First, there is no such thing as a “dumb” question. If you have a question, feel free to send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org I may not know the answer, but I’ll do my best to find out.
All you need to make bread are a large bowl, a measuring cup, a set of measuring spoons, some wheat flour, salt, and some water. You’ll also need something to bake the bread in, but it doesn’t have to be a bread pan. I often use an oven proof ceramic soup bowl, or a dutch oven. And you’ll need a crock to hold your sourdough starter — though a large empty mayonnaise jar with a small hole punched in the lid works just as well. Chances are good that you already have everything you need in your kitchen.
Making bread is not difficult, though one can get very scientific about it and figure out why it works, the science of bread is totally unnecessary to succeed in making a wonderful loaf of bread. People have been making bread successfully for at least 8,000 years. The only thing that’s changed is how we learn to make bread. For thousands of years infants watched, and children helped their mothers make bread. Children knew how to plant and harvest grains, how to grind the grain into meal, how to mix the meal with liquids, how to build the fire or use a wood oven, and how to bake the bread. Learning such things were part of every child’s life — until about 150 years ago…. I’m old, and my mother never made bread. Neither did my grandmother. I taught myself, and I’m still learning. Fortunately we no longer have to do our own planting, harvesting, or grinding – though, since we live on a farm, I’ve done all of those tasks once. Once was enough! All of those things are hard labor. But making the bread — to me that’s pure pleasure!
Keep your fingernails short and well manicured. Getting bread dough under your fingernails is extremely uncomfortable, and tends to make it very hard to mix or knead the bread. (I usually mix my bread with my hands, just because I like the feel of it.)
Some breads need to rise twice. Always lightly oil the pan in which the bread will rise and cover it tightly. I often just cover it with a larger bowl. Plastic wrap works well too. Other people use a small, transparent shower cap.
Unless you are baking on a slab of rock or tile, you’ll need to lightly oil the pan in which you back your bread.
Baking bread requires a very hot oven. Most breads also like steam in the oven. It’s easy to know when your oven is hot enough while simultaneously providing lots of steam. Before you turn your oven on, place a pan full of water (at least 3 inches deep) in the very bottom of the oven, and turn the oven on to the designated temperature. When the oven is full of steam, it’s hot enough to bake bread.