Last winter, I was testing bread recipes — lots and lots of bread recipes — while working on the manuscript for King Arthur’s forthcoming bread cookbook (coming fall 2024!). While my colleagues in the Test Kitchen were producing lofty loaves of Seeded Sourdough and Japanese Milk Bread, my sluggish doughs took hours to rise in my home kitchen and my breads baked up squat. 

I asked my colleague: How warm is it in the Test Kitchen, where eight ovens are almost always on? A balmy 75°F. By contrast, my kitchen was a put-on-another-sweater 63°F. It was obvious why my loaves weren’t turning out well: My kitchen was too cold for the dough to thrive.  

Proofed bread dough, with lots of bubbles, in a bowl Maurizio Leo
Beautiful bread begins with happy dough.

Temperature is one of the most critical elements of the bread-making process, because it has such a direct impact on fermentation. Not only do we want our dough to be at the optimal temperature (75°F to 78°F) after it’s mixed, but we also want to maintain that temperature throughout the process, from mixing through bulk fermentation and right up until the loaf goes into the oven. It’s what makes the difference between a great loaf and a so-so one. And it’s an element that can be manipulated by the baker, by adjusting the temperature of the water you use for the mix (warmer in cold months, cooler in warm), and/or by warming up (or cooling down) the environment in which your dough is fermenting. 

I don’t own a bread proofer (yet), though it’s an investment I’ll probably make soon if I plan to make bread as often as I have this last year. And I don’t have the paper-thin Raisenne Dough Proofer either, though a strong case can be made for this super thin mat, what we call “an electric blanket for bread.” But I do have a dryer. 

Dough proofing in dryer Photography and food styling by Liz Neily
A dryer is a warm, cozy, draft-free spot for proofing bread dough.

Yes, reader, that’s right: I’ve been bulk fermenting my doughs in my dryer. And guess what? It works great. After looking around my house for a “warm, draft-free spot,” as so many recipes recommend, I found the ultimate cozy nest for my rising dough. First, I “preheat” the dryer for about 10 minutes. In reality, what I typically try to do is time my dough to a load of laundry (it’s called multitasking!) so I’m not heating the dryer exclusively for my dough; I’m just taking advantage of its residual heat. When the dryer is warm, I open the door and plunk my bowl of covered dough right inside, nesting it in some warm, dry clothes (note that clothing is optional; you can remove it before you add your dough), and shut the dryer door, trapping the heat within. 

That cozy bread cave stays warm for quite a while, and inside my doughs rise beautifully — and much more quickly than in my cold kitchen. It’s warm in there, but not too warm; I don’t have to worry about the dough fermenting too quickly. 

Of course, I’m not the first to repurpose a household appliance for better bread. I know people swear by proofing their doughs in the dishwasher (another draft-free spot) or the microwave (with a cup of boiling water alongside). And while I was sheepish to admit this hack to my colleague and bread expert Martin Philip, even he gave it the green light: “Whether in the dryer, the microwave, the dishwasher, or on your counter, the ambient conditions of the dough during fermentation will make or break your final loaf. I’m not opposed to the dryer! Whatever it takes to guide fermentation.” 

If you live somewhere cool — or simply struggle with sluggish dough — give the dryer trick a spin! 

Wondering if your bread is ready to bake? Check out this blog, How to tell if bread dough has risen enough.

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About Jessica Battilana

Jessica Battilana is the Staff Editor at King Arthur Baking Company and an award-winning writer, recipe developer, and ardent supporter of eating dessert every day. She is the author of Repertoire: All The Recipes You Need and coauthor of eight other cookbooks, including Tartine Book 3 with Chad Rob...
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