!
Lastly, you could try to pour boiling water in a bowl next to it to provide heat and steam for the dough. I’ve never used this method, but since boiling water is 212 degrees, it seems that it would do a good job raising the ambient temperature in the box.
OPTIONAL – Get a thermometer for the bread proofer:
This is absolutely not a necessary step. For me, sourdough and bread is an art and not a science. So I’m not precise about temperature. What I do know is that in the wintertime, the kitchen in my 1930s house is pretty cold. So I need to prepare a warmer spot if I want my bread to rise faster. This dough proofing box provides a warmer environment.
However, I know some people really desire to know exactly what temperature the bread proofer is. For those people, I would definitely recommend adding a thermometer to give you an exact measurement.
When I was making this for my son, the bacteria grew in a specified range, so I purchased an oven thermometer and a fridge thermometer. It was all I could find that was affordable, so I used that. Usually my dough proofing box was hotter than 80 but under 100, so I knew it was in the right range for bacteria growth. And now I know that my dough proofer keeps my sourdough around that temperature and I’m fine with a general range of warmth.
What should my bread proofer temperature be?
If you google bread proofer temperature, you’ll find a wide range of numbers. Many say between 80-100. Some say over 70 but below 138 (which kills the yeast). Some say commercial bakeries shoot for 100 degrees.
All of that tells me that my bread proofer temperature just needs to be warmer than my kitchen ambient temperature! I feel comfortable with my temperature in the bread proofer to be 80-100 degrees. You can always play with your bread proofer temperature to keep it where you would like it.
How do I use my dough proofing box?
It’s really quite simple. After you’ve kneaded your dough, or done your stretch and folds on your sourdough, you’re ready for it to rise.
The above picture is a batch of challah bread that I made for cinnamon rolls. That’s what it looked like after I used the Kitchenaid to knead the dough. I greased the bowl and popped the dough in. After I took this photo, I wrapped the top in plastic wrap and allowed it to rise.
This is when you put it into the dough proofing box. When I put my dough in the box, I put the bowl against the opposite wall so that it’s not right up against the heat source. I just want to make sure the dough doesn’t get cooked by being too hot.
Put the top on the sourdough proofing box and allow it to rise until doubled (see below). That’s it! Isn’t it so easy?!
Can I use this as a pizza dough proofing box?
Of course! While I use this mainly as a sourdough proofing box, I also use it for pizza dough! If you look at my blog post about cold fermented pizza dough, I explain that I keep my crust in the fridge for a few days to enhance the flavor and chewiness of the crust.
However, once you pull the dough out of the fridge, you’ll need to warm it up before you begin making your pizza. Sure, you can put it on your stove as it warms up, but this pizza dough proofing box works like a charm!
This will really work for any yeasted dough you make – sourdough bread, cinnamon rolls, pizza, English muffins, focaccia, burger buns, or anything that needs to rise!
One Last Tip for Your DIY Bread Proofer:
The last thing I do to keep in as much heat as I can is to drape the box with a bath towel. I feel like it adds an extra layer of insulation that helps to keep that heat inside. It’s not necessary, but especially in the wintertime, it’s nice to make sure that you’re not losing all your heat into the room.