I have kind of amazed myself. I am off to a good start with one of my New Year's goals. I baked my own bread! To be honest, I don't know what has kept me from baking bread. It wasn't nearly as difficult as I had thought. Plus, it's so amazingly delicious, warm from the oven with butter or jelly. Seriously, it's like candy. I started out with a simple white bread. I figure it's good to master the classics first and then venture into something more complex and fancy.
I'd be lying if I didn't say that I feel like I'm cheating when I eat white bread. I know all the health benefits to 100% whole wheat bread and I grew up pretty much only eating wheat, but there's something amazing about white bread. First of all, I love the taste, it has a more pure and decadent flavor than whole wheat. And, in my opinion, it is the only bread to use for a grilled cheese or a blt. Plus, it's such a treat!
American Sandwhich Bread.
A little note about yeast: I know that yeast can seem intimidating, but it's really not as picky or complicated as it may seem. I like Michael Rulman's take on yeast, it took my fear out of using it. Here are my tips. You want to make sure you have fresh yeast and that the water/milk that you use is warm, about body temperature or a bit warmer. So, if you feel the water with your wrist, it shouldn't feel hot, just warm, almost like you can't tell the difference between your body temperature and the water temperature.
Once the yeast is mixed with the warm water, it will start to 'bloom' or get foamy. That's how you know the yeast is still active and it will do it's job. (a little sugar or honey will also aid in the 'blooming' of the yeast)
A little note about kneading: If you don't have a stand mixer, you can totally hand knead this dough. It will take about 7-10 minutes of solid kneading, but you want to make sure the dough is smooth and elastic or the texture will be too dense and it won't rise properly. This video is an amazing tutorial on how to knead bread.