Where to put dough to rise: finding your kitchen's comfort zone

“Why do I have such trouble with bread dough rising?” Oh, how often we’ve heard this plaintive question on the Baker’s Hotline here at King Arthur Flour! Sometimes yeast dough not rising is an issue with the dough itself (too much sugar, salt, flour, fat; take your pick). But often it’s simply the environment in which you’ve placed your bowl of dough. Knowing where to put dough to rise, especially if you’re baking in a chilly winter kitchen, is key to yeast’s happiness (and ultimately, your own).

Where to put dough to rise via @kingarthurflour

Luckily for all of us bread bakers (both experienced and less so), yeast WILL reliably grow, divide, and make bread dough rise except under extreme conditions of duress: high or low temperatures, old age, or a severe imbalance in the dough’s ingredients. Maybe your sweet dough rises with excruciating slowness but, sooner or later, yeast does its thing.

It’s just that most of us don’t enjoy waiting around for bread dough to rise. Are you willing to rearrange your schedule to afford yeast the exact time it needs — given its environment both within the dough and on your kitchen counter? No, I didn’t think so. Luckily, assuming you’ve made a “healthy” dough with the correct balance of ingredients, you can control the rising time of your dough pretty easily. It’s all in knowing where to put dough to rise.

A cold kitchen can be challenging for yeast dough. Discover ways to make your dough cozy and comfortable — despite your kitchen's temperature. Click To Tweet

Temperature matters

The temperature at which dough rises has a direct effect on the flavor of your final product. The longer dough rises (up to a point), the more flavor it develops. Conversely, dough that rises too quickly produces bread with flat flavor. Nail the sweet spot — warm enough to rise at a decent rate, yet cool enough to develop flavor — and you’re golden.

Studies have shown that the optimum temperature for yeast to grow and flavor to develop is 75°F to 78°F. (Interested in the science behind the data? See our blog post: Desired dough temperature.) This temperature range gives yeast dough enough time to develop flavor while still keeping the whole process within a manageable timeframe.

Where to put dough to rise via @kingarthurflour

Unfortunately, an ambient temperature of 75°F to 78°F in your kitchen can be difficult to maintain. I don’t know about you, but my winter kitchen is more like 62°F to 65°F. And even if you’re down South, you might have trouble keeping your kitchen in the high 70s — whether because it’s winter, or you’ve got the AC going.

Professional bakeries often use temperature-controlled “cabinets” called retarders to let shaped loaves and rolls rise first in a cool environment (often overnight) to develop flavor; then at warmer temperatures just before baking, to keep things moving along efficiently. A retarder is obviously the best way to control your dough’s rising environment.

Where to put dough to rise via @kingarthurflour

A foolproof solution

The home baker’s version of the pro’s retarder is an electric dough proofer, a countertop temperature/humidity-controlled proof box. This appliance lets you set whatever temperature you want and just walk away, knowing that the dough, bread, or rolls you’ve placed inside will rise without any cold drafts or temperature swings to upset the apple cart.

If you’re a passionate bread baker, I highly recommend this effective tool (which is also great for tempering chocolate, making yogurt, proofing sourdough starter, and even slow cooking). Bonus: It folds down for easy storage. Read all about it here: Yeast dough’s secret weapon.

But handy though it is, you certainly don’t need a countertop proofer to raise your yeast dough. There are plenty of other ways to provide your rising dough with the warm, humid environment yeast loves.

Where to put dough to rise via @kingarthurflour

Where to put dough to rise: start with a closed container

Why not just drape a towel over your bowl of rising dough, like your great-grandma did? Because your goal is to create an environment that’s not only warm but humid. Why humid? Moisture keeps the skin of the dough supple and soft, promoting a better rise. A cotton towel allows moisture to escape; plastic (or even better, a snap-on lid) keeps moisture trapped.

I like to use the food-safe plastic dough-rising bucket pictured above. Not only does it create a moisture-trapping environment, but its markings help me gauge when the dough has doubled in size.

Where to put dough to rise via @kingarthurflour

Where to put dough to rise: your turned-off oven

Many bakers like to preheat their oven briefly, turn it off, then place the bowl of dough within. My issue with this is, I usually forget and preheat the oven way beyond what’s necessary, and then have to wait for it to cool down.

