So, here are some things I've learned along the way:
1) Just because the recipe says you need a certain amount of flour doesn't mean you won't need more. Lots of things can affect how much flour your recipe will need, namely the humidity. If your dough is sticky before it's time to knead the dough, you need more flour. Add it in small increments and let it incorporate before you add more.
2) You may be under-kneading your dough. I think this was my main problem. Your arms should probably feel tired and you should be kneading it by hand for about 10 minutes or so. If you are using a dough hook on a stand mixer, you'll probably need to let it go for 6-8 minutes.
3) You might need to increase the speed of your mixer while kneading the dough. I found I was always erring on the side of low speed and finally heeded a recipe's instruction (imagine that, a recipe might know best!) and increased the speed to medium. It made a world of difference.
4) Baking time isn't always the best indicator that your bread is done. You might need to take your bread's temperature! Who knew? If your bread's internal temperature is 190-200 degrees, you are good to go.
5) If your bread isn't slicing nicely and is clumping together when putting the knife through it, you probably need to let it cool more! You don't want to hear this, I know, it's nearly impossible to let the bread cool. Just see my picture below, I couldn't wait but a little over an hour and my slicing results weren't great. For the rest of the loaf, I waited another hour and it looked great and was easy to slice.
But who doesn't want warm bread? If your aim is to have nice slices for sandwiches though, you're going to have to have some patience. It can take two hours, sometimes three for your loaf to cool entirely. You'll be surprised how much easier it is to slice. Trust me.
Now I'm not suggesting you don't hack off an end immediately to eat, I'm just saying if you have other purposes for this bread in mind, patience will pay off.
I heeded all of these points and had the most successful loaf to date.
I hope you get brave and experiment too. Be warned, your family may start rejecting store bought bread. There have been a few notes in The Boss's lunch box saying "she said she doesn't like this bread" on days I used some other kind of bread. I can't blame her one bit.
This recipe made a really nice sandwich bread with a relatively thin crust. Sometimes homemade bread has a really thick crust that kids (and some adults) are not to fond of. While I'm the type that likes as many grains you can pack into a bread, a few others in the house like a less hearty approach. This one kept everyone in this house happy, and naturally, that's my goal!
Light Wheat Bread
The Bread Bakers Apprentice ( a book referenced by one of many online cooking blogs I frequent)
Makes one two-pound loaf
2 1/2 cups unbleached high-gluten or bread flour (I just used all purpose flour)
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar or honey
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons powdered milk
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons shortening or unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups water, at room temperature
Stir together the high-gluten flour, whole-wheat flour, sugar (if using), salt, powdered milk, and yeast in a 4-quart mixing bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer). Add the shortening, honey if you are using it, and water. Mix on low speed with the paddle attachment until the ingredients form a ball. If there is still flour in the bottom of the bowl, dribble in additional water. The dough should feel soft and supple.
Sprinkle high-gluten or whole-wheat flour on the counter, and transfer the dough to the counter, and begin kneading or you can mix it on medium speed with the dough hook. Add more flour if needed to make a firm, supple dough that is slightly tacky but not sticky. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
Ferment at room temperature for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.
Remove the dough from the bowl and press it by hand into a rectangle about 3/4 inch thick, 6 inches wide, and 8 to 10 inches long. Form it into a loaf by working from the short side of the dough, rolling up the length of the dough one section at a time, pinching the crease with each rotation to strengthen the surface tension. Pinch the final seam closed with the back edge of your hand or with your thumbs. Place the loaf in a lightly oiled 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 inch bread pan; the ends of the loaf should touch the ends of the pan to ensure an even rise. Mist the top with spray oil (I just brushed mine with some soft butter) and loosely cover with plastic wrap.
Proof at room temperature for approximately 90 minutes (mine was risen in 60 minutes so definitely check it after 60 minutes).
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with the oven rack on the middle shelf.
Place the bread pan on a sheet pan and bake for 30 minutes. Rotate the pan 180 degrees for even baking and continue baking for 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the oven. The finished loaf should register 190 degrees in the center, be golden brown on the top and the sides, and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
When the bread is finished baking, remove it immediately from the loaf pan and cool it on a rack for at least 1 hour, preferably 2 hours before slicing or serving.