Submit your breadmaking questions to chef and Merc instructor, Paige Vandegrift

January 27, 2010

This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.

Chef and Merc instructor Paige Vandegrift will answer your questions about making bread over lunch this Wednesday from 12:15 to 12:45. Submit your questions early!


Welcome chatters, and thanks for joining us, Paige. Here we go...first question:


In your opinion, what are the largest pitfalls to producing a well-risen loaf of yeast bread? My yeast is always fresh, and always active, yet I find that the loaves are slow to rise. One possible cause could be a general lack of patience I suffer from, so I might not be kneading the bread to the point I should. Or, perhaps I haven't found a warm and humid enough spot.
And no, please don't suggest buying a machine. I will never, ever, ever buy a bread machine. Humans have successfully baked bread thousands of years before bread machines were invented. I prefer to learn how to bake successfully without that crutch. But for everyone that likes bread machines, more "power" to you.

Paige Vandegrift:

Hi Spirit_level, Since your bread is dough is rising, you obviously aren't killing the yeast right out of the gate, but just to make sure, always make sure the the liquid you use to activate your yeast is around 110 to 115 degrees. You might not be kneading the dough long enough....8 to 10 minutes is a ballpark amount of time. A well kneaded batch of dough is elastic (springs back...feels "alive" in your hands) and slightly tacky. Dough rises best between 85 and 115 degrees, so try and find a spot in your kitchen that fits that description. After that, patience really is the key. I hope this helps!


every time i make bread in my bread machine it always has a certain 'taste'. no matter what ingredients. i use all fresh ingredients. I quit making bread in it because I got tired of the taste. but yet I can buy bread from Walmart and not get tired of it. How can Walmart make better bread than my homemade bread. many times my bread comes out a little course. I've experimented with all kinds of different recipes, ingredients, quantities...
any tips are appreciated.

Paige Vandegrift:

Hi Larry, I'm not sure about the "taste" associated with your bread machine...maybe it's sort of the way I feel about crockpots--everything comes out with a special crockpot taste--so I don't use one :)... I would encourage you to start making bread by hand! Learn how to knead (if you don't know how). There is something very satisfying about kneading and handling the dough. I do think that bread maching breads can be "coarse" and I'm not sure why. Find some simple recipes (there were some good ones in this mornings Journal World article) and practice making breads without the machine.


How do you make a loaf of bread that is real heavy, chewy, with a crispy outside crust ?

Paige Vandegrift:

Hi bobberboy! Generally loaves like that are made using old-world, artisanl methods.... With starters and natural yeasts. They also need hot, humid the professionals use. There is a recipe floating around the internet that was published in the NYTimes for a no-knead casserole bread. My sister-in-law makes it and it is very good--a chewy, crispy crust, with a nice porous interior. You should be able to find it by doing a google search. That would be the simplest place to start. After that, find a book on artisanal bread making. Nancy Silverton and Peter Reinhardt are a couple of names that come to mind. Good Luck!


Hi Paige,
My biggest bread making problem comes with the need to let the dough rise in a warm place. Define "warm". What is too hot or too cold? How can someone at home get the right temperature for a proper rise? And is there anyway to tell if the bread has risen too much?


This looks like the recipe Paige mentions (right, Paige?)

Paige Vandegrift:

Hi Whiney, A "warm" place is between 85 and 115 degrees. Inside a gas oven with a pilot light might be a good spot.... I turn on my electric oven just until the walls are warm to the touch and start rising doughs in there with the door ajar sometimes. You kind of have to get creative in your home environment...maybe on top of your refigerator...

As far as being risen too much, it depends on if it is before or after you have formed the final loaf. If it is just the first rise, it's pretty hard to let it go too far. It will collapse if it has. After the bread is formed it should double in size and when you press it lightly with your finger, the indentation should just remain--again, if you press it and it collapses, you've let it go to far. Knead it a bit and reform it, and try again.