Where to put dough to rise via @kingarthurflour

It takes about an hour for my oven, with just the light on, to go from cool room temperature to optimum yeast dough-rising temperature.

So instead, I simply turn on the oven light, and the temperature within gradually rises. I’ve learned that in the winter (when my kitchen is cold) if I turn the oven light on an hour ahead of adding the bowl of dough my oven temperature will be right around 76°F. I put the dough in, leave the light on for another 30 minutes or so, then turn the light off, allowing the temperature inside to reverse its course.

Of course, your oven and your kitchen will yield different results. But I urge you to take the time to see how effectively just a simple lightbulb can heat your oven, creating the perfect dough-rising environment.

Where to put dough to rise via @kingarthurflour

Where to put dough to rise: your “steamed” microwave

Here’s a technique savvy bakers have been using for years: Bring a couple of cups of water to a full rolling boil in your microwave oven; in my oven, this takes 3 minutes. Wait about 45 minutes (for the microwave’s interior to gradually cool down some), and exchange the bowl of water for your (uncovered) bowl of dough; quickly close the door.

The interior temperature of your microwave will start out in the mid- to low-80s and will drop down through the 70s over the next hour or so, providing an ideal rising environment.

If you’re in a hurry and forgot to boil the water ahead of time, just use a smaller amount of water and bring it barely to a boil. The microwave’s temperature will drop more quickly into yeast’s comfort zone (though it also won’t linger in that zone as long, either).

Word to the wise: Boiling water can be dangerous, of course, so be very careful moving it out of the microwave. Don’t decide to add a tea bag or otherwise disturb it until it’s calmed down and stopped bubbling!

Where to put dough to rise via @kingarthurflour

Where to put dough to rise: more solutions

  • Atop your water heater or refrigerator; or on a high shelf. Heat rises, and the top of a major appliance that runs constantly is usually a bit warmer than the surrounding atmosphere.
  • Atop a heating pad set to low. Wrap the heating pad in a heavy bath towel to prevent too much heat from “cooking” the bottom of the dough.
  • Close to a heat source. Whether you have a woodstove, radiators, or baseboard heat, find a warm spot nearby. This isn’t as foolproof a solution as some of the others, since the heat can cycle on and off, but it’s better than your cold kitchen counter.

Where to put dough to rise via @kingarthurflour

  • In a cooler preheated with a bowl of boiling water. This is a similar situation to a microwave oven, though not as convenient since there’s no window through which to view the rising dough. Place a bowl of boiling water inside your closed cooler for several minutes. Remove the bowl of water, add the uncovered bowl of dough, and close the cooler.

Where to put dough to rise via @kingarthurflour

The final rise

So far it’s all been about dough’s first rise in the bowl. What about once it’s shaped and in its loaf pan?

Most methods work just as well for shaped dough as for dough in the bowl. The exception: your oven. Since you’ll want to preheat your oven well before the bread is ready to bake, you don’t want your loaf pan inside — even though you swear you won’t forget and will take it out before turning the oven on. (Been there, done that… multiple times.)

So place your pan in some other warm spot you’ve identified. If it’s not a humid environment (e.g., your microwave or a cooler), snap a clear elasticized shower cap (or bowl cover) onto the pan to trap moisture.

Let the dough rise, bake your bread…

Where to put dough to rise via @kingarthurflour

…and enjoy the results!

What other “warm and cozy” ways have you discovered to help your yeast dough to rise in cooler conditions? Please share in “comments,” below.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. Irena McClain

    Great information and you are absolutely right! In the South, I keep my house at 67 in winter (I grew up in VT so I just put on a sweater) and the a/c is humming around 74 in summer. Letting the dough rise in the oven with the oven light on does the trick!
    I watched some Paul Hollywood (of Great British Bakeoff fame) videos on bread baking and he said the long slow rise develops the flavor but I find that my VT Honey Whole Wheat Oatmeal bread usually needs 1.5-2 hrs for first rise and at least the same for the second so isn’t that considered slow enough?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      That should be long enough, Irena. So long as you enjoy the results, keep doing what you’re doing! If you ever want to slow things down to make the rise last longer, you can keep the dough in a cool place or even put it in the fridge overnight. Annabelle@KAF

  2. Cheryl Hatcher

    I have had good results with regular loaves to sticky buns setting the dough in a bowl on top of my dryer in the laundry room. I try to plan on doing a couple of loads of laundry early. This makes the room a little warmer. By the end of the day I have clean clothes and fresh bread. Happy day for me!! Not exactly scientific but seems to work.

