I live in hot and sweaty Louisiana. High humidity, high heat except in the winter where it is a wet British cold.
I am infatuated with the B&T proofer- but do I need it here?
you would need it? I'm asking b/c it's not obvious to me.
People can't know their own process, when they don't have their own process yet.
And many times, the item you really need is something you'd never think of needing - so people ask ahead "Do I need this?", trying to avoid the problem, instead of baking numerous failures and only then hearing about the equipment they've been missing.
I'm in Illinois where it's currently super cold and I don't use a proofer and have no issues. If I really need to create a warm environment for my bread I use a small heating pad. I used to have a heating blanket that did a good job for this as well...Depending on what other baking equipment you have I would suggest that you could most likely find a better place to spend your baking budget than on a proofer. To me a home proof box is very much a luxury and not at all a necessity. Good proofing baskets and a cloche are at the top of the list.
I usually use a cast iron pot. Or an enameled pot. Is the cliche a dramatic improvement?
Nope, cast iron pot works just fine. I like the cloche because it's easier to load my loaves in to and I can fit a slightly larger oblong underneath it as opposed to the cast irons I've seen. Beyond a few essential gadgets that are more or less essential for making bread the rest really has to do with technique and practice! I see proof boxes as something necessary in bakeries doing a lot of bun and roll production. It helps keep everything on schedule so you don't get jammed up at the oven.
you are good to go. I have made delicious loaves in my cast iron dutch oven. I also have a cloche. For me there is not much difference... Good luck
Nobody really needs a proofer, it's a convenience, not a necessity. There are two different approaches to this - either forcing the dough into a schedule via DTT/proofer or yeast load, or estimating the fermentation time at the ambient temperature and letting it rise at its own pace.
Proofer is not necessary in any climate, in my estimation. I'm in TX, and I achieve similar results with oven (off) and light on, and have even used the microwave (off) with a cup of boiling water. An accurate digital thermometer can help gauge temps along the way. If you're not careful, oven light can actually get things too warm.
Another option is a wine cooler with an electronic thermostat... depending on the temp range of the unit, you could use it for both cold proof and bulk fermentation (obviously, not at the same time).
That said, a B&T will be great unit. And will give you peace of mind with respect to ambient fermentation temperature. Perhaps it will allow you to hone in your process. And I'm sure you'll love it.
At the end of the day, you still need to know when the dough is "ready". And with every ingredient change, starter maturity/yeast effectiveness, or adjustment in hydration, order of steps, etc... the variables change and can alter duration of fermentation and when the dough is ready. For those reasons, and cost, I've decided against a dedicated appliance just as a proofer.
The very helpful thing about a proofer is that it cuts down the huge number of variables there are to tweak, when you are working on improving your bread, by putting you in control of temperature. However. It won't go lower than your ambient. So if you don't have AC, it won't help you in the summer. As others have said, it's not a necessity But it is very nice. Lesley