Anyone who has had a go at making bread will know how it is difficult to get it right. I have been making bread for 10 or so years now and am still surprised at the way every time it turns out different.
Early on in my bread making life my loaves turned out pretty solid muchof the time, OK for toasting but a bit too 'wholesome' for sandwiches. As time as gone on my loaves have progressed from solid bricks to light and airy, though not so light an airy that they are like eating fluff or soggy pulp like much of the mass produced bread. As an added bonus I don't add any salt to my loaves so they are great for people watching their sodium intake.
Anyway, here a few of the things I have found which make the bread turn out good,
1) 12g of dried yeast to about 500g of flour seems a good proportion.
2) 15g of sugar in about 400 ml of water. The water should be hand hot, that is; so hot it stings but doesn't scald.
The resulting dough should be quite wet but not so wet that it leaves milky pools of water on the table top when you take it out to knead.
Kneading is important. Without it the gluten strands in the bread will not be sufficiently bound together to hold the CO2 produced by the yeast and your bread will turn out flat or solid. When I first started it took 10 minutes of kneading to get the dough to the right state, now my technique has improved I can get away with 8 minutes.
You will know when the dough is done because it will be starting to turn sticky, rather like bubble gum, rather than claggy. It will also be smooth and be able to be drawn out without 'snapping'.
The rising time for the first rising I make about 1 hour - when the dough will have bloomed to 2 or three times its original size.
Knocking back and a second kneading are also important. The second kneading should be slighly more gentle, but it is required to ensure the strength of the dough. The first hour of the rising is when the yeast goes at it hammer and tongue and the resulting inflated dough ends up weak and unable to support itself very well. Without a good second kneading the dough will be weak and readily collapse when you put the loaf in the oven. Don't be afraid of knocking all the CO2 out, the yeast will produce plenty more in the next 45 minutes.
The second rising will re-inflate the dough and the structure will be much more robust since it willl have been inflated more slowly. This is when you can put the risen dough into the oven - for my 500g loaf that is about half hour at 200C.
Although much of bread making is kind of a look and feel thing, I think that following the tips above should result a successful loaf (almost) every time.