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My first tip: start with good yeast! If your yeast is old or dead, your bread is going nowhere fast. I store my yeast in the fridge at all times, and that helps to keep it fresh. Dissolve the yeast in warm water with a little pinch of sugar. If it isn’t bubbly and foamy within about ten minutes, ditch it and start again with fresh yeast.
Once your yeast is bubbly, you’ll add just a few more basic ingredients to form the dough. I’ve found over time that my favorite bread recipes are those with the simplest ingredients!
The key at this point is to not add too much flour. It definitely helps to add the flour a little at a time. I like to add a little over half of the flour at first, then add the remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time, until the dough reaches the right consistency. It’s easy to add more flour, but pretty much impossible to correct when you’ve added too much. You’ll want a dough that’s smooth and slightly tacky to the touch, but not overly sticky, and that can be easily rolled into a ball.
You’ll let the dough rise for an hour, then divide it into two equal size balls. I’m neurotic, so I always use a kitchen scale to make sure they’re the same size, but you can definitely just eyeball it!
Roll each ball of dough out into a long rectangle about eight inches wide, then roll up into a cylinder starting at the short edge. I’ve found that rolling the dough up this way really helps with the texture and shape of the finished loaves.
Place the loaves seam side down into two bread pans, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise again for about an hour.
The dough is ready to bake when it has puffed up over the side of the pan about 1/2 – 1 inch.
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