It really doesn't take long at all. The entire process takes hours but that is just the proving. The actual handling is probably only 10-15mins, it's just a matter of working out the right proving temperature and how it should look at each stage. These are not really things that a recipe can tell you, it's about feel and that only comes with practice. You will have disasters and there will be little bread like rocks that will make you want to give up. That has all happened to me but it is the only way to learn. Figure out what you did wrong and don't do it again.
For some reason people think that making bread is something that is out of touch. Maybe that is because it is something that we see probably every day, we buy it without thinking that someone, somewhere made it. It could have been made in mass quantities in a factory or from an artisan's bakery, but we think that it is so specialized that it is not something that we can make at home in our kitchens. You can make it, and you will make the kind of bread that is at the top end of the market, something that would normally cost five or so dollars a loaf to buy. That's the funny thing about making things at home, you save stacks of money but you also end up with a far superior product than what you would probably normally buy. AND... you get the smell of baking bread wafting through your house!
I don't use a recipe anymore, I just go by feel but here is a recipe to start with, and, it is again one of those base recipes. Practice with this one, get it right and then start to experiment with it. Add flavourings, use different flours, add seeds, etc, whatever you want.
30gms fresh yeast
625ml tepid water
1kg bread (or strong) flour
mix yeast and sugar into water. Add salt to flour and then mix in the yeast water. Get it to stick together a bit and then tip in onto a floured surface and start to knead it to get a nice moist dough. You will need to add a little more flour or water to get it right.
Put dough back into bowl and cover with a tea towel, place in a nice warm place until it doubles in size. Then tip out and knead for a few minutes. Now you can shape the dough into whatever shapes you want or put into loaf tins to about half full. Again prove until doubled in size. Cook in a very hot oven (as hot as your oven will go) until brown and hallow sounding when knocked on with a fist, about 15-20mins depending on size of loaves.
Ok, so that is the method, now if you want to save yourself some learning mistakes, read my tips below.... these are the things that I have learnt over my bread making time and they are important!
* Your water needs to be tepid, this means body temperature. If it is too hot you will kill your yeast and it won't rise at it should. If not warm enough the yeast will not activate.
* Use bread or strong flour, not ordinary plain flour and not what they call bread mix with bread "improver". I don't know what this is but it is not necessary and I don't see the point of making your own bread if you are going to just add artificial ingredients. I also make a point of buying unbleached flour.
*When you first make the dough the recipe amounts will need adjusting as all flours are different, so don't just think that your dough seems too dry or wet without doing anything about it, trust yourself and add what you need until you think that it is a nice dough consistency.
*Proving is very important....you need to find a nice warm place to allow this to happen. I sit it on my wood fire top in winter and in warmer seasons outside on the balcony in the sun. Failing either of these the other option is to put your oven on the lowest setting.
*Patience! If your dough hasn't doubled in size then forget about touching it...leave it until it has. Depending on your proving temp. this will take varying amounts of time but it will happen if it's warm enough.
*Your oven has to be up to temperature before you cook, this is tricky if proving your dough in the oven. If so, take your bread out once it have proved enough, put in the warmest place you can and get the oven up to the highest setting asap. If you are proving elsewhere turn on the oven when you go to prove for the second time, this way it is ready to go when your dough is.
*Be careful with the dough at the final proving, if you bump it the air can be knocked out and you will end up with a deflated flat bread loaf! This can also happen if you over prove...there is too much air and it will start to collapse.
*Cook until nice and dark brown, don't aim for the pasty white loaf look that comes sliced in a plastic bag!
*I think that it is best to start with making loaves in a tin, it is easier for some