Yield: one 1 1/2 pound loaf
Combine the water, oil, sugar, and 1/2 cup of flour in a mixing bowl. Stir in the yeast. Leave it to sit for 15 minutes as the yeast blooms. If desired, the batter can be left to sit for a couple of hours, allowing more yeasty flavors to develop. The batter should foam and possibly form bubbles. If it doesn't, your water might have been too hot and killed the yeast, or the yeast packet was a dud.
Meanwhile, combine the salt and the remaining flour. Add this to the batter and mix with the paddle attachment until it forms a dough. Cover and let rest for 20-30 minutes, allowing the flour to fully hydrate. With the mixer set on low (speed 2 if you've got a bowl lift KitchenAid like me), knead with the dough hook attachment until soft and slightly tacky (~8 min). Sprinkle a bit of flour onto the dough if it's too sticky. The finished dough should spring back into shape when poked. Pinching off a walnut-sized ball of dough, stretch it between your thumbs and forefingers to form a thin membrane without tearing (windowpane method). If you can do this, it means there's sufficient gluten formation in the dough, and you can stop kneading.
Move the dough into a lightly oiled bowl, turning to coat so that the top doesn't dry out (a dried top inhibits rising). Cover the bowl with oiled plastic wrap.
Now, there are several methods for proofing bread dough, a warm (somewhere in the 78-85degF range) and moist environment being key. I recently discovered this one and love it. Using the microwave, heat a cup of water in a glass measuring cup until it starts to bubble (~2 min). Move the cup into the corner of the microwave to make room for your bowl. Close the door and leave it rise for 1-2 hrs (until doubled in size). Check for ripeness by sticking two fingers into the dough up to the second knuckle. If the holes remain, the dough is ready.
Gently push your fist into the center of the dough. If the dough seemed sticky when you tested for ripeness, oil your fist before doing this. Pull the edges of the dough to the center and turn out onto a lightly floured board. Let it rest for 15 minutes, covering with the bowl.
Lightly grease an 8 1/2" loaf pan. Knead the dough gently two or three times to release any additional air bubbles. Shape it into an 8" loaf. Place it into the loaf pan and cover with the oiled plastic wrap again. Warm the cup of water in the microwave again and place the loaf pan in the microwave for the second rise.
When the dough crowns the pan by approximately 1/2" (~60 min), preheat the oven to 400degF with a pan of water on the bottom rack. When lightly pressed on the side, the indentation in the dough should remain, indicating it's ready for baking.
Bake uncovered for 30 minutes or until the bread sounds hollow when tapped. If the bread is browning too quickly, tent with aluminum foil. Remove from pan and cool on a rack.
*This bread can be made entirely with all-purpose flour. The loaf pictured above has 1 cup white wheat flour and 2 1/4 cups all-purpose. I prefer the nuttier taste the white wheat gives and have used as much as 50% white wheat in this recipe. I haven't tried it with 100% white wheat, but that might require the addition of vital wheat gluten to ensure a soft bread.