What most bread recipes assume you already know
Water should be between 105° - 115° F. If it’s colder it won’t wake up the yeast, anything hotter kills the yeast. When starting bread making it’s best to use a digital thermometer the first few times until you feel comfortable with guessing the temperature of the water. If you must guess, always guess on the cool side. When a bread recipe says to use warm water or milk, assume the temperature should be between 105-115 F (there are exceptions to this rule but generally they are for complex recipes that will state the reason for using very cold water in the recipe).
When to stop kneading
Whether kneading by hand or using a KitchenAid mixer or Bosch, it can be tricky to know if your dough has been kneaded enough. Most recipes state to knead until you can form a smooth ball but what it actual means is to knead until enough gluten has been formed. A simple trick is called the “windowpane test.” Cut off a small piece of dough, then gently pull, stretch and turn the dough to see if you can create a thin translucent “windowpane” in the dough. If your dough quickly tears, then keep kneading until you can create this window pane.
Allow the dough to rise in a warm place
If your home is a little cold, turn your oven on for 2 minutes, then turn it off. Place your dough in an oiled bowl, cover with a damp towel, and place in the oven to rise. The moist towel will keep the dough from drying out. If it is summer time, then the dough rising in a bowl on the counter will be just fine. A warm environment will allow for an average rise time of about one hour for the dough to double in volume. If your home in the winter is cooler, the dough will still rise on the counter- it will just take longer.
Rise Time are flexible
When following a bread recipe, you don’t have to rearrange your schedule to be home at the exact time the bread is supposed to be done rising. Most dough can be refrigerated while they rise which will slow down the process. Use this method if it is more convenient for your schedule (for example: make the dough in the evening and allow it to rise in the fridge overnight. Bake your bread the following morning).
There are different yeasts
The two most common yeasts are instant and active. There is also bread machine yeast and rapid rise yeast. These two are an instant yeast that may include ascorbic acid and other dough conditioners. Less rising time is required, allowing home bakers to bake a loaf of bread fairly quickly. For those avoiding all forms of MSG, dry active yeast is best.
To convert recipes calling for instant yeast to active dry yeast: for 1 tsp.instant yeast, use 1 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast To convert recipes calling for active dry yeast to instant yeast: for 1 tsp. active dry yeast, use 3/4 tsp. instant yeast.
Ingredients are interchangeable
If a recipe calls for buttermilk or milk, water can be used as a replacement (buttermilk and milk will give better results but water can also be used with good results).
If a recipe calls for molasses, honey can be used as a replacement.
If a recipe calls for all purpose flour, up to 50% can be replace with whole wheat flour.
If a recipe calls for butter, oil can be used as a replacement (butter will give more flavor but oil can be used if needed).
A great resource for learning more about bread making is Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread.