The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Proofing

Loafer's picture
Loafer

Proofing

I am trying to properly proof a nice super fluffy white loaf (Hensperger's White Mountain Loaf) and my gear nerve is twitching.  I had jury rigged a warmer that works fine for initial fermentation (http://bakeyourown.blogspot.com/2007/03/few-new-things-this-week.html) but it doesn't work for proofing.  I have a gas oven, so I can't do the pilot light trick, and my steaming methods seem to break the light fixture, so that doesn't work either.  I have seen some neat arrangements for proofing at home, but I need something that is especially (1) cheap (2) compact (3) works with pans and free-form loaves.

Any recommendations?

-Loafer 

susanfnp's picture
susanfnp

Loafer, I usually use Ziploc Big Bags inthe XXL size for proofing. They are roomy enough to hold a large sheet pan full of bagels or even a proofing board with a couche-full of loaves, yet the fold up very compactly for storing. I usually proof at room temperature but if I needed something warmer I would put a small bowlful of warm water in it.

 

The few times I have wanted to keep a warm temperature in a very narrow range for a long period of time, I have used a cooler with a heating pad inside that is connected to a thermostat meant for reptile cages. It works well but is more trouble than it's worth for most things.

 

Susanfnp

Loafer's picture
Loafer

So do you put something in the bag along with your dough to prevent the bag from resting on the dough and impeding proofing?  A suppose an upside down cup that is bigger than the loaf will be would probably do it.

I worked in an artisan bakery for a while and I am dreaming of the nice covered racks that we would rest the dough in, then retard it.  Our walk in retarder would flip over to proofing temps not long before the baker was about to start production.

I saw a neat project where someone used those plastic lidded boxes nested in each other to make a proofer, but something about warming not food-grade plastic kind of disturbs me.

 

-Loafer 

susanfnp's picture
susanfnp

So do you put something in the bag along with your dough to prevent the bag from resting on the dough and impeding proofing? A suppose an upside down cup that is bigger than the loaf will be would probably do it.

I have done this and it's easy, but the plastic is stiff enough that I usually don't need to -- I can just tent the plastic up away from the dough and it stays there.

 

Susanfnp

verminiusrex's picture
verminiusrex

I use a plastic storage bin that only costs a couple bucks at Wal-Mart.  You can use it with the lid or invert it over the dough on a table.  Just put a pan of hot water next to the dough and it'll keep the internal temp and humidity up wonderfully, if in doubt refresh the hot water halfway through proofing.

 

Loafer's picture
Loafer

Brilliant!  I used to feel kind of smart, but now I feel rather silly.  I looked at one of the mega marts for a bin that would fit my sheet pans inside and still have room to close th lid.  I wasn't quite bright enough to think that I could have the bin upside down!  And just put a nice big bowl of water in there!  That might be my answer.  I feel a little more secure with something rigid over the dough than plastic.  Easier to clean if it happened to get goopy too!

 

Thx

-Loafer 

Loafer's picture
Loafer

Just out of curiousity, anybody out there use a commercial proofer at home?

-Loafer 

firepit's picture
firepit

 

Commercial? No, but I did go a little overboard building my own proofing box. I was content to use the upside down Rubbermaid tub w/ a 25/40w bulb approach, but my wife wasn't comfortable with the safety factor there. So I spent a little more money and built a more rugged and flexible solution.

 

I used 5/8" plywood and built a box that is 36" wide, 22" deep, and 18" tall. The front of the box is a removable sheet of lexan (it sits in grooves on the side and bottom), so I can see what's happening inside. When the lexan is removed, I can fold the sides and the back down so that the whole thing fits under a bed when not in use. I then attached two lights to the (removable) top, and wired them both to a baseboard thermostat, and then out to a standard plug. So I just unfold it, screw in the bulbs, set the temperature I want, and forget it. It's a cheap thermostat, so it's not terribly accurate, but It holds about a 5 degree range very well, which is suitable for everything I'm doing. If I'm working with something small, I have a divider that I can slide into the box to make it about 1/2 the size so I'm only using one light and heating less space, too.

