This isn't something I can take the credit for. It's the missus. She's been trying to make decent homemade bread on and off for over a year, but just recently she's cracked it.
When she first started trying to make bread at home we were going through a bit of a farmhouse kitchen phase. We were even making butter from scratch. Which, by the way, is fairly easy and gives you some buttermilk as a by-product which you can use to make some tasty pancakes.
The first efforts were not a success. Small, dense loaves which refused to rise, regardless of the state of the dough. Thankfully she didn't force it on me so I could still enjoy stodgy white supermarket bread - as we all know, this makes the best toast.
However, we have plenty of time on our hands at the minute as we're out of work and the extra impetus of saving some money prompted a second go at making bread at home.
The key is strong bread flour. Previous attempts with normal flour were total flops. But the first go with strong bread flour produced a properly risen, recognisable loaf. Further tweaks to the technique mean that she now bakes a near perfect loaf of 'farmhouse white'. It bulges over the side of the bread tin before it's even gone in the oven.
To achieve perfection she first warms the flour. It's a Delia suggestion, and that can't be questioned. In fact, everything needs to be warm, including your kitchen. Cold kitchens do not make for good bread.
The only thing that doesn't need to be warm is the oven. That needs to be hot. About as hot as you can get it, and then work backwards from there. 230 degrees Celsius in our oven made the crust a touch overdone. 220 degrees seems to be much more like it.
At first I was reluctant to shift from supermarket bread. But now she's cracked how to make it at home I'm converted. Which is good, considering how much bread I'm eating at the moment. I don't think I've ate so much cheese on toast since I was a student. But it's a cheap and satisfying lunch option so I'm stuck with it for the moment. At least making bread at home means we're paying about 45p for a loaf, rather than £1 or more at a supermarket.
Update - 16.11.11
Well, things have gone full circle and the student is now the master. I have assumed pretty much all bread making duties. Baker's fingers, apparently. We've been really enjoying baking and eating half and half loaves. Half white flour and half wholemeal or rye. It feels a bit healthier and the flavour which rye flour adds is really nice, satisfying and nutty. There's nothing quite like the first slice cut from a still warm loaf, slathered in butter. That alone is worth the effort.