The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Controlling humidity? and Proofing vs. Retarding vs. Resting

achilles007's picture

Controlling humidity? and Proofing vs. Retarding vs. Resting

Hi-- I am a brand new baker, and am looking to get all my things in order, and couldnt help but overhear the conversation of a "proofing box".


there are some really excellent instructions on this site into how to make one, but i have yet to see one where one addresses the issue in controlling the amount of humidity?


so-- I have a couple questions--

1.) whats the longest time period in which proofing would typically last?

2.) Is a precise range of humidity needed in order for the bread/pastry to perform at it's optimum? Or is the time of proofing so short that the range of humidity really doesnt matter-- as long as you are in a pretty good area of moisture?


and last but not least-- I keep hearing of people putting their breads in the fridge to "retard" them-- I also see in a lot of bread recipes to "leve the dough out at a warm place."

3.)Are these both the equivalents of "proofing", but just in a different manner or are they unrelated?


All of these terms confuse me.



jcking's picture

!. Times are approx, (relative to the bread you're making) use the poke test to determine when the dough is ready. Using a wet or floured finger poke a half inch into the dough, if it fills in slowly your good to go. No fill over, quick fill under.

2.humidity is to keep the skin of the dough from drying out. Put a damp paper towel, in a coffee mug, in your proof box.

3. Retarding slowes the proof and helps develop more flovor.


Ford's picture

Making  or "building" a loaf of bread is more of an art than an exact science.  Whether you use commercial yeast, or the sourdough starter, or salt rising bread starter.  You are working with living organisms and living organisms just cannot be exactly controlled.

I suggest you read the 'Lessons" from the menu bar and also the "Handbook".  Then you might want to dig deeper and read a good book on baking.  You might start with any one of these:

Jeffrey Hamelman,Bread, A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipe

Peter Reinhart, The Bread Bakers Apprentice

Daniel T. DiMuzio, Bread Making

Emily Buehler, Bread Science.

I'll try to answer the questions you have posed to get you started.

1/ The humidity control of the atmosphere is not too important in the working and rising of the unbaked dough.  Just cover the dough with plastic wrap or cover the bowl with a plate and the dough, itself, will provide adiquate humidity.

2/ the time of proofing depends upon the activity and kind of the yeast and bacteria present to do the rising.  The activity depends upon the amount of little creatures present, the amount of nutrients, the amount of water, the amount of salt, the amount of sugar, and the temperature, as well as other factors not mentioned.  In general, bread leavened with commercial yeast is the fastest and might be proofed at 80°F in less than an hour, sourdough takes longer say about 2 hours, and salt rising dough might require as long as 4 hours.

3/ Yes, the dough might be refrigerated to retard the rising.  As mentioned, this is using temperature to slow the leavening action to fit ones schedule, and incidently, to build in some more flavor.

Euclid said," There is no royal road to geometry."  The same is true of baking and many other skills. 

The essence of baking is patience.  The essence of sourdough baking is patience squared.  Mike Avery, internet sourdough discussion group, 24 Sep 2007

Keep up the effort -- the reward is worth the time.


Chuck's picture

...the conversation of a "proofing box"...really excellent instructions on this site into how to make one...

My two cents: don't bother for now (unless you live in an "unusual" house or in a non-mid-lattitude climate). My own experience has been that learning how to mix, stretch, fold, knead, and shape took all my attention initially.

My "proofing box"? None. My "humidity control"? It's been simply an overturned plastic drawer on my countertop (oiled plastic wrap is probably more typical:-). I'm only now getting good enough at judging doughs to think about adding a "real" proofing box or trying to control humidity. 

If I could make just one suggestion, it would be dmsnyder's dictum "watch the dough, not the clock".

HMerlitti's picture

I have been baking bread for about 7 years and never used a proofing box.   However, I have been using a modified one over the last several weeks with great results.

First of all, I  live in Oregon.  The house temperature usually is 65F and dry.

My dual Bosch ovens each have two lights.   The ovens are on the small side and are  probably not as large as a single oven.  I proof in one and preheat and bake in th other.   But, you can proof in a single oven, remove the loaves and preheat and bake.  Just keep them moist.

(BTW, I use my refrigerator themometer to measure the proofing temp. IRONIC !)

Before I proof, I bring the proofing oven internal temp to about 100F, turn it off  and turn the lights on.   The temp will start to drop after you put the loaves in .   To maintain 85F I stick a pen in door so that it will not close all the way.  This pen thing is unique to my oven.   You will need to experiment with your own.   The lights provides more than enough heat.

Of course, when you put the loaves inside the temp will drop rapidly and steadily rises back.

My formed loaves sit in a hotel tray type pan on parchment paper.  The parchment between the loaves is raised to prevent the loaves from expanding into each other, like a couch, and dusted generously with flower so the parchment can be expanded and the loaves further separated without sticking before baking.  I do not want to move those loaves after proofing or they will flatten.

I cover the loaves with a wet dish cloth to provide moisture and let them expand for 2 hours keeping the temperature around 85F. 

After two hours I get great expanded loaves that act like jello when they are wiggled.  They cannot be moved too much or they will flatten.


MNBäcker's picture

Even though I own a commercial Proofing Cabinet, I also use the microwave method when just making a single loaf (like my sandwich pullman loaf).

Fill a 2-cup measuring cup with water, bring it to a boil in your microwave, then put your bread in the microwave with it. Just leave it sitting there to proof. It does get surprisingly moist and warm in there.