The proofing stage of bread is one of the most important as it will dictate the shape of your final baked bread. When you don’t have a loaf tin or a proofing basket to hand, you might wonder what else you can use in the kitchen.
Can you proof bread in a plastic bowl?
Proofing bread in any round bowl large enough will work. The key is to line the bowl with a floured kitchen towel so that the dough does not stick to the bowl. It can then rise easily and be turned out onto a baking sheet.
Let’s take a look at the best bowl you can use and the steps needed to make it work.
How To Proof Bread In A Bowl
Everyone has some sort of bowl in the kitchen, whether that be a plastic mixing bowl, pyrex dish, or a colander. What we will end up with is a “boule”, or round-shaped bread – this is a classic rustic bread shape. For the following sections, I will assume you have a white bread dough that you’ve kneaded or folded and allowed it to rise until doubled or tripled in size. You are now ready to shape it and proof it in your kitchen bowl. You will need a round bowl, a clean kitchen towel, and some flour.
To shape bread for a bowl, place your dough on a lightly floured surface and cup into a round ball. Let it rest for 10 minutes so it’s easier to stretch and fold on the next steps. Take all the edges of the dough and fold into the middle so you are left with a smooth side and a side with seams. When you place it into your proofing bowl, the downside is the top of the bread. If it goes in smooth side down then you will need to score it to allow it to open up when rising. Going seam side down and it has some natural breaks in it so you don’t need to score it. Useful if you don’t have a very sharp knife.
Place In The Bowl
Use the most suitable bowl you can find – mixing bowls or colanders work well. There is a section on the best bowl below. The bowl needs to be lined with a clean kitchen towel. To prevent sticking, dust heavily with flour or you can use a mixture of half bread flour with rice flour for even less sticking. It is useful to build some surface tension on the dough by cupping it and spinning it a few times on a worktop.
You should proof the dough in the bowl until it has increased in volume to around double the size it was when you were kneading it. This might take an hour in a warm kitchen, or longer if in a cold environment. You can tell it is ready when a floured finger poked into the dough leaves a slight indent that slowly springs back. A fast spring back means it needs a little longer. No spring back means the dough has over-proofed.
Preheat the oven to 450F/230C. Remember that you don’t want to bake the bread in the bowl it proofed in. We need to turn out the bread onto a sheet pan/baking tray or a dutch oven. Tip the dough out on the sheet so you have a dome shape. Smooth over a little flour and take a very sharp knife or razor blade to score the top. This allows it to rise in the oven evenly. Another tip for a good rise is to add some steam at the early stages – a pan filled with boiling water when you add the bread achieves this. Bake for 30-35 minutes until the bottom sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack. Remember to cool the bread properly after baking so the crumb is set. Read my guide bread cooling guide for the best slice.
Best Bowl For Proofing Bread
Bread usually has two rises; the initial rise, then a degassing and shaping, and then a proofing stage before baking. The initial rise can be done in any bowl or tub which can be covered. I use a circular tub with a lid for ease.
The proof is then different because this rising phase prepares the shape of the final baked bread. In that regard, it’s best to pick a bowl that doesn’t fan out too wide. We want the bread to rise upwards rather than spreading outwards. That way we get a nice tall loaf. The bowl also needs to accommodate the increase in the volume of the dough as it rises. So make sure it’s large enough to at least double in size.
There are a number of things in the kitchen you can use:
- Glass/Pyrex mixing bowl
- Plastic bowl
- Round casserole dish
How To Stop Dough Sticking?
This can be a real problem. Especially with dough that has more water in, which is wetter, and stickier. It might be best to decrease the hydration of the dough – probably no more than 70% water to flour in weight.
The first step is to use flour on the cloth. The stickiness comes from gluten (when flour meets water). So sometimes just adding more flour means more stickiness. A trick is to use 50/50 standard flour and rice flour if you can get hold of some rice flour. (Or make your own with raw rice). The rice flour is less sticky when wet because it doesn’t form gluten.
If you make the surface of the dough have more tension, this allows the dough to holds itself together better. When shaping, ensure to build tension by rolling it, or dragging it along the worktop. There are lots of videos and articles on how to do this.
What Are Better Proofing Tools?
It pays to have the right tools for the job. Using the towel and bowl will get you by for now, but if you want to make really great bread consistently then you need to get some equipment. All this stuff is really cheap now online, and you can pick up packages of all the bread-making equipment.
The usual proofing tools would be either:
- proofing basket
- banneton (see on Amazon)
What Is A Proofing Basket?
This is a wicker or cane basket that is traditional for the artisan baker. The wicker baskets are lined with cloth and the cane baskets can be lined with cloth or be used without. Without a cloth and it is called a “banneton”, which produces an appealing swirling pattern from the circular cane. It can pull moisture from the dough, which results in a surface that is easy to score before baking. I have a full guide on bannetons including which sizes to buy for different types of bread – very worth a read.
So you can now see how easy it is to use a kitchen bowl for your bread. While it will work, and you might have some challenges, it will get you over the finish line. I’ve made some great bread using this method, and still do when I’m away from home and don’t have the right equipment.
The best though is to get yourself a banneton. You won’t look back and they are a great tool for bread baking that will last a long time.