* Flour should be stored in an airtight container in a cool area. It will keep for about a year or much longer if it is stored in the refrigerator or freezer. Old flour will not smell bad, but it will lose its ability to provide good structure to the bread.
For bread baking, I prefer either bread flour (an unbleached, high-gluten flour ) or unbleached all-purpose flour. Both produce a nicely textured bread. (Bleached flour has weaker proteins than unbleached flour, so the texture of bread made with it is unremarkable.)
* Breads made with whole-wheat flour, which contains the bran and the germ, are very healthful but can be somewhat bitter and compact. A small amount of whole-wheat flour goes a long way in bringing out the flavor of the wheat without compromising texture.
* If you have a recipe that calls for active dry yeast, replace each teaspoon with 3/4 teaspoon of instant yeast.
* Add salt after the yeast is mixed into the flour. Avoid direct contact between the salt and yeast.
* If you are kneading the dough by hand, use a scraper to move the dough and add only as much extra flour as absolutely necessary. During kneading, the dough becomes less sticky on its own.
* When shaping the dough, use additional flour for dusting only if the bread sticks to the counter.
If there is not a warm area in the house to let the bread rise, place the shaped loaf along with a cup of hot tap water in a microwave (NOT turned on) or cover it with a large container. Change the water every 30 minutes. This maintains a warm, moist environment.
* A baking stone (or quarry tiles) is ideal for evenly distributing and retaining the oven's heat and produces the best rise.
* Keep the oven door closed during the first 15 minutes of baking.
* If the crust is getting too brown before the inside is baked, tent it loosely with foil.
* Bread continues to "bake" during cooling. For the best texture, allow the bread to cool completely or until just warm before cutting into it.
-- Rose Levy Beranbaum