How to Proof Bread When It’s Cold Outside (and Inside!)

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Think it's too cold to bake bread? Not so fast! Find out how to proof bread, even when it's freezing outside (and inside, too).

When the temps start to drop, I start craving all of my favorite comfort foods. That means more soups, more pot roasts and—in particular—a lot more fresh homemade bread to go with both.

However, when it’s chilly outside and in, making yeasted bread at home becomes more challenging. That’s because yeast does its job best at temperatures above 75ºF. That means in order to proof bread on a cold day, you really have to crank up the heat at home to get a good rise.

If you’re a real thermostat stickler like me, that’s not something you really want to do very often. So what’s a baker to do when she wants to make fresh bread at home when it’s cold? Well, it turns out there are a few tricks to proofing bread in the cold.

Proof Bread in the Oven

My go-to method for proofing bread when it’s a bit cold inside is to pop the dough in the oven. Nope—you won’t be turning it on!

To proof bread in the oven, place a glass baking dish on the bottom rack of the oven and fill it with boiling water. Stash your dough on the middle or top rack and shut the door. The steam and heat from the boiling water will create a warm and steamy environment for the dough—exactly what you want for a good rise.

If your bread requires a longer proof, like this chocolate babka, I recommend refreshing the hot water every 30 to 45 minutes to keep things working.

Proof Bread with a Slow Cooker

Think you couldn’t love your slow cooker more? Well, it turns out you can use this appliance to proof bread dough. Fill your slow cooker halfway with water and set to the low setting (which will heat the water to about 200ºF). Put the lid on upside down, lay a dishtowel on top, then set your bowl of dough on top. The radiant heat from the hot water will help the bread to rise.

Invest in a Proofing Box

If you’re a serious bread baker, you might want to skip the homemade shortcuts and invest in a gadget to help you proof. A proofing box (like this one) will maintain a consistent temperature and humidity inside, allowing you to get a perfect rise every single time. With a perfect yeast-friendly environment, this proofing box can help you proof bread a bit quicker than room temp, too. That’s a big win for serious bakers! That means more loaves of the good stuff in less time!

A Few More Nontraditional Proofing Methods

While I swear by the oven and boiling water method, you can still try a few other ways to proof bread when it’s a touch too cold inside.

You can set a heating pad on low, layer a dishtowel on top and then set down your bowl or pan of dough. This will give your bread some extra warmth. I recommend covering your dough with a tea towel or reusable wrap to keep the outside from drying out. If you have a rice-filled heating pad (the kind you heat in the microwave), you can use that as well.

If you’re a serious gardener, you can pull out a seed germination mat (like this one) and use that as well. Set the temperature to around 80ºF for a nice rise.

Of course, you can also take a reading of your oven’s internal temperature with the oven light on. Some oven lights radiate enough heat to turn the oven into a proofing box. Use an oven thermometer and check the temperature after about 30 minutes. If your light manages to heat the oven to 75ºF or above, you’re in baking business!

With these tips in mind, cold weather can’t stop you from a good loaf of bread or pan of rolls. Be sure to avoid these other bread making mistakes, too!

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Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is an associate editor at Taste of Home where she gets to embrace her passion for baking. She pours this love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.