Baking Tips

How to Proof Bread in a Chilly Kitchen 

From your oven to your . . . seedling mats? Check out how our bread baking experts outsmart the cold weather with these proofing hacks.

Published Feb. 27, 2023.

Bread baking essentially comes down to four steps.

  1. Make dough
  2. Proof dough in a warm spot
  3. Bake in oven
  4. Admire briefly and devour

Winter months can throw a wrench into the proofing process. You need a warm spot to let your dough rise. But everything is cold!

So how can you proof bread in a chilly kitchen?

I reached out to my fellow colleagues/bread aficionados to find out their winter bread-proofing tricks.

Sign up for the Notes from the Test Kitchen newsletter

Our favorite tips and recipes, enjoyed by 2 million+ subscribers!

1. Use Your Oven (Turned Off)

Cook’s Illustrated Deputy Food Editor Andrea Geary loves this method. Just be cautious with long bulk fermentation breads such as sourdough. “If you’re proofing sourdough in the oven, alternate the dough with a little time both in and out of the oven," she says.

ATK Reviews team Assistant Editor Sarah Sandler suggests a great tip: “Add a note for people saying there is dough in there or else they will preheat the oven and melt their plastic wrap and ruin their dough . . .

. . . not that Ive ever done that or anything.”

2. Use Your Microwave

Another great idea from Andrea: “Microwave a mug of water until it’s boiling, then put your dough in the microwave and close the door.” Note: Don’t turn on the microwave!


Bread Illustrated

Our first cookbook devoted solely to bread baking highlights more than 100 meticulously tested recipes that will enable you to bake artisan bakery–quality bread at home.

3. Use Your Radiator

Books team Deputy Food Editor Stephanie Pixley relies on her cat to find a warm spot

“I have radiators in my house, so if I want to speed things up a bit I put my bowl of dough on the radiator, but I find I need to insulate it a bit so I put it on a little kitchen towel pillow so the bottom doesn't get overheated," she says.

If youre looking for a warm spot and have a cat, look where they like to curl up on cold days!”

cat laying on a radiator next to a bowl of proofing dough
Stephanies cat sharing the radiator with her proofing bread.

4. Use a Cooler

Andrea has another tip that is similar to the microwave. “Treat your cooler like a warmer," she says. Place a bowl of hot water in your cooler next to your bowl of bread dough and keep it closed."

5. Use a . . . Seedling Mat?

This budget-friendly (yet very clever) hack comes from Test Cook Hannah Fenton:

“I actually used this technique when developing my kefir recipe last winter because my apartment was too cold. I placed a seedling mat in a container and covered it with a towel. The mat can be set to a specific temperature, which could certainly be applied to bread as well!”

This is a members' feature.