I love to bake bread. I enjoy the entire process from mixing and kneading the dough to baking the finished loaf. While the bread bakes in the oven, the entire farmhouse takes on the delicious aroma of freshly baked bread.
During the long New England winter, it can be a challenge to make fresh bread here at 1840 Farm. We really do reside in a farmhouse that dates back to the 1840s. We love its charm and character. We have learned to accept its drafty kitchen. I have refused to accept that it takes hours to allow bread dough to rise in our kitchen during the winter.
When it comes to bread baking, a drafty, chilly kitchen can be a game changer. Fresh dough needs warmth and moisture in order to rise properly. For this reason, bread bakeries invest in high tech proofing cabinets.
These cabinets perfectly regulate both the temperature and humidity to encourage fresh bread dough to rise. I don’t have a proofing cabinet, but I was relatively certain that I could simulate one. It was time to do a little experimenting.
First, I attempted to leave the bread to rise while resting atop one of our pellet stoves as it ran to heat the house. The temperature on top of the stove was barely higher than the rest of the room and there was no moisture to speak of. My bread dough took nearly as long to rise in this location as it did sitting on the kitchen counter.
My second idea was to warm my oven slightly before turning it off and allowing the bread to rest inside to rise. This technique was more successful. I was forced to decide between removing the loaf from the oven while preheating it to the proper baking temperature or leaving the loaf inside while the oven heated. I was still looking for a better option.
I found the answer a few steps away from the oven. It was time to see what kind of environment I could create inside our microwave. I placed a Pyrex, microwave safe two cup measuring cup filled with water in the microwave. I warmed the water until it was boiling before swiftly opening the door and placing the pan of dough in the microwave with the hot water.
I quickly closed the microwave door, trapping the warmth and moisture inside with the fresh dough. In less than an hour, I cautiously opened the door to survey the results. To my great delight, I found dough that had risen to the height of its pan. It was glistening with moisture on its surface and ready to be transferred to the preheated oven.
It’s been years since I discovered this technique and I can’t imagine how many times I have used it since then. Even in the summer, I find that dough rises more steadily and predictably while in the microwave.
Don’t take my word for it. Instead, take a look at a side by side comparison of a recent loaf of bread before and after its time in my microwave proofing chamber.