I spent many years making really terrible bread. It was very dense, and the crust was tough. About all it was good for was French Toast or bread pudding.
Finally, I was able to figure out what made bread work. I cobbled together recipes and methods until I found one that worked for me. The best part of it is that the formula is based on the amount of liquid used to make one loaf, so I can cut it into fractions for smaller amounts or multiply it for more. It does depend on measuring the yeast with a teaspoon, but one packet of yeast equals approximately 2-1/4 teaspoons, so you can figure it out. Really, if you use only half a jar of yeast before it stops working, you've spent about as much money as buying packets for that many loaves.
Dough for One Loaf of White Bread
1 C milk
1 tsp yeast
2 Tb sugar
1 Tb butter
3+ C flour
1 tsp salt
1. Warm milk, sugar, and butter to 100º (you can use the microwave). The butter does not need to melt. Stir in yeast and let sit until slightly foamy, 10 min. (If it doesn't foam, the yeast is dead. Don't use it.)
2. In stand mixer with paddle attachment, combine milk mixture and 1 C flour. Beat for 2 minutes into a batter.
3. Add 1 C flour and the salt. Beat again for 2 minutes into a very thick batter. Turn on oven for about 3 minutes, then turn it off. Leave door shut.
4. Coat kneading surface with 1/4 C flour. Pour dough onto flour and sprinkle top with another 1/4 C or so of flour. Knead mass carefully at first, since it will be runny. Add as little flour as possible during the kneading process*. When dough sticks together as you fold it and the seam disappears easily, it is ready. Approx 5-10 minutes. Grease a bowl lightly with oil and place dough ball in it. Turn to coat all sides. This will keep the dough from drying out. Place in oven, which should be about 90º-100º, for one hour to let the dough rise.
5. When dough has doubled, remove from oven and punch down. You literally punch your fist into the middle of the bowl to deflate the dough, then pull in the sides. Allow dough to rest for 10 minutes, during which you can warm the oven back up a little if it's too cool.
6. Shape dough into however you want to make it and place on a greased pan: loaf, round free-standing loaf, dinner rolls, focaccia, etc. Place back in oven to rise another 45 minutes.
7. Remove from oven and turn oven on to 400º. Before baking, you may want to brush bread with melted butter for that butter-top flavor. Bake for 25-30 minutes for a loaf, less time if you divide the dough into portions. Cool on wire racks.
Start by containing the dough into something resembling a ball. It helps to flour your hands first. Using the heel of your hand, push the dough away from you with a rolling motion. Flip the part you just pushed back onto the dough. Give it a quarter turn. Repeat the process, adding a little flour whenever the dough becomes too sticky to handle. The dough should never feel solid. There should always be a soft and silky feeling to it.
Difficulty rating :)