How To Prove Bread

Proving (also known as proofing) bread is probably the most important part of making homemade bread. 

Well, devouring warm, fresh bread straight out of the oven is definitely the most important part of making bread, but proving it comes as a close second. 

Something as simple as bread can take a very long time, and most of that time is thanks to having to let the dough rest, prove, rest and prove again. 

You will hear lots of different terms flying around, like proofing, proving and bulk fermentation.

All of these terms mean the exact same thing; letting the dough rise. 

In this article, we will refer to bulk fermentation as the first rise and proofing (or proving) as the second rise. 

So, proving bread is very easy. All you need is time and patience.

If you’re unsure what all these terms mean or are unsure how to properly prove your dough, don’t worry, we got you covered!

Let’s take a look at how to prove bread.

How To Prove Bread at Home

Proving the dough is probably the easiest part of making bread.

All you need to do is let it rest for a few hours while the yeast and gluten do all the hard work.

Proving is also the most important process and this is where all the gluten strands strengthen and the yeast expands the dough.

Bulk Fermentation 

So, what is bulk fermentation? Bulk fermentation is probably the most important part of making bread.

During this process, you let the dough rest and rise as a whole without dividing it or giving it any proper shape. 

It’s during bulk fermentation that the yeast works the hardest.

It eats away at all of the sugars, producing ethyl alcohol, which gives bread its distinctive smell and taste.

The longer your ferment the dough, the tastier and more aromatic it will be.

Bulk fermenting dough is very simple. Once you have mixed all your ingredients and kneaded the dough, place it in an oiled bowl, cover it with cling film.

Let it rise in a warm environment for a couple of hours or until it has doubled in size.

Proofing Bread (second rise)

After your dough has bulk fermented, it’s time to start the second rise, or second proof.

Before you do that, take your fermented dough, knock the air out and place it on a lightly floured surface. 

If you are making multiple loaves, this is the time where you divide it in equal parts.

Otherwise, shape your dough and place it on a tray or loaf tin. 

Cover with a damp towel and let it rise again. This is the final rise before you bake your loaf. 

bread proving in bread bowl

How Long Does It Take For Bread To Rise?

How long it takes for the dough to rise depends on a few things; how long you’ve kneaded the dough beforehand, how much yeast is in the dough and how warm the environment is. 

Bulk Fermentation

Bulk fermentation takes the longest out of the two rises.

Before you let your dough rest for it’s bulk fermentation, you will have mixed all the ingredients and have done some sort of kneading to strengthen the gluten strands in the dough.

Kneading dough by hand usually takes around 8 to 10 minutes.

At that stage you will see that your dough is very elastic, doesn’t break easily and passes what is known as the windowpane test.

I find that when I knead my dough for 10 minutes until it passes the windowpane test, it takes less time to rise.

It also rises faster when I have used a whole packet of yeast, or the equivalent of 2 ¼ teaspoons. 

Usually, kneaded dough can take 1 to 2 hours to double in size in a warm environment.

If your room is cold, which is usually the case here in the UK, then it can take longer.

If you don’t trust your forearm strength, you can still strengthen the gluten strands by using the no-knead and leave for ages method. 

With this method, you mix all your ingredients until there are no dry spots, cover it and let the dough rest and rise at it’s own pace. 

When you knead dough, you are essentially helping the gluten formation, giving it a little push up the backside, if you will. 

When you haven’t kneaded the dough, it takes a bit longer for the gluten to strengthen, and this happens as the yeast eats the sugars and creates carbon dioxide, making the dough slowly rise.

A non-knead dough can take up to 5 hours to really double in size.

If you use this method, don’t be discouraged if your dough hasn’t risen at all in the first 2 hours. It will rise, I promise! 

 

Proofing

The second rise doesn’t take as long as the first one.

When you have shaped your dough and placed it in the tin or tray you will bake it with, it can take as little as 30 minutes for it to rise, but not much longer than 1 hour and a half. 

The internal chemistry of the dough doesn’t change at all between the bulk fermentation and the second rise.

The only thing that will change is the physical appearance.

bread dough resting on floured table

How To Make Dough Rise Faster

The best thing to do is to leave the dough to rise both times at room temperature.

I can appreciate, however, that not every country is blessed with a tropical climate, and the UK is certainly not one of these countries unfortunately. 

