How to Use Oven to Proof Bread Dough

We all know that the oven is used to bake bread, but what if we told you that you can use the oven to proof the bread dough too?

This procedure does not require you to turn on the oven (but that’s one of the ways, too). Using the oven creates an artificial environment that is warm and humid, which is necessary for the dough to ferment successfully.

Professional chefs use this trick whenever the kitchens are cold and dry to quickly achieve dough fermentation, and now you can use it too.

Turning your oven into a proof box will create excellent conditions for dough fermentation.

To test this, we turned on the oven to 150 degrees and then we turned it off and put a bowl with the dough in it. This way, we get a warm place for dough fermentation. 

However, it lacked humidity, and humidity is a very important factor when proofing the dough. If your oven is too hot, the dough will be dry and it’ll create a crust on top. 

After several trials and errors, we found the best method.

This is how you do it: Put a large bowl or a sheet pan in the oven and fill it with 3 glasses of boiling water. Put it on the bottom of the oven. Place the bowl with the dough on the middle oven rack. Close the oven door and allow moisture and heat to do their thing. In no time, your dough will proof and be ready for further use.

What type of bowl is best for proofing the dough in the oven?

It is not all the same what kind of bowl you use. For the best results, you will need a bowl made of a material that is a good conductor of heat. Therefore, a glass or metal bowl will be the best solution. Plastic does not transfer heat well enough, so avoid plastic bowls.

Tip: Before you put the dough in a bowl, heat it under a stream of hot water, then dry it and place the dough inside. The bowl should be warm when you touch it. Dough placed in a warm bowl will start the fermentation process sooner compared to a cold bowl.

What temperature should I set my oven to when proofing the dough?

Placing a dough in a warm oven will create the perfect conditions for dough fermentation – you will get consistent temperature and humidity. Yeast activates in a warm environment (24 -36 degrees) and 25 degrees is an ideal temperature for proofing your dough.

Tip: For the best results, turn on the lower heater of your oven at 30 or 40 degrees. Place a container of boiling water with the bowl with dough inside on the wire. Cover the dish with a kitchen towel. The lower heater will allow the water to stay warm longer, and thus the fermentation will be more successful. Never turn on the top heater to prevent drying of the dough and creating a crust on it.

How long do I prove bread dough in the oven?

About 30 minutes should be enough for the yeast to do its magic and proof the dough in a warm environment. You will know your dough is ready when it doubles its size.

Tip: Some dough recipes require a longer fermentation period and if you don’t want to turn on the lower heater, change the hot water in the bowl every 30-40 minutes to keep dough proofing.

Do I need to cover the dough when proofing in the oven?

Yes, you do. Cover the bowl with a cotton kitchen towel while the dough is in the oven. This way you will prevent losing moisture from the dough. If you don’t cover your bowl, the dough will dry out and it will create a crust on top. This could have a negative impact on the proofing of your dough.

How do I know if the dough is over-proofed?

Over-proofed dough happens when you leave the dough to ferment for too long. Air bubbles that form in the dough during yeast fermentation will evaporate from the dough if it is left for too long. 

You will know that your dough has over-proofed by performing a simple finger test. Gently press your dough with your fingers and hold the pressure for 2 seconds. After pulling the hand, the dough should bounce back to the starting position. If the dough doesn’t bounce back, it’s over-proofed.

Can I prove frozen dough in the oven?

Yes, you can proof frozen dough in the oven, but we wouldn’t recommend putting it straight from the freezer into the oven. You should defrost it first. Leave your dough in the refrigerator during overnight in a lightly greased bowl. By morning, your dough should be completely thawed. This process is called retarding the dough.

After your dough is defrosted you can proceed with proofing in the oven.

How do I proof frozen dough in the oven?

Once your dough is thawed, bring it out of the refrigerator and let it warm up at room temperature. After approximately an hour, you can place it in the bowl with warm water and put it in a proof box (oven) in the way we described.

Can I leave the dough to rise overnight in the oven?

You can leave your dough to rise overnight, but not in the oven. Leaving a dough overnight will make yeast “work” longer, which will result in a better-tasting bread or pastry. You can leave your dough to rise at room temperature for 2-4 hours, but if you’re planning to leave it overnight, we recommend the refrigerator

Cooling the dough will slow down the yeast activity, but the process of fermentation won’t stop completely. Put the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover it with plastic wrap and leave it overnight. After an hour in the fridge, knead it and repeat the process every 24h. 

Tip: Never bake your dough right after you take it out of the refrigerator. Let it warm up at room temperature first.

Why is my bread dough not rising in the oven?

There are several reasons why your bread dough isn’t rising in the oven. Here are the most common ones:

  • Old or improperly stored yeast
  • Using the wrong type of yeast
  • Yeast came in contact with grease or too much sugar
  • Using water that is too hot while activating the yeast and killed it
  • Using too much flour or didn’t measure it properly
  • Over-kneading the dough
  • Proofing wasn’t done right
  • Baking at a wrong temperature (get an oven thermometer to check oven temperature before baking)

What to do if the dough is not rising?

To fix dough that is not rising try placing the bowl of dough on the lowest wire in your oven along with a container filled with boiling water. Close the oven door and let the dough rise. Increasing the temperature and moisture can help activate the yeast in the dough so it will rise again. 

You can also try to add more yeast. Mix yeast with one tablespoon of sugar and a small cup of warm water. Let the yeast proof and add it to your dough, with some more flour. Let mixture proof in your oven in a described way.

How can I tell if I killed my yeast?

Yeast is a living organism that contains the cells that activates when mixed with warm water and sugar. After only a few minutes, the fermentation process of the yeast mixture should start. Yeast will double or triple its size, being all bubbly and foamy. That means your yeast is good to go. However, if there is no reaction after ten minutes, your yeast is dead.

Can I revive dead yeast?

If your yeast is dead, there is no way you can revive or activate it. You should go and buy a new package. Maybe you didn’t make a mistake while proofing it. Maybe you just bought old or improperly stored yeast.

Can I still bake dough that doesn’t rise?

If your dough didn’t rise you must be disappointed, but don’t throw it away – you can still use it. Roll it with your rolling pin, sprinkle it with some salt, cheese and herbs and you’ll get delicious crackers.