Paige Vandegrift:

To the Moderator---yes, that looks like the no knead bread I was referring to.


Hi, Paige. I'm mostly interested in making pizza dough from scratch, but it's a lot of work for one crust. Can I double or quadruple a recipe, and if so, how long can I then refrigerate or freeze the dough?

Paige Vandegrift:

Hi Christy, Multiplying your recipe to produce more than one crust should work fine.

There are a couple of ways to handle your extra dough: You could form the crusts and bake them (on a grill or on your baking stone in a hot oven)—this goes very quickly, just a few minutes. Lay the rolled out crust on the hot stone or hot grill and when the surface appears dry and bubbles have formed, flip it over (the bottom should be browned in spots) and continue to cook until the second side is cooked. The crust should be pliable and just cooked—you don't want it to be crisp like a cracker or crisp crust at this point. Cool the precooked rounds on a wire rack. Wrap them in plastic and freeze them. Then when you want a pizza, just build it directly on the thawed, baked crust and bake it until the cheese is hot and bubbling.

Another method is to make your pizza dough through the first rise. Then after you punch it down, divide it into the number of crusts you plan to make. Form each portion of dough into a ball and wrap it in plastic or place it in a sandwich-sized ziplock bag and put it in the freezer (I would double bag it---putting several small bags of dough in a large freezer bag). Make sure you date it. You should use it within a month or two. To use it, pull the bag of dough out of the freezer, unwrap it and put it in a bowl. Cover it with plastic and let it thaw in the refrigerator—will take 12 to 24 hours. So, pull it the night or morning before you want to make a pizza. Once thawed, proceed exactly as you would have after you punched down the dough in the original recipe.

I wouldn't refrigerate the dough for longer than a day. So unless you're going to eat pizza two nights in a row, I would freeze it. I hope this helps!


Would love to find out how to make very low net carb (& low to zero sugar carbs) rolls that have a real roll taste & flaky texture

Paige Vandegrift:

Hi Lindad... I have no idea--I don't have any experience in that area. Sorry....


Do you use the same type of yeast for all bread baking? If not, could you discuss the types of yeast and how you decide which to use?

Paige Vandegrift:

Hi KuGrad, For most home bakers, "active dry yeast" is the type of yeast you would genreally use. It is used by dissolving it in warm water (110 to 115 deg). Some home bakers use "rapid rise yeast" which can be added directly to dry ingredients (it doesn't need to be dissolved). It causes doughs to rise very quickly and I'm not crazy about it because it shortcuts the process (the fermentation of the dough) that produces the flavor. There is a professional grade of yeast called "instant yeast" that does not need to be softened in liquid. I believe that it lacks the dough enhancers that are in "rapid rise"--so it isn't as fast acting. This "instant yeast" is the choice of professional bakers. Finally there is fresh yeast--it is not generally available and even if it is, is often not fresh or even still alive.


We make our own French Bread at home and it tastes great, but we can never seem to control the shape of it. Any suggestions on how we can contain it to be a nice, round loaf?

Paige Vandegrift:

Hi Supercowbellninja. I'm not sure without looking at your recipe, but make sure that you are kneading the dough sufficiently--this will create the elasticity necessary to "hold" the shape. Also, make sure you form a nice tight ball.


Ok, we have time for one last question... this one was asked in one form or another by several readers:


What is the difference between "bread" flour and "all purpose" flour?

Paige Vandegrift:

Hi KUND, Bread flour has more protien than all purpose flour. It is somtimes referred to as "strong" flour because the higher quantity of protien in the flour facilitates greater gluten development which is what gives yeast doughs get their strength. All purpose flour is just that "all purpose"--it can be used for breads or regular baked goods.


OK, that's all the time we have today. Thanks for joining us and thank you, Paige, for giving up part of your lunch break to answer our readers' questions about making bread — that was helpful!

If you haven't seen our story featuring Paige and other Lawrence-area breadmakers — including video tutorials from WheatFields' Thom Leonard — check that out at or


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