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Proofing Problems

I am starting to try my hand at bread making and I am having some success. I make 2-3 sandwich loaves a week and they are great. On my second proof I take the oiled plastic off of them before the dough rises up to it and replace it with a piece of muslin. The top gets a bit dry and crusty but it's ok for that type of loaf. The problem I'm having is when I go to make a free form loaf or baguette. on the second proof when the loaf is shaped even if the plastic wrap is oiled it sticks enough to the dough that it deflates it. If I just use muslin the top gets dry and crusty and deflates when I slash it. I live in VT so I use a warm oven for proofing. I put it on 200 for about ten minutes and then shut it off. Would it be safe to use a big plastic bin to proof in? I hope this makes sense to someone! Thanks!

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  1. i'm sure there are many more experienced bakers who will chime in with info and i'd be interested to know what they say. for me (until further input), i oil the top of the loaf copiously and don't cover it directly. i drape plastic up higher as a dust and cat nose barrier.

    4 Replies
    1. re: appycamper

      I am always proofing in the oven because 8 months out of the year my kitchen will barely get over 68. Gotta love Vermont!

      1. re: jefpen2

        well without the dust or feline noses no need to cover. it's win/win. i've been thinking of making a proofing box. some take on your big plastic bin with a light over it. my problem with the 2nd proof in the oven is having to move the loaves to preheat the oven. what do you do?

        1. re: appycamper

          I can't help with the sticking but I proof my doughs on top of the fridge its always warm. I live on the Oregon coast so it cool and moist here.

          1. re: appycamper

            I just move them to the top of the oven while it's preheating then spray the walls of the oven right before I put the loaves in.

      2. Many years ago I found this proofing info somewhere, especially good for us living in the NE during the cooler/cold months.

        Take a styrofoam cooler, cut a small circle that you will be able to insert the socket end of a 20 or was it a 40 watt bulb that is attached to an electric cord.

        Put on the lid and plug it in and once ready to proof place the bowl inside. Always worked very well.

        I've never had the plastic wrap stick to well oiled dough though, no matter where I proof.

        1. Sure, proofing under a plastic bin would work. A light dusting of flour is a good alternative to coating with oil.

          Here in San Francisco we have the low temperature problem even in summer. I use the oven for rising and proofing, but use a light bulb and extension cord to keep the temperature steady. It will take a thermometer and some trial and error to get it just right, but for me a 40 watt appliance bulb is perfect for maintaining 70-75 F.

          1. Yes, I believe the oven proofing is drying the skin of your dough.

            Despite what recipes always say, it is not necessary to have a warm place to rise your dough. It will just take longer at a lower room temperature and longer still in a cold fridge. But the good news is that more time = more flavor so there are adequate compensations for planning your time differently.

            Yes, a tub such as a Cambro food service tub with a tight lid is an excellent way to proof dough. But it won't do for your shaped rise. For that, you could turn the tub upside down on top of the boule to provide good moisture containment with adequate room for expansion. You could even spray the inside of the tup with water. Wouldn't make contact with the skin but would hydrate the enclosed space.

            And I think you are well advised to take care of the skin of your dough. Maintaining it's moisture and elasticity is the way to a good oven spring.

            Since you're in VT why not toddle down (or up or sideways) to Norwich and pay the King Arthur bakers a visit? Not only are they highly knowledgeable about all sorts of baking techniques, but they're probably very familiar with some of the environmental issues you're facing in your kitchen.

            Other things to try might be working with a wetter dough like no knead or using a bread machine for mixing and proofing.

            1. If your dough deflates as you describe, you're most likely over-proofing it. Warming your oven at 200 degrees for ten minutes and then putting your dough in to rise is WAY TOO much heat. You want a relatively constant temperature of something around 70 - 80 degrees. If you can't find a place in your home where you can maintain 70 - 80 degrees consistently, warm your oven on low and use a thermometer to check the temperature. Cover your dough and, when the oven temperature reaches 68 degrees, turn the oven off and let your covered dough rest in the closed oven until it's increased its mass by about double. Try not to let it go beyond double mass. The oven temperature will rise slightly after you turn it off (residual heat) For your initial proof (fermentation rise) put your dough ball into a modestly well oiled bowl that is at least large enough to allow the mass of your dough ball to double in size. Roll the dough ball to ensure it gets oil on all surfaces, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and wait until the dough approximately doubles in mass (usually from 60 - 90 minutes, but don't watch the clock, watch the dough) For the final proofing stage, shape your dough into the loaf you intend to make, then place it on a peel or the back of a baking sheet that has been generously sprinkled with corn meal (alternatively you can forget about the corn meal and place the dough on parchment paper) and lightly oil a piece of plastic wrap to place over the dough (you want it resting on the dough - any space between the plastic wrap will allow air to dry the surface out; and you don't want that to happen)
              When the dough has nearly doubled in size, wet your finger with a bit of water and press your finger about 1/8 - 1/4 inch into the dough ball, then remove it. If the impression you just made remains as deep as you originally made it, the dough hasn't proofed long enough. If the indentation slowly fills itself back in but only about half way, the dough is ready for baking. If the indentation in the dough returns to fill itself in completely or nearly completely, you've over proofed the dough.
              You can do the initial fermentation/proofing phases in a plastic container, as long as it's tightly sealed. But you must expect to loose some of the moisture in your dough if you use that method. Of course, if you put it in a container and cover the dough ball with oiled plastic wrap (or dust the dough ball with enough flour to provide a barrier between the dough and the cover) that will help maintain the moisture in the dough.
              I don't believe the muslin has anything to do with the dryness of your dough during the final proofing phase, especially if the dough deflates when you slash it in preparation for loading the oven. If your muslin (linen) towel is sufficiently saturated with raw flour so that it does not stick to the dough ball, it shouldn't allow air to penetrate its surface to dry out the dough.

