The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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BobS's picture

Simple Baker Trick: Proofing Box

Flour, water, salt, time, and temperature. The right combinations of those variables, plus technique, make good bread.

Along with a few simple tricks.

I've learned how to make pretty good bread from this forum. This is the first of a set of posts describing a few of the things I've learned. Maybe they will help somebody new.

Here in New Hampshire temperature can be a problem. Like this week when the overnight low was -6F and the temperature in our kitchen was 55F. Yeast growth is really dependent on temperature and there is a happy zone in the 70-80F range. A proofing box gives me the control over temperature. There are several threads on proofing boxes on TFL. and there are commercial products. I made one, mostly with stuff I had around the house.  It was one of the things that made a big difference in my ability to make consistent bread. Here it is in pictures.

I started with a cooler we had in the basement:

Any size will do, as long as it is 'big enough'. Then I added a 15W light bulb and socket, and a thermostat. Nothing fancy, just shoved it all in there. The extension cord coming out of the box is flat, rather than round, so it is not too badly squished. The light bulb could probably be smaller wattage. You do want it some distance away from the thermostat.

That's Earlene, my starter Fred's love child, bubbling in the middle after a warm and pleasant overnight stay. The thermostat is a Lux Pro PSP300. I got mine from Amazon:'s a little expensive, but it works well. I think their WIN100 model, which is a little cheaper, would work too.

I can also fit a proofing bucket for bulk fermentation in there:

Cambro buckets work very well for bulk fermentation. Make sure you get yours from a local restaurant supply rather than a 'bread enthusiast' web site: mine cost $6.

That's Hamelman's Five-Grain Levain, more or less, in there.

I usually retard my sourdoughs, for better flavor and scheduling. But sometimes I do the final proofing in the box. For that I built a little stand that lets me stack bread pans or bannetons.

The box is tight enough and the loaves are wet enough to create a nice humid atmosphere inside without the need to introduce additional humidity.

The thermostat works for both heating and cooling. Sometimes I use it to control a little portable electric cooler (which doesn't have a thermostat) when the fridge is full and I need to retard some dough.

Bread runs on its own schedule. A proofing box help it conform, to some extent, with yours.


Floydm's picture

Raspberry Cream Cheese Braid

My fight against scurvy (not really) and the wintertime blues (really) by baking fruity things continued today.  This time I went for raspberries and made a Raspberry Cream Cheese Braid using the Blueberry Cream Cheese Braid formula on the site.

 Very very good, as expected!

Sjadad's picture

My Pugliese Capriccioso Attempt

I baked David's version of Pane Pugliese. I didn't have durum flour so I followed Peter Reinhart's suggestion in BBA and used 1/3 as much semolina. Otherwise I followed David to a "T". To be honest, I was a bit concerned about not scoring the loaf. I had visions of a tight, dense crumb.   I worried for nothing, as you can see.



anitasanger's picture

A nice Oklahoma sourdough boule photo

I created my own starter 3 years back by harvesting natural Oklahoma yeast. Lately I've been on a protein diet and haven't had the chance to make bread in several months. I pulled the ol' starter out this week and got a sponge going. I made a loaf last night and oh my how good it tasted! It's hard to beat homemade bread isn't it? Nothing's better than a warm house filled with the smell of bread on a cold winter's day! I'm a sourdough student for life!

Fred Rickson's picture
Fred Rickson

Starter from fridge to build: An example.

Many questions seem to revolve around feeding a starter (how much, how long, what temp, etc.) prior to baking, that I kept track today as I got ready for a build.  Maybe this will help someone.

I removed the quart Mason jar of starter, stirred the hooch back in, three weeks untouched,  half full of whole wheat starter, from the fridge at 9:30 AM.  Added three heaping tablespoons of  KA whole wheat flour and mixed in enough water to make a thick pancake mixture.  Room temp 70 degrees.  Jar was now 2/3 full.  No mixing and by 1:30 PM the starter reached the jar rim and was a mass of bubbles.  Stirred the starter well.Enough starter goes into the build to leave the Mason jar half full, and the jar goes directly back into the fridge until the next build.  So that's a timeline of one person's method.  I build for 3-5 days for a three loaf bake, rather than an overnight mix, so the balance of yeast to bacteria is not critical as I'll develop all of that over the next few days.  Enjoy.
joyfulbaker's picture

Musings from an almost CFO in CA: So now what?