 

It's not perfect, and I'm not a craftsman by any stretch of the imagination, so there's plenty of room for improvement, but I'm happy with the design and it's worked very well for me. Not counting the planning and the time to buy the supplies, I'd say it took about 12 hours of work and 75 dollars, start to finish (and it would have taken much less time if I owned a router to cut the groves). Not nearly as cheap as the plastic tub or big zip lock bags, but it gives me more control over the temperature and it costs much less than a commercial solution.

BROTKUNST's picture
BROTKUNST

Firepit, I build a similar proofing box, only solid-state since storage is not an issue. In order to control the temperature I installed a dimmer for the light bulb and I read the temperature from a digital thermometer. This design is not regulating itself - since there is not connection between the thermostat and the dimmer .... what did you build when you say "wired them [light bulbs] both to a baseboard thermostat". What kind of thermostat is that ?

 

By the way, I never really had a use for the proofing box. If I need a 'warm' place in the winter I heat a small closet with a digitally controlled oil radiator. Over the summer the basement is always in the low 70s.There is plenty of space in the closet - and of course in the basement. I adjust also the fermentation/proofing times and the leavening depending on the season. So even for a couple of loaves a day the closet works great during the winter season.

 

BROTKUNST

firepit's picture
firepit

 

I guess the correct name for the thermostat is a "line voltage thermostat" -- they are often used to control things like baseboard heaters and small radiators like the one you were using. It's simply a thermostat that wasn't designed to interact with a furnace. Instead, it works like a temperature regulated light switch. It takes standard 120v power in and then either outputs 120v or nothing depending on the temperature. So I spliced an extension cord to the thermostat, then ran standard romex wiring to the two light sockets. If the box gets too cold, the lights kick on, if it gets too warm, the lights kick off.

The one I purchased is a very low-end model, I think it was 15 bucks at Lowes. After the box was built I ran a few tests with a thermometer to see what my temperature ranges would be at various spots on the thermostat's dial, and now I'm all set. If I wanted to sink another 20-40 bucks on the project, I think they sell digital and even programmable line voltage thermostats, so you could make the box hold a pretty consistent temperature if you really wanted to.

I don't use the box at all in the summer as our (old and inefficient) house stays plenty warm. But in the winter the house is pretty cold, I was having trouble getting my sourdough starters up and running or proofing anything. Rather than crank the heat in the whole house, I just built the box. I set the temp to stay around 75, and then forget about it all day...all in all it's pretty similar, I'd guess, to your closet solution.

The only downside is that with an all white box and lexan front, the two bulbs put out quite a bit of light, and it cycles on and off through the day and/or night (when I'm working with starters). I keep waiting for the police to show up after being tipped off about some "growing operation" that we have going on in the basement...

Rosalie's picture
Rosalie

What do you mean by "I have a gas oven, so I can't do the pilot light trick"?  I have a gas oven (with automatic pilot, which I assume is what you have, unless you misspoke and meant to say you have an electric oven).  I turn it on until the temperature just barely goes up, and then I leave the  oven light on, and it stays comfortably warm (80-90 degrees) inside for a long time, long enough to get a typical rise.

Rosalie

Loafer's picture
Loafer

What I've figured is that since my lowest setting on my oven is 150 degrees, and since it *is* an auto pilot light, there is no way to keep a nice low temp. I can flip it on for a few minutes and then turn it off, but i would have to do that a few times over the proofing period to maintain a good temp (~90 degrees). And the humidity of that large of a space is kind of hard to control too.

Not to mention, if you are proofing, and you want to preheat your oven for use after the proofing stage, how do you do that? Especially since I bake at ~550 degrees with tiles in my oven, so the preheat takes almost an hour!

-Loafer (a.k.a Toby)

machine man's picture
machine man

machine man If its any help The ideal humidity is 855 and the temperature should be 33 degrees C. Has any body tried using a n electric kettle in a box to give you the steam.

andrew_l's picture
andrew_l

for seeds keeps a constant low temperature. I no longer like to use mine as I managed to get it very mildewed with some tomato seedlings (they died as a result) but it was excellent. I must give it a thorough clean before the winter - I think this might be a cold one....
Andrew

sourdoughlover's picture
sourdoughlover

What is proofing? Sorry. I don't know how I have been baking bread for years and don't know what proofing is.

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

call it first and or 2nd rise