    Reply
  3. Danielle Durand

    What about the proof function in some models of oven? We had to buy a new one when the old stove died on us, so I thought it was a good idea to get one with this function. But from reading your comments, I think I should add some water with the dough… maybe boiled? Or not?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Danielle, it wouldn’t hurt to put a little pot of just-boiled water in the oven with your loaf as its using the proof function. If you can control the temperature, somewhere around that high 70’s low 80’s is a good place. If it’s starting in the low to mid 70’s, the steam from the water will warm things up. Annabelle@KAF

  4. Sarah

    I use strands of Christmas lights! Wrapped around a thick bowl, or coiled into a “nest” for the bowl to sit it, even for final proof, I’ll wrap a strand around the outside of my bread pans. I have a small bakery in NH and I discovered this method while trying to keep my starter warm on the days when our ovens are off and it’s 50 degrees in the kitchen. It’s great! I prefer short strands for ease of untangling. They give off just their right amount of heat and you can easily adjust it as needed by how close you wrap the strand to your dough. And it looks like a party!

    Reply
  5. paul haden

    I use an ELECTRIC BLANKET…works well in the winter, and in the summer when my AC is running. the blanket holds a big batch, even multiple batches of dough !

    Reply
  6. Deborah Robinson

    I now have a fancy portable proofing drawer that I bought from KAF and it yields phenomenal results. But before I had that, my best success for a rising spot was to put the bowl inside the dishwasher after it had been run. The inside was warm and draft-free, as well as humid. Always yielded great results for me. (The trick was making sure nobody started piling dirty dishes in there while the dough was rising!)

    Reply
  7. Jenny

    I’ve had good results with my own version of the oven light method. The dough is placed in a clear pyrex bowl and covered with a dinner plate. Then I pour a little hot (not boiling) water on top of the plate to create extra humidity in the oven. Works like a charm. The hardest part is remembering I put water on the plate when I go to take the bowl out!

    Reply
  8. S. Rose

    What I use is a heat mat of the kind designed to sit under a terrarium – mine is 16W – and a heat mat controller, which incorporates a thermostat. I tape the mat to an inside wall of a picnic cooler and tape the sensor to the the other wall. Total cost excluding the cooler was $50 CAD. Cheapen that by using a low-wattage light bulb that you already have – the controller is designed for any 120V load. The charm of this solution is that I get a climate-controlled environment that stays within a 2F range with no fussing about. The ugly is that it cost $50 CAD and ties up my cooler. Homemade proofing chamber (without humidity control).

    I’d be interested in finding a solution that moderately chills a small space, but I’m unaware of a cheap technology for a “chill mat.” Anybody?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Wow, your warming setup sounds fantastic! As far as inexpensive cooling goes, there’s always Ye Olde Ice Pack, but that’s not the sort of thing you can control with any accuracy. Unfortunately, keeping things cool is just a trickier process than keeping them warm. Kat@KAF

    2. Judi

      You just made me remember that I bought a cooler once from a neighbor that plugs in and will keep food either hot or cold. I have never used it. It’s on a top shelf in a storage shed. I am going to get it out and see how low I can set the heat. Maybe it only plugs into the car cigarette lighter. Maybe it doesn’t have a plug for regular electricity, but I’m sure going to check!

  9. Denise Ryan

    I use the plastic package my bedspread came in when zipped it makes a box. I put a cup warmer with a cup of water.the warmer keeps water hot and makes a green house invirerment.

    Reply
  10. DIANE

    Well, here in WI where there’s only a few warm/humid months a year, most of the time I put my dough (covered of course!) to rise in the bathroom, which is the smallest and warmest room in the house. I turn on the shower for about 10 seconds and then put my dough bucket or bowl in there with the door closed. Works great.

    Reply

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