Do you find it hard to judge when your bulk proof is done? Well, you’re not alone, but the good news is I’m here to show you a system that I’ve developed which guarantees consistent results no matter what the conditions are in your kitchen. All you need are a few simple pieces of equipment that you can buy online or at your local store.

What you’ll need

  • 2 x 1.65L pyrex lunchboxes
  • Masking tape
  • Black pen
  • 2B pencil
  • Strip thermometer

The keystone of my system is Pyrex’s round food container. You’ll need one of these for every loaf you want to bake. If you’re like me and you like to make two loaves during a bake, then you’ll need two containers. Even if you only bake one loaf, I recommend having at least two of these containers – one for your loaf, and one on standby.

For our purposes, you’ll want the 1.65L capacity container, which is roughly the diameter of a small dinner plate. By adjusting our recipe to fit the size of the container, it can comfortably double in height without overflowing or getting stuck on the lid. If a standard loaf is roughly a kilo in size, then my recipe is just over three-quarters of that, coming in at around 800g.

Environment plays a bigger part in molding a smaller loaf, and ambient temperature becomes more important. That’s why it’s useful to have a thermometer on standby. I like to have a strip thermometer that can either be placed on top of the container while proofing, or – if it is adhesive – it can be stuck onto the side of your container.

The Pyrex container has other benefits too. It’s sides are clear and straight, which means that you can easily see changes in the height of your dough, and that those changes translate directly to increases in volume, which is key to achieving consistency in your bulk proof. There’s no need to use other fancy methods to track volume changes. In fact, I like to think of my container as a huge, in-situ aliquot jar.

Pyrex also has square containers, but I prefer the round shape here because there’s no need to coax your dough out of sharp corners every time you go to do another set of stretches. All this, and it comes with its own lid – perfect for stacking and for keeping out moisture when resting the dough for long periods of time.

Tracking volume

This handy container is rendered useless if you can’t accurately track the change in height of your dough. And that’s where the masking tape and pencil come in. Cut off a piece of masking tape about 10cm in length and carefully attach it to the side of your container, running from top to bottom.

Get a measuring cup and dispense half a litre of water into the container and mark the top of the water with your pen and the volume of water used. Continue to add water and mark the level until you’ve filled up the whole container. Now you have an accurate set of markings for your container.

To those markings, add one at 4cm from the bottom, and another at 8cm. Respectively, these indicate the start and end volume of your dough. To measure these accurately, put your container near the edge of a level tabletop, and place your ruler such that the ‘0’ marker lines up with the surface of your table.

The perfect recipe

Now, if you make sure that the weight of your dough is roughly 800g, or follow my included recipe, you’ll be on your way to sourdough proofing magic. You can mix your dough, autolyse and proof, all in the one container. You will know that your dough is perfectly proofed when it looks puffy and jiggly, and has just started to reach the top marker that we set earlier.

You know what else is great about this system? The masking tape lets you write notes and it will stay on between washes. I often mix up two different doughs in the same bake, so it’s a really handy way to remind me which is which.

And that’s all there is to it. Check out my French Country Bread, the perfect way to try out this system.

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