What is the best humidity for proofing bread in a home made prooferr
Formulas I've seen that specify this seem to say 65% relative humidity.
If the rationale of regulating humidity is to keep the surface of the loaf from drying out, it seems to me that using the hydration of the dough as a guideline might make sense. That is, aim for a higher humidity for higher hydration doughs. I can't recall ever reading a discussion of this.
I should think you want something close to 100% relative humidity.
Relative humidity measures how much water the air is holding relative to how much it can hold at that temperature. If the humidity is less that 100% the air will take water from liquid sources to get closer to 100%, and if it is more than 100% for some reason (eg temperature change) then you will get condensation.
In a proofing box as David says you just don't want your bread drying out (or getting wet), so you want as close to 100% humidity as you can get. In practice it does not have to be that high.
You don't need to measure the humidity though, just provide an alternative water source for the air in the box - warmish wet towells for eg.
If you want to get fancy you could have an aquarium pump pushing air through a container of water at the same temperature as your proofing box. The air bubbles should be close to 100% humidity when they break the surface of the water. It would also be a way to help control the temperature (aquarium heater).
I put a mug of hot (recently boiled) water inside my "proofing chamber" (just an upside down plastic drawer on my counter) once along with a single proofing loaf, and really regretted it. The dough absorbed an awful lot of water (even though I couldn't see any condensation). After an hour the mug of water was two-thirds empty, and the shaped loaf had pancaked so badly and turned into such a sticky mess I couldn't get it in the oven. Apparently all that water magiced itself from the mug into the bread dough.
I wish I understood what was going on with proofing humidity better. My suspicion is you want a neutral amount of water as if the air were at the dough temperature, and 100% relative humudity at the air's temperature (which is generally higher than the dough) is usually too much.
The exact same thing happened to me today doing this. I only found this thread after mine collapsed....It worked when I did this in my microwave and I just thought it would transfer over to a plastic box with a lid....wrong.....
The loaves have been added to my list of failed free-form loaves which I affectionately have labeled my 'frisbee loaves'. Neighbors love them! :-)
Next I will give the wet towel a try.
So I can't recommend a humidity level that works.....yet....sorry...just thought I would add my experience as it was similar to Chuck's and hopefully someone will read about what happened to us BEFORE trying what we have tried.
Re-reading this thread (with a bit more time on my hands), Chuck's report that,
"I put a mug of hot (recently boiled) water inside my "proofing chamber" (just an upside down plastic drawer on my counter) once along with a single proofing loaf, and really regretted it. The dough absorbed an awful lot of water (even though I couldn't see any condensation). After an hour the mug of water was two-thirds empty, and the shaped loaf had pancaked so badly and turned into such a sticky mess I couldn't get it in the oven. Apparently all that water magiced itself from the mug into the bread dough."
struck a chord with me.
I've had the same thing happen with me in the past when I've been using the oven as a warming cabinet with a dish of hot water in the bottom. I left it too long, and the dough had over-proved and sunk back in on itself. Two things you can do in that situation - one is to go ahead and bake it anyway and have a mis-shapened loaf as a result (but still better than store-bought bread); or knock it back, re-shape and prove again - taking more care this time.
I doubt very much that the dough had absorbed any water, Chuck. Have a look at what Elizabeth Davis says about 'Peggy tub bread' in her seminal book on 'English bread and yeast cookery':
"A peggy tub, also known as a dolly tub, was a wash tub with a hand-operated spinner or dolly [in our house it was a disc of wood on the end of a pole, which was agitated by hand to wash clothes]...
"The idea of peggy tub bread is that you can mix your dough, wrap it in a cloth, immerse it in a tub [A large bowl...will do as well] of cold water, and go out for the morning, or even all day. When you return to your dough it has risen to the top of the tub and looks like a lovely fat soft pillow in its white cloth. You unwrap the dough...[and continue with the shaping and final proving.]
She goes on to say that the dough will be a bit more moist but still manageable. This extra moisture, IMO, would be due to the water on the surface of the dough, and not due to any water entering the dough.
So I wouldn’t worry too much about how much humidity you need when proving a dough. Just leave it in a warm humid atmosphere (any old humid atmosphere!) - and keep an eye on it!
Best wishes, Paul
My dad had a cupboard in his bakery, with a gas ring at the bottom, on which he balanced a kettle.
I sometimes put a dish of boiling water at the bottom of a cold oven - proves the bread without the need for a cover.
Simple but effective. Humidity and a bit of warmth, that's all you need!
Wow, that's a lot of added water to your dough!! A case for ciabatta!
The boiling water will lead to a transfer of water to the dough, because the air will become supersaturated with water and will condense out on the nearest cold surface - probably the dough. Maybe a wet towel is a better water source.
Also, I think you're right that even without this effect, 100% humidity will lead to some transfer to the dough. I has to do with how much of the water is chemically "free" in the dough. The easy way to test it would be to put your dough in a closed container, let it equilibrate for 30 min or so, and test the humidity of the air in the closed container. This will be your "neutral" humidity for proofing.
How about a nice balance of 50% humidity? That should allow the bread to remain in balance. What's the relative humidity of the room to begin with? Winter dry, Summer damper unless you have AC. Windows open, try the weather channel. The room temp would also play a role. Warm air holds more moisture than colder air.
If the room temp is 75F (a stable temp for rising) I use room temp water. Room temp cool, warm the water ( unless you're using a heating pad). Very hot water would seem extreme.