If you live in a rather colder environment, then there are ways to ‘cheat’ and make dough rise faster. 

Proofing Bread in the Oven

My top tip to making a warm environment for dough to flourish and ferment in is by turning the oven on to the lowest temperature it can go.

Preheat the oven while you are preparing all your ingredients and mixing/kneading.

I set my oven to around 50C/125F.

A few minutes before you are ready to let your dough rise for the first time, turn the oven off and let it cool slightly.

You don’t want to put the dough in an oven that is still on and hot. You just want to create a warm enough environment.

While you wait a few minutes, this is a good time to let your dough rest for a few minutes.

Once a few minutes is up, place your dough in an oiled bowl, cover it with cling film and pop it in your warm oven to ferment and rise. 

If your oven doesn’t have a really low setting, you could always turn it on about 30 minutes to an hour before you make your bread so you can, again, create a warm enough environment for the dough.

If you do this, make sure you turn the oven off well in advance so it’s not hot, otherwise it will kill the yeast.

If you have an oven thermometer, this would be a good time to get it out and check the temperature is between 25C/77F.

Any higher than that, and your dough will not rise.

Proofing Bread Next to the Radiator

This is another easy trick you can do to make your dough rise just a little bit faster.

Cover it and place it next to a warm radiator.

This warmth from the radiator will make the dough rise much faster.

Proofing Bread Under Bed Covers with Warm Water Bottles

This is probably not your typical way to proof bread but it works!

My mom has been using this method of rising bread for as long as I can remember.

She has blankets made out of pure wool that are strictly used for covering dough – we knew what was coming if we dared to use the blankets to warm ourselves up!

She takes a few water bottles, fills them with boiling water, 8 bottles to be exact, and places them all around the doughs (she makes up to 5 loaves at a time every single week).

She then covers them with towels and the thick woollen blankets.

The heat from the water bottles creates an ideal warm environment for the dough to rise in.

How To Tell If The Dough Has Risen Enough

Most dough recipes will tell you to prove for 1 to 2 hours, but what if it still looks like it’s barely risen?

When proving bread, time isn’t the most accurate tell-tale. How fast the dough rises depends on how warm the environment is.

If it’s warm, it will rise fast. If it’s cold it will rise very slowly.

The best way to tell if your dough has risen properly is to see if it has puffed up and doubled in size.

You can also test it by pressing the dough with your finger gently. It should feel quite supple and soft.

If your dough hasn’t risen at all and looks like a piece of gum, then the yeast you used has probably passed it’s active days. 

If you aren’t sure if your yeast is still fresh or not, the best thing to do is to test if your yeast is active before you use it. It will save you from wasting so many precious ingredients. 

If you aren’t sure how long you’ve had your yeast, check if it is still active by proofing it in some warm water for 15 minutes beforehand.

If it is bubbly, then it’s full of life. If there are no bubbles, then it’s dead. 

It active yeast should look something like this!

yeast that has been proofed in warm water

What To Cover Dough With While It’s Rising and Resting

Covering dough while it’s rising is very important otherwise it will dry out, creating a tough film on the dough.

There are a few things you can use to cover your dough while it’s rising.

During the first rise, you can use cling film or a damp towel to cover your dough. 

If you use cling film, don’t worry too much about it getting stuck on your dough as you are going to knock the air back down and reshape it anyway. 

During the second rise, try using a damp towel to cover your dough.

The moisture will prevent your dough from creating a dry film and it won’t get stuck on the towel. 

If you use cling film during the second proof, make sure it’s very well oiled because if it gets stuck to your dough, all your hard work with shaping it will be for nothing and the dough will just deflate.

If you can avoid using cling film all together, even better as it’s more environmentally friendly to use a towel.

If you really want to go the extra mile, you can get your hands on proving bags that are specifically for rising your dough in!

bread being scored with lame

Once you have gone through all the stages of fermenting, resting and rising your dough. You are ready to bake! 

If you want to feel like a proper Parisian baker, you can try to score your bread with different patterns using a sharp knife or a lame.

Not only does scoring bread make it look aesthetically pleasing, it also creates a weak point so the carbon dioxide can escape. 

If you don’t score your dough, you will probably get big bulges and eruptions coming out from all different directions.

Proving bread at home is very easy and simple.

You just need to follow some simple tips and be patient and you will be a bread baking pro in no time!

Happy proving!

 

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