|Certainly not my prettiest loaf, but it's left the house smelling lovely.|
The idea that bread requires a lot of really exact measurement is kind of a myth. I'm rather slapdash about measuring my ingredients. I'm sure my results would be a lot more consistent if I measured things more carefully, but as it is I've never come out with anything that wasn't bread. Just make sure you have enough yeast and your dough has the right consistency, and it'll be fine.
Basic Bread Recipe
inspired by Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day
3 cups warm (not hot!) water
1 1/2 T yeast
1 1/2 T salt
Enough flour to make the dough tacky
Put the water in a large mixing bowl, add in the yeast and leave it alone for a minute or two to "wake-up" (it'll start to make the water sort of foamy). Add in the salt, and stir it together.
Slowly add in the flour, a cup or so at a time, stirring well between each addition. When it gets to hard to mix with a utensil, dust your hands with flour and knead the dough together. Keep adding flour until it gets the correct consistency (tacky, see below).
When the dough looks right, loosely cover with a tea towel or something else that will let the dough breathe and leave it alone for a few hours (until the dough rises completely and collapses, you'll know it's done when the top is flat).
When you're ready to bake: grab a ball of dough and form it into a loaf. Set it on a cookie sheet sprinkled with cornmeal (to keep the bread from sticking), and let it rest for about half an hour. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450°.
Sprinkle the loaf with flour, or brush with water or oil and use a sharp knife to cut a 1/4" deep slit down the center of the loaf (this creates a vent that lets the gasses escape easily). Put the loaf in the oven, and throw 3 or 4 ice cubes onto the oven floor (this creates a bit of steam and helps give the bread a good crust). Bake for 30 minutes or so, or until the crust looks really good.
Remove from oven, and let the bread cool on a wire rack.
I know that sounds like a lot of steps, but it's all really easy. And don't be afraid of making mistakes. I've only made two loaves of bread that were truly terrible. The first one was because I thought making a loaf of bread with a filling of onions, cinnamon, and brown sugar would be a good idea. The second was because I didn't have enough yeast, and I substituted most of the flour for oatmeal... before allowing the dough to over-ferment.
tacky: when you touch the surface of the dough, it feels like the sticky part of a post-it note.