Get deep enough into bread baking and you'll eventually run into one of the biggest home baking X-factors: temperature control. Pro bakers have special proofing cupboards to keep the environmental temperature steady while doughs and starters do their thing. We home bakers make do with warm ovens, radiators, and all other manner of improvised set-ups. This new small-sized, folding proofer from Brød & Taylor helps bridge the gap. I admit that I was skeptical about this proofer. I am an avid baker and take great pride in turning out authentic artisan breads. That said, a warm oven has always worked just fine for me when it comes to proofing my loaves. Sure, I might sigh wistfully when I see the proofing cabinets at professional bread bakeries, but I never really felt like I needed one.
Well, chalk this up to a tool that I didn't know I wanted until I had it. We keep our house fairly cool during the fall and winter, and I've found myself whipping out this proofer at least twice a week. It's much easier and more reliable than warming the oven, plus my oven is then free for me to do other cooking (a boon in these busy pre-holiday weeks).
In its folded storage stage, the proofer is about the size of a slim briefcase. I keep it tucked between my prep table and the counter. To use it, the lid snaps up and off, then the sides unfold and tuck into molded grooves. Set the wire tray in the bottom, put the lid back on, and the machine is ready to start pre-heating. It is large enough to hold several loaf pans, my biggest mixing bowl, or two proofing baskets.
The entire bottom of the proofer is a metal heating surface. The wire tray lifts the bowl or pans away from direct contact with the heat source and allows for even air flow on all sides. The bottom is insulated so it is safe to leave it on a counter or table for extended periods; I checked several times and neither the bottom of the proofer nor the surface of the table were be anything more than warm.
The proofer works by cycling the heat on and off. The temperature does fluctuate a bit since it's not a perfectly sealed environment, though I never found it to be off by more than a degree or two. The actual energy usage depends on the temperature off your kitchen and the desired temperature of the proofer (the greater the difference, the greater the energy usage), but in general, the proofer uses about one cent of electricity an hour. The proofer's temperature range is 70°F-120°F.Here's the kicker that made me really fall in love with this tool. You can use it for more than just bread proofing. I've used it to incubate the yeast for my homebrews and to make yogurt overnight. When I told a pastry chef friend about the proofer, she got extremely excited about being able to temper chocolate and quickly soften big bricks of butter.
There's one catch. While the proofer is extremely effective at warming and holding that temperature, it doesn't cool. That means the proofer is great during the winter if my house is at 68° and I want to proof the bread at 80°. But conversely, if my house is 90° during the summer and I want to proof the bread at 72°, it can't create a cooler environment. A rep from the company explained that outfitting a tool like this with cooling ability is much trickier and more expensive than giving it a heating element. However, the company is hoping to address the possibility in future models.
While I wouldn't consider this proofer a "necessary" baking tool by any means, it certainly is a fun one to have. It's one step closer to being able to make professional-quality breads at home.
• Find It! Folding Proofer, $148 from Brød & TaylorRelated: Product Review: SousVide Supreme
Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. However, the manufacturer did give us the product for testing and review purposes.
(Images: Emma Christensen)