Step 1: Preliminary thoughts
Baking bread means more to me, than just preparing something to eat. As soon as you smell the bread baking in the oven, you know what i mean. Last year, i baked twice a week, give or take.
Most of the time, i prepare a "poolish" preferment Friday morning or around lunch time. At night, before i go to bed i add the remaining ingredients, and let it knead by my bread maker. The next morning, i preheat the oven, then maybe go to bed again until the oven reaches the temperature. This way, even a full time employed guy like me can do it without interfering with my other hobbies, or money gathering activities (like working ;-).
Many people tell me they tried to bake bread, after reading a recipe. Then their bread turns out dense like a stone. It's really not that hard to bake bread with a yeast leavened dough, if you have a basic knowledge.
1. Yeast works in a temperature range from about 5 to 35 deg. C or 41 to 95 deg. F. (At the lower end, the activity is almost stopped and it works very slow but you can raise the temp. to speed it up. At the upper end, it works very fast, but if you overshoot this temp. you could kill your yeast.)
Professional bakers normally try to reach a dough temp. of around 28 C or 83 F after kneading. (The temp. is reached by adjusting the water temp., the temp. of the flour can change from seasonal storage temperatures. Kneading causes friction and heats up the dough some more.)
This may sound awfully complicated, but if you take tepid water, all will be ok. (If you don't have 200lb of flour to knead, your bowl temp. has more impact on the rising time.)
2. Yeast doesn't like fats or salt. But then, i don't like bread without salt. The yeast tolerates some salt, but i wouldn't add it to a preferment. If you make a dough with lots of fat, add it after you mixed the flour, yeast and water or milk. Take more yeast.(As directed on the yeast pack will be enough.) Normally, i only take a quarter or even less than the amount suggested on the yeast package. But i give it more time to work.
After you master the white wheat flour bread, making whole wheat and breads with other grains are easy to adapt. I would suggest you use 25-50% white wheat flour in any of these breads. This makes sure, you get a good rise.
If you use coarsly milled or crushed grains or other dry, hard ingredients, you need to soak them. With the following method, you can soak them in the preferment.