              1. When I oven proof my dough (and that's not often) I turn my oven to the lowest setting, heat for ten minutes, then turn it off and let it cool for ten minutes and put the dough in. I used to bake at a restaurant and I used the food warmer to proof my bread dough which I loved. I could hardly get the second batch mixed up before the first batch had proofed & needed to be shaped. My ex-boss actually had a proofer made out of an old commercial refrigerator for me to use; he somehow had a heating element & water pan installed at the bottom of the thing and it worked like a charm except it retained too much moisture so I had a sheet pan inverted over both the top & bottom shelves so the water collected wouldn't get into the dough. Wish I could have something like that at home.

                1. I proof in doughs in an electric oven, so there's no pilot light to warm things up, but since I like long cool rises, that's ok. For moisture, I fill a small pyrex cup with boiling water and park that near the proofing dough. I never cover the dough and it doesn't develop a skin.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: stilton

                    Sadly, most home gas stoves have electronic starters now and pilot lights are a thing of the past, unless you are fortunate enough to have an older model still kickin'. The pilot light was always my way for proofing, stove-top style.

                    I set my oven to the lowest setting, 155* and set the proofing dough, whether it be initial proofing or final shaped, on a layer of towels on the center of the stovetop. The ambient temp above the stove top is 80-85*.

                    I also proof well wrapped dough in the frig overnight, shape and final proof gradually in my rather warm kitchen. I actually prefer this to proofing in a warm spot; although it's a slower method the results are better flavor in the loaf.

                    I use either the panned oiled loaves + moist towel or floured loaves + dry towel methods for the final proof. I agree with todao that your dough has overproofed if it deflates when removing the plastic. I suggest trying well-floured towels to cover.

                    Here's a link that will answer just about any of your questions, it's very educational, has lots of great formulas, tips, tricks and photos. I pimp it every chance I get:

                    If your interested in the world of sourdough, check this link out:

                    1. re: bushwickgirl

                      If my kitchen is chilly (up here in Canada, that does happen!), I turn on the halogen lights in the range hood and with the black stove top, it seems to work well.

                      Proofing in an overly warm place has one other disadvantage that may be contributing to your problem: The outer part of the dough mass gets much warmer than the centre portion, so the outer part can get over-proofed before the centre is fully proofed. One consequence of this is that the top of the loaf will get very fragile (as over-proofed dough tends to do), meaning that any little disturbance can deflate it. That may be part of what is going on.

                      Good luck!

                  2. I am a pastry chef, and bake quite a bit of bread. I have found a simple solution to proofing breads without them sticking or getting that dry. After I have formed the baguette or boules, I place them on a sheet pan with rice flour or corn meal, then put the whole pan in a bag (don't be too shocked, but small trash can liners work quite well for half sheet pans and tend not to stick as much as plastic wrap) Then I spray the part of the bag that will be touching the loaf with non-stick spray. The bag puffs up a little and then I tuck the end under the pan and the loaves have a nice moist environment to rise in.
                    As far as proofing in the oven goes, I think you will find that some breads just require a slow rise, like sourdough. It takes three hours for mine to come up on its first rise, no matter how I try to rush it. I live in Maine, which gets fairly cold, and I will proof breads in the kitchen on top of a warmed oven. I also put a shallow pan of water in the oven to start steaming. The moisture inevitably carries into the kitchen making the bread proof nicely. Crusty breads need to be steamed while baking to get a good high rise in the oven too.
                    I agree with zamorski, be patient and don't rush it.
                    I have learned some invaluable information from two great books on bread baking.
                    First, "Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book" is a great place for the novice to start. It takes you step by step through the process, how gluten forms, and the reasons why ingredients react the way they do. Also there is a wonderful section on making your own Flemish Desem Starter if you are a real bread geek and want to learn how to do it.
                    Second, "Breads from the LaBrea Bakery" by Nancy Silverton. This is my bible. I love all the recipes in this book and used them frequently. I made my own sourdough starter using Nancy's recipe in this book. Every baker should have this one.
                    Good luck and I hope this helps!

                    1. Got a microwave? Ever tried using it as a proofing box? The deal is you have to make sure no one will accidentally turn it on but it's a small insulated enclosed space that will hold temp and moisture. I just put a well-floured cloth towel over the dough and leave it in the microwave.

                      ...of course, I started using mine to keep my dogs away from the rising dough. For some reason they see no need for the actual baking. Go figure.