Homemade White Bread
Place the yeast into a large bowl. Add two cups of warm water to get the yeast activated. How warm? I use tap water. It's the right temperature when it's hot enough to start hurting my finger ( around 105 degrees F).
Stir the water and yeast together with a spoon once to make sure the yeast doesn't stick to the bottom of the bowl. Now walk away for 10 minutes. When you come back, there should be a scum or bubbles on the top of the water. If you're unsure, watch the video, it shows you what it should look like.
Next, add the salt. Give it a stir.
Now, start adding flour, one cup at a time. Stir it in with the water, making sure it all gets wet. The consistency will change from pancake batter to a thick gloopy mess, until finally it gets too hard to stir with a big spoon. It should still be pretty wet and sticky at this stage.
It's time to get your hands in there. Put flour on your hands, and start mixing in extra flour with your fingers. Squeeze the dough as you add more flour. Once it isn't really sticky, start kneading. You can do all of this in the bowl. To knead the dough, press it down with the heel of your hand so that it lies flat on the bottom of the bowl. Next, fold it over on itself. Push that down with your hands, adding a bit of flour as you go. Keep doing this folding and flattening until the dough isn't sticky anymore.
Now you should be able to pick up the dough with your hands, and it hangs together. Start molding it into a ball. It should start to feel smooth and silky. It is often a bit warm and pliable, but won't fall apart if you hold it up, allowing gravity to tug on it. The video can help you see what this stage should look like. But relax, you've done the hardest part already!
The First Rise
Now it's time for the first rise to begin. Take the dough ball out of the bowl. Scrape out any of the flour in the bowl, dump it. Now add a tablespoon of vegetable oil to the bowl and grease the bowl. This is to prevent the dough from sticking to the sides. Now put the dough back in. Cover with a damp towel. The first rise has begun!
Allow the dough to rise for an hour until it has doubled in size. How long this takes depends on the temperature of your kitchen. If it's cold, the first rise may take 90 minutes.
Once the dough has doubled in size, it needs to be punched down. So take your fist and slam it into the bread so that it deflates. For the past hour the yeast has been eating the flour, and belching out carbon dioxide. Now you're letting that gas escape. Pick up the bread and knead it with your fingers for a minute or two, just like you did before. Press down, fold over, press down again. After two minutes of this, shape it into a ball.
The Second Rise
Now, grease a bread pan with one tablespoon of oil, and place the dough ball inside. Cover it with a damp towel. This is the start of the second rise. Go away for an hour, or until the dough has crested the pan, and looks like the right size. This is still dependent on your kitchen's temperature.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Baking the Dough
For a good crust, place a pan into the oven filled with water. Let this sit on the bottom rack. When the oven is at the right temperature, take the towel off the bread gently. Place the bread pan and dough into the oven on the middle rack. It may get taller, so don't let it be too close to the broiler coils or the top of the oven.
Close the door, and let it bake for 30 minutes. It is done when the top is a golden brown and it sounds hollow if you knock on it.
Let the bread cool for at least ten minutes before you take it out of the pan. It will rip if you try to pull it out right away. You don't want to ruin your masterpiece.
If you have never done this before, I highly recommend watching the video so you can see what each stage should look like. Get the basics right, and you'll be making this bread for years.