The proofing oven essentially combines a proofing cabinet with a convection oven in one compact footprint. That not only saves space in the kitchen, it also means the operator can quickly move dough from the proofer to the oven. For that convenience, this type of unit is sometimes known as a baking center.
The Importance of the Proofer
After dough has been mixed, allowed to rise, and then shaped, it needs to rest once more before baking. Proofing, or final fermentation, is the term for allowing the dough to rise once it has been shaped but before it is placed in the oven. This process needs to take place at a temperature of between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit and a relative humidity of 85 percent. Typically, the dough will double in size during this process. Failure to properly proof your dough can adversely impact the crumb, crust, and overall appearance of the finished product. That's why this process is so important to professional bakers.
Baking the Perfect Loaf
Once the dough comes out of the proofer, it is ready to go placed into the oven to bake. Moisture can be nearly as important to baking as it is to proofing; that's why many proofing ovens include a steam injection feature that slows the formation of the crust so that bread can rise to its full potential. Steam also provides the loaves with an even, golden crust by helping to caramelize the natural sugars on the bread's surface.
Another hallmark of a proofing oven is convection heating, which is simply the transfer of heat via hot air. Because the air circulates throughout the unit, you can bake multiple pans of bread at once, and each loaf gets baked as evenly as the next. The circulating can take some of the burden off of the operator as items don't have to be removed and rotated during the baking cycle.
Glass doors offer great visibility for merchandising, and they also allow cooks to see into the cabinet without opening it. When coupled with a lighted cabinet, this aids in inventory and product quality control. You might consider purchasing a unit that has field-reversible doors, which can be easily converted for left- or right-handed operation.
Controls, Capacity, and Automatic Features
- To create humidity, and steam in the models that include that feature, some of these have automatic water fill and drain capability, but some must be filled and emptied manually.
- A proofer oven can be set to automatically inject humidity into the chamber, either through a timer or when the humidity reaches a certain level. Individual controls monitor heat and humidity to provide precise control over the proofing and warming environments. Digital reminder timers and programmable controls are available options on some units. These simple-to-use controls ensure properly baked bread even in kitchens with inexperienced employees.
- Many have bake-and-hold capabilities that will switch to a lower temperature when baking is complete to keep bread at an appropriate serving temperature.
Decks or Racks
Like other ovens you'll find in the kitchen, you'll see some of these models with decks and others with racks. This makes a difference in how the heat is distributed, and your choice will depend on how you'll be using your oven.
- If you want to place your bread directly on the cooking surface, choose a deck oven, sometimes known as a hearth type oven. Instead of racks, these have large slabs of metal or stone to hold foods. These decks absorb heat and conduct it directly into baking items, providing a nice crispy crust. Many proofing ovens of this type allow you to control the temperature of each deck individually, so you can bake multiple types of bread in one batch.
- If you'll do most of your baking in pans, an oven with racks is a better choice. Racks can be adjusted to accommodate different sized products, and their perforated design allows convected air to circulate freely for even heating.