The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

"Homemade" retarder/proofer

venkitac's picture

"Homemade" retarder/proofer

I'd like to proof (or bulk ferment) my dough for around 12 hours, My refrigerator is set to high 30s (maybe very low 40s), and if I am bulk fermenting at that temp, it takes forever to proof. Even if I bulk ferment at room temp and proof in the refrigerator, all bets are off as to how long it takes. (I've proofed for 1 hour at room temp, put it in the fridge overnight, taken dough out of the fridge, only to find that it has barely budged. Result: show up late for work:)). So I'm thinking of finding a cheap way to get a predictable 55 degrees, which should move things faster and also reduce uncertainty.

I have found 2 options so far:

- wine cooler. This seems expensive, but precise - it appears good wine coolers keep temp, plus have humidity controls (why?), plus I'll need a fairly big one to proof (say) 3-4 loaves of bread.

- mini fridge with a good thermostat, and put a pan of water in it to keep the humidity up. I don't know whether  this works as well, but I'm thinking it should be ok, and cost only like $150 at most.

Any ideas? If either idea above has worked for you, I'd appreciate knowing what brand cooler/fridge you bought, and what your arrangement was.



davidg618's picture

in a wine closet we built. Before that we had two wine coolers we bought second hand for $100 each. There's plenty of room for at least four loaves in a thirty bottle wine cooler (a common size). Look for a local webpage listing used appliances. We found ours in A lot of cities have similar online listings.

You could also use a second-hand refrigerator. We recently bought one, for $100. I doubt a standard refrigerator's thermostat controls temperatures in the fifties. However, through local or online home brewing suppliers you can buy a temperature controller that will be accurate to +/- 1°F in a 40°F to 60°F range. They cost about $70. I've used one for years to control lager beer brewing temperatures in the range of 48°F to 54°F. They control a refrigerator's temperature simply by turning the electric power on and off using a thermocouple sensor taped inside the chill box. It takes about six inches of duct tape, and five minutes of your time to set one up.

David G.

b_elgar's picture

I use a large microwave. If I need it warmer than room temp, I put in a travel coffee mug with hot water. If I want it cooler, I use ice water/cubes in the mug. The oven is remarkably well insulated and holds temp.

No muss. No fuss. It works well.


Urchina's picture

Two suggestions: 

If this were me, I'd use our not-in-use camping coolers as proofing boxes. I'd rig up a rack of some sort to hold the proofing bread, then add water at the same temp I wanted to proof at (or a little cooler in warm climates, warmer in cold) and experiment with that. Tossing a min/max thermometer in there with the bread will give you an idea of the temperature range that the bread goes through overnight. It would be cheap, and uses stuff I've got lying around the house. 


For something with more control, +1 on the beer fermenter temp gauges. They're great.