One of the most common mistakes in learning to make a great loaf of bread is using too much flour in the dough. Too much flour causes the dough to be stiff and heavy, and makes the dough difficult to knead properly.
A second problem for first-timers is not kneading the dough long enough to create the soft, elastic-like texure which helps the dough rise evenly and within a reasonable amount of time.
What is a good Dough? Bread 101
The key here is to Know your Dough. It's important to learn the right feel and the right texture for the dough and how the dough should spring back when kneaded properly. It is also important to understand how the dough should look when finished and rising.
If the dough is developed properly - this soft dough, ready to rise, should look like this when rising in the pan.
A good dough should be soft and tacky (not sticky) and gluten should be well developed. A well developed dough should be stretchable (elastic) and soft but not sticky.
Tacky - dough should not be too sticky or too stiff. Dough that is tacky is good dough. Soft and pliable but not sticky. Tacky dough will adhere to your hands, but when pulled off, just a residue is left on the hand. Dough springs back when pressed.
Perfection: Tacky is where you want to be with your dough. A soft, well developed tacky dough will feel good, will rise well, will bake evenly, and the loaf will have a wonderful, soft consistency when cut.
Sticky - dough that is sticky will be too wet. Not sloppy wet, but wet enough that when handled, the dough sticks to your hand and leaves a good bit of dough when pulled off.
Causes: Too much liquid or not enough flour. Add additional flour 2 TBS or 1/4 cup at a time and continue to knead until the dough becomes tacky.
Problems: Dough will rise but will not have enough structure to maintain a nice, tall loaf. May fall during baking or after the loaf is pulled from the oven. May not bake all the way through.
Firm - a firm or very firm dough will be heavey, difficult to knead by hand, or if using a mixer, the flour and other ingredients don't mix well. The dough is not close to tacky and doesn't spring back when pressed or poked.
Causes: Too much flour or other dry ingredients. Add additional water or other liquid a TBS or 2 at a time and contineu to knead until the dough becomes tacky.
Problems: Dough will not rise well. Too much flour causes the dough to be too dense, which prevents the yeast from being able to create the gases and lift to allow the bread to rise well. Loaf will be dense, thick, heavy and crumbly when baked.
Again, get to know your dough so that when a recipe calls for a certain amount of water or flour and it turns out to be not quite right, you'll know how to adjust the dough to become tacky - not too stiff and not too soft or sticky.