A number of people have expressed interest recently in my experience making bread. I’m happy to talk about it, but I also refer them to my posts here. There are enough of those posts now that I wind up rewriting the same little email about how to get started. Rather than writing the same email over and over, here is a slightly more polished version. [Added 30 July 2018: I have often said that baking bread is what has helped me survive the current political scene; here is a fleshed-out version of that thought, suggesting that it can also help you survive the on-line world that we are consumed by.]
If you are new to baking bread, or if you haven’t done it in some time, or if you haven’t made no-knead bread, or if you are not used to working with dough that is quite wet, or if you are having problems with your bread, or really in pretty much any other situation I would recommend that you start with this post. The recipe is very easy and very reliable and the equipment is minimal, so if you have yeast, flour, and salt you should be good to go. When I was starting out, there were a few places where I think it would have really helped me to have a video so I could know, “Should this really look like this?” So the post includes a few short videos for that purpose.
That bread is really good, and if you are happy with it, that’s great. It is possible to make significantly better bread at home, and if you want to move on, you should get a decent kitchen scale if you don’t already have one. You can do it for cheap, as detailed (probably excessively) here.
My go-to book for the next level up is Ken Forkish’s Flour Water Salt Yeast; my thoughts on it and other bread books can be found here. Forkish’s technique of folding the bread doesn’t take a lot more time, but there are more steps and after each one you need to let the dough sit, so that you do need to be around for an hour or two once you start mixing up the dough.
There is quite a bit of equipment you could get, but only a few essentials beyond the scale. My thoughts on that are here.
The other thing that Forkish got me started with is natural leavening (sourdough starter). My one criticism of his book is that I think he makes it more labor-intensive than it needs to be, so I have some simplified instructions here. Among other things, you do not need to feed your starter every day; you can stick it in the fridge and only pull it out every week or two. I have been very happy with the results. Again, it doesn’t take a lot more time but it does require additional planning, because you will start a day or two before you bake. If you have some starter but you’re not ready to plunge and actually bake with it, this post gives a quick how-to on feeding it every week or two so that it will not die while you are psyching yourself up to get started. And finally, here is a really great waffle (or pancake) recipe, made with starter that you would otherwise be throwing away.