OK, so I jumped right in and applied for a permit to become a cottage food organization.  I am excited, no denying that.  I was even the first person in the county (Sonoma, that is) to apply.  The lady in the office says I should be getting my registration permit next week.  So now there's a course to take (food handler), business records to be set up, advertising to be done, pricing to be mulled over and decided upon (yeah, that's a tough one!).  Maybe even a web site.  As I said, I am eager to get started, but this is a solo operation and the details are many.  I would appreciate any bits of wisdom, suggestions, stories of your experiences doing this, etc.  (No, I don't think I'm going the farmer's market route, just individual sales--I'm a type A who applied for a type A permit, that is, direct sales).

Hoping to hear from you,


Netvet007's picture

Boule with Poolish PreFerment from Flour Water Salt Yeast

I have started making bread from the book Flour Water Salt Yeast and am loving how they turn out.  Really delicious breads.  Highly recommend the book.  Bought an extra Dutch oven so I could make two loaves at once.   I've never had loaves turn out so nice.

crustic's picture

How is hydration determined?

I know this is probably a very basic question but I see a lot of people reference that they maintain 100% hydration or other percentages.  How is this determined?

Raluca's picture

White sourdough 1st try

I haven’t started with my first breads as there isn’t much to tell you, so I am starting with the breads I baked this year.

First I started by cultivating my own sourdough starter. It is now a 100% hydration starter with a mix of 90% whole wheat flour and 10% dark rye flour.

I will try to write a different post on how I made the starter soon and to explain all the terms, utensils and about the baker’s percentage.

Today let’s just talk about the bread above, which let me tell you from the start, it’s not a success (I’ll tell you why, of course).

For this recipe I used a recipe for a white sourdough bread from the Weekend Bakery.

Time schedule:

Day 1: Make the preferment leave for 12 hours at room temperature to mature

Day 2: Make the bread

  • Mix the preferment with the water and flour.
  • Leave to rest for 20mins (autolyse)
  • Add the salt and mix for 4 minutes
  • Leave to rest for 50mins
  • Perform 1st stretch and fold
  • Leave to rest for 50mins
  • Perform 2nd stretch and fold
  • Leave to rest for 50mins
  • Shape the bread
  • Proof it for 150mins
  • Bake at 230C for 45mins


Recipe for 1 loaf (aprox 65% hydration)

Ingredients for the preferment

For this bread a preferment is needed.

IngredientQuantityBaker’s %
Strong white wheat flour115gr100%
Sourdough culture15gr10%


Dissolve the sourdough culture with warm water (you shouldn’t feel the water when dipping your hand in) and add the flour. Mix until all the flour is wet. Cover with kitchen foil and leave at room temperature for 12 hours.

Ingredients for the bread

IngredientQuantityBaker’s %
Strong white flour340gr100%

Final baker’s percentage (including preferment)

IngredientQuantityBaker’s %
Strong white flour455gr100%
Sourdough culture15gr3.29%

For this bread I used an organic strong white wheat flour from a traditional British mill Shipton Mill.

Method for the bread

I dissolved the preferment in about 2/3 of the water and then added it to the flour. Mix and add the rest of the water until you have quite a weird and not smooth mass of wet flour coming together. Do NOT add the salt at this point.

I covered the bowl and left to rest for 30 minutes for the autolyse. The recipe calls for 20 minutes autolyse, but I couldn’t get around to the next stage after 20 minutes, as I was busy around the house. Anyway I don’t think it’s anything bad with a longer autolyse.

When the 20 minutes are up add the salt and mix for around 4 minutes. I use a Kitchen Aid with a hook attachment usually, but this bread in particular I kneaded by hand as the lil’ one was asleep and I didn’t want to risk waking her with the Kitchen Aid noise. I think I probably should have kneaded longer by hand, but I only did it for about 4 minutes.

Baker’s tip: use fine salt as it will be easier to incorporate it in your dough.

Transfer the dough to a clean greased bowl (I used an oil spray to grease the bowl), cover it with cling film and leave it to rest for 50 minutes.

When the 50 minutes are up you are ready for your first stretch and fold. If you are not familiar with this technique watch this video from the Weekend Bakery, that I find really useful.

I did my stretch and folds directly in the bowl, but you can either tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface or you can initially place your dough in a large rectangular container so you can do them directly in there.

Now cover the bowl again and leave to rest for another 50 minutes. Do another stretch and fold (the last one) and again leave to rest for 50 minutes.

It may seem like a lot of work, but it’s not really a massive amount of active work, you just need to have the time to take care of your bread. And let me tell you with this cold weather in London I had some time to bake  .

