Baking bread is both vexing and addictive. It requires a lot of patience. When I first started I received some wise counsel; Go Deep before you go wide. Find one basic bread recipe and bake it over and over again. You wil learn about the basic interactions of water, flour, salt and yeast. Your fingers will get very smart. They will be able to tell you when a dough is ready. Once you have mastered the basic recipe you will be better suited to experiment with the myriad breads that tempt us all. That said here are a couple of things that may be helpful. If you are kneading by hand, rather than in a stand mixer or bread machine, stick with All Purpose flour. The protein level in bread flour is too high to properly develop the gluten you need by hand. A properly kneaded basic dough should feel tacky not sticky, to quote Peter Reinhart. I think of tacky as the back of a Post-It note. The dough shouldn't stick to your hands but it should feel like it wants to. When in doubt, add more water. When I started I was terrified by "sticky" dough. I habitually added more flour to make the dough easy to handle. This lead to lots and lots of doorstops. The nice open crumb that good bread has comes from water. Most importantly, have fun. Don't frak out when your first few loaves don't quite work out. They probably won't. But they'll probably taste good. Here is the recipe I started with. White Loaves From Baking with Julia Contributing Baker Craig Kominiak Makes two 1 ¾ -pound loaves. These mountainous loaves bake to a generous four and a half inches high, providing a large-enough slice for the most Dagwoodian sandwich. This is a basic, have-it-on-hand-at-all-times white bread with a difference-it's got full, rounded flavor and a substantial texture; not your average sandwich loaf. And it makes great toast-the little bit of butter in the dough browns nicely under heat. Since the dough belongs to the direct-rise family, meaning there are no starters, sponges, or unusually long rest periods, you can mix a batch after breakfast and eat still-warm-from-the-oven bread for lunch. 2 ½ cups warm water (105°F to 115°F) 1 tablespoon active dry yeast 1 tablespoon sugar 7 cups (approximately) bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour 1 tablespoon salt ½ stick (2 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature Mixing and Kneading Pour 1/2 cup of the water into the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer, sprinkle in the yeast and sugar, and whisk to blend. Allow the mixture to rest until the yeast is creamy, about 5 minutes. Working in the mixer with the dough hook in place, add the remaining 2 cups water and about 31/2 cups flour to the yeast. Turn the mixer on and off a few times just to get the dough going without having the flour fly all over the counter and then, mixing on low speed, add 3 ½ cups more flour. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat, stopping to scrape down the bowl and hook as needed, until the dough comes together. (If the dough does not come together, add a bit more flour, a tablespoon at a time.) Add the salt and continue to beat and knead at medium speed for about 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. If you prefer, you can mix the dough in the machine for half that time and knead it by hand on a lightly floured surface for 8 to 10 minutes. When the dough is thoroughly mixed (return it to the mixer if necessary), add the butter, a tablespoon at a time, and beat until incorporated. Don't be disconcerted if your beautiful dough comes apart with the addition of butter-beating will bring it back together. First Rise Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and shape it into a ball. Place it in a large buttered or oiled bowl (one that can hold double the amount of dough). Turn the dough around to cover its entire surface with butter or oil, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and let the dough rest at room temperature until it doubles in bulk, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Shaping the Dough Butter two 81/2- by 41/2-inch loaf pans and set them aside. Deflate the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough in half and work with one piece at a time. Using the palms of your hands and fingertips, or a rolling pin, pat the dough into a large rectangle about 9 inches wide and 12 inches long, with a short side facing you. Starting at the top, fold the dough about two thirds of the way down the rectangle and then fold it again, so that the top edge meets the bottom edge. Seal the seam by pinching it. Turn the roll so that the seam is in the center of the roll, facing up, and turn the ends of the roll in just enough so that it will fit in a buttered loaf pan. Pinch the seams to seal, turn the loaf over so that the seams are on the bottom, and plump the loaf with your palms to get an even shape. Drop the loaf into the pan, seam side down, and repeat with the other piece of dough. Second Rise Cover the loaves with oiled plastic wrap, and allow them to rise in a warm place (about 80°F) until they double in size again, growing over the tops of the pans, about 45 minutes. While the loaves rise, center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F. Baking the Bread When the loaves are fully risen (poke your finger into the dough; the impression should remain), bake them for 35 to 45 minutes, or until they are honey-brown and an instant-read thermometer plunged into the center of the bread (turn a loaf out and plunge the thermometer through the bottom of the bread) measures 200°F. (If you like, 10 minutes or so before you think the loaves should come out, you can turn the loaves out of their pans and let them bake on the oven rack so they brown on the sides.) Remove the loaves from their pans as soon as they come from the oven and cool the breads on racks. These should not be cut until they are almost completely cool; just-warm is just right. Storing Once completely cool, the breads can be kept in a brown paper bag for a day or two. Once a loaf is sliced, turn it cut side down on the counter or a cutting board and cover with a kitchen towel. For longer storage, wrap the breads airtight and freeze for up to a month. Thaw, still wrapped, at room temperature.