The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Best Type of Bowl to to Rise Bread In?

Meregoddess's picture

Best Type of Bowl to to Rise Bread In?

Help. I am not doing well with my current set up. My house is usually on the coldest side. I thought putting my bread on the stove top, with oven at around 200 would be ok. I am also using plastic bowls to rise and knead my bread. It's not workIng out well. Any advice or assistance would be greatly appreciated. Forgive my ignorance.

jcking's picture

Drizzle a teaspoon of oil ( veg or olive) into your bowl. Then use a paper towel and wipe the oil around the bowl leaving a thin film.


thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

Some bowls are made of insulating material, which means they prevent heat transfer in or out (if properly covered). Plastic, stoneware, glass, and ceramic/porcelain bowls are insulators.

Some bowls are made of conducting material, which means they facilitate heat transfer in or out. Aluminum, copper, and stainless steel bowls are conductors.

If your dough is in a covered plastic bowl (an insulating material), it will not benefit much from being in a warmer environment because the warmth outside the bowl will not be able to penetrate the bowl itself, and thus be unable to warm your dough to any significant degree.

If you want to pull heat from the external environment–which it sounds like you're trying to do–your bowl needs to be made of a conducting material, which will allow the warmer temperatures from outside the bowl to penetrate the covered bowl and increase the colder temperatures inside the bowl. 

I bring my doughs to desired temperature (75 F, 78 F, etc.) and then put them in covered bowls made of an insulating material (plastic, stoneware, glass, or ceramic/porcelain), which keeps the heat (already) in the dough (and the heat generated by fermentation) inside the covered bowl.

pmccool's picture

In other words, "How do I create an environment with temperatures that are beneficial for the yeasts in my fermenting dough?"

Bowl material really doesn't matter.  All of them transfer heat; some just do it faster than others.  What you are really aiming for in a cool house is providing enough warmth to keep your yeasts happy.  This comes up frequently, so I'll try to summarize.

1. Find a place in your dwelling that has a suitable temperature.  Maybe that place is the top of your refrigerator, or in the closet that houses your water heater, or near a radiator, or on top of some electrical equipment.  The point is, every apartment or house has someplace that is normally warmer than the rest of the house.  Find it and park your dough there in a covered container.

2. Make a warm place.  Put the bowl of dough and a mug of boiling water in your microwave oven and shut the door.  Or do the same thing with a picnic cooler.  Preheat your oven on its lowest temperature for 5 minutes, turn it off, and put the covered bowl of dough in the oven.  Place the bowl of dough on some sort of heating pad (make sure that it doesn't get too warm).  You could go higher up the technology (and expense) ladder and buy a proofing box from Brod & Taylor.  Or make one of your own for little expense.

3.  Conserve the heat already in your dough.  Wrap it in towels or some other insulating material so that it doesn't cool off while it ferments.

That's a handful of ideas for you to consider.  You've probably thought of other possibilities as you've read through this.  If you want more, use the Search tool at the upper left-hand corner of the page and type in search terms like proofer, or proofing box, or some other variation on that theme.


thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

Bowl material really doesn't matter.  All of them transfer heat; some just do it faster than others.

Bowl material matters a lot.

Try an experiment.

Make two loaves of identical composition and final temperature (say 76 F). Add one to a metal bowl and another to a stoneware bowl. Cover them both the same way and put them in the same location, one that has a temperature greater than the final temperature of the dough (say 86 F).

The loaf in the metal bowl will bulk ferment significantly faster than the one in the stoneware bowl.

If we're in agreement that the faster the fermentation, the less flavourful the dough, bowl material will have contributed significantly to the maturation and flavour of the final loaf.


That said, the way you rephrased the question and then answered it is certainly more helpful to the original poster than my comment on conducters, insulators, and the generalities of heat transfer and diffusion. ;D

flournwater's picture

As Paul pointed out, bowl material doesn't matter  -  it's the temperature of the bowl and its ability to maintain that temperature that matters.  If you put two bowls made of different materials in the same environment X for the same length of time they will both eventually come to the same temperature.  If one is resting on a cold counter top and the other on a insulated surface (e.g. a towel between it nd the counter tip) the insulated bowl will warm more quickly and probably to a higher temperature (assuming that the air temperature exceeds that of the counter top  -  thermal management using a heat sink) the bowl on the insulated surface will reach a higher temperature than the one resting on the counter top.

Pauls advice parallels what I'd advise you to try, Meregoddess.  Work the PMcCool's recommendations

It might also help to try using a straight sided container so that you can mark the top of your dough mass when you put it into the container (I often use a felt marker to do that) and monitor the level of the dough as it rises to be more certain of its incease in mass over time.  It'll give greater meaning to "double" in mass when the instructions call for that degree of development  -  (but stop just a bit short of "double" to make sure you don't over-proof)

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

The keyword is 'eventually'. Yes, they will eventually come to the same temperature, but the conductor will come to temperature a magnitude faster than the insulator.

Faster means more.

A bowl made of conducting material will transfer significantly more heat at a higher rate across a conducting barrier (vs. a insulating one); and, not only will the conductor transfer more heat at a higher rate of diffusion, but it will also continue to do so, even once both bowls reach the same temperature, if there's a thermal differential (hotter out than in).

A simple experiment with the same dough, identical conditions is all one needs to dissuade one of the idea that bowl material doesn't matter. A simpler one will do too: Hold a metal pan under the hot water from your tap and see how fast it gets too hot to hold. Try the same thing with a stoneware plate. You can hold onto the plate for hours under hot water water, because it just doesn't conduct heat very well.

flournwater's picture

Well then, I suspect we don't truly disagree.  I responded to part of the statement that suggested (in my view) that the base temperature of the two bowls would differ over time in the same environment regardless of foreign influence (e.g. a drafty location) .  I look for stability in temperature (bowl and ambient temperatures are equal to the preferred temperature of the dough so neither the air nor the bowl sinks heat away from or adds heat to the dough) when proofing and I find that to be easily achieved, regardless of the type of bowl I use.

Patf's picture

Perhaps this is too sudden a change of temperature for your dough. I've done this occasionally and the dough tends to blow up then flop.

I knead mine on a  board, then just leave it on there covered with a cloth. Takes about an hour, but my kitchen is quite warm.

Some people put the dough in a plastic sack in the fridge overnight, and that works.

Just experiment with different methods and types of container.

johnr55's picture

I have a plastic bowl that I've used for nearly 30 years that works beautifully for smaller loaves.  OTOH I have a huge white stoneware bowl that was made for rising bread, have had it around 20 years, and I use that for larger batches.  As someone stated earlier, just oil the bowl lightly.  I never use metal bowls, they seem to suck the heat off of the dough.  Living in south Texas, my patio is a great place for 3/4 of the year to rise bread; I put the bowl on the arm of one of my gliders and just cover with a towel.  And make sure the kitty doesn't get curious!