After this final rest you need to shape your bread. Now shaping and scoring are still a mystery to me.. You can find loads of clips on shaping and scoring online. I shaped my white sourdough as a boule, here is a clip from the Weekend bakery on boule shaping. You can find another clip on both shaping and scoring of a boule here.

For this particular bread I did a very bad job at shaping and therefore the bottom came out with a massive number of cracks….The scoring though was not so bad. To score the bread I use this bread scoring tool.

I use bannetons to proof my bread, so I moved my shaped boule in a floured banneton, covered it with a tea towel and left it to proof for 2 hrs and 30 minutes.

You will need your oven to reach 230C so start pre-heating sometime after the proofing period has started, depending on your oven.

To bake the bread I use a 3cm thick granite baking stone, that needs at least 1h20 minutes in a 250C oven to heat up properly. However for this first time I only pre-heated my oven and stone at 230C for about 20 minutes, which was clearly not enough, as my bread was white on the bottom when it came out of the oven, cracked and undercooked.

So, after the 2hrs and 30 minutes of proofing, I tipped my bread on a baking sheet (that I use to transfer the bread to the I don’t have a peel yet) scored it with a cross and put it in the oven.

I also keep in the oven one of the trays, while it is pre-heating, so it gets hot hot. Then, immediately after transferring the bread on the stone, I add a cup of hot water to the tray below to create some steam and shut the door quickly.

I baked this bread at 230C for 45 minutes. To get a nice crust open the oven door 5 minutes before the baking time is up, to release some of the steam.

I didn’t need to reduce the temperature of the oven this time, because the pre-heating period was short, but usually I need to do it as my oven is really small and burns the top of my loaves.

Resulting bread:

Because of the bad shaping and the short pre-heating time the bread came out with a very cracked bottom. Also, as the baking stone was not hot, it came out white on the bottom and undercooked. It was also a bit too dense (not sure exactly it could be a lot of reasons..still learning), but smelled nice, had a lovely crust on top and was very tasty.

What do you guys think? Any comments welcome!

PMcCool's picture

New and (could be) improved!

More than a little irony in that title...

Let's talk about the new, first.  That would include the second edition of Hamelman's Bread and the pain de mie formula found in it.  It would also include some new Pullman pans that I picked up recently.  The book is remarkable, as many before me have said.  I don't see this one getting shoved aside by future books, as has happened with some that I own.  Yes, there are a few nits (why weren't the home formulae in metric units instead of English units?) but they are rather trivial compared to the quantity and quality of information residing between the covers.  The Pullman pans figure as a long-delayed gratification.  When faced with that much "new", why not put all of them together?  And then, to really put it over the top, why not employ a previously unused shaping technique?

That takes us to the "could be improved" part of the tale.  Not the formula, mind you, nor the pans, either.  The dough was a real treat to work with, especially since I usually work with breads having a significant percentage of whole grains.  It was smooth, silky, satiny; embodying all of those lush descriptors that cookbook authors love to employ.  The new (to me) shaping technique even worked nicely, thanks to txfarmer and others who like assemble their loaves from smaller components.  And the finished bread tastes wonderful, too.  

Everything appeared to be going well in the early stages:

There's just one niggling little problem.  Someone (I need to get an assistant, if only to serve as whipping boy) miscued on the dough quantity calculations.  It wasn't a fat-finger mistake, either.  More like a fat head mistake.  I shouldn't be so negative.  This bread actually achieved something that many home bakers want to emulate in their breads: ears.   No, no, no, not that kind of ears, this kind:

Maybe I should call them eaves, instead of ears.

Anyway, the loaves have a beautiful fluffy core, perhaps 2.5 inches across, with an approximately .75 inch wide perimeter band that is dense and firm.  Quite firm.  Oh, okay, it requires some serious chewing!  Not your Momma's Wonder Bread by any stretch of the imagination.  The crust is lovely, though.

Just guessing, but I probably had about 15% too much dough for the pans.  Thank goodness for a non-stick lining and some generous greasing before putting the dough in the pans.  The lids were somewhat reluctant to release but came off without requiring excessive force or causing harm to anything.  

I think I want to try this bread again, albeit with the right amount of dough in the pans.  If that works as I expect it can, the next step will be to experiment with some of Hamelman's ryes, baked in the Pullman pans.  If I get really brave, I may even try the Horst Bandel pumpernickel.

Despite my frustration with myself, it was a fun experience to play with a new bread, new pans, and a new technique.  And I've only scratched the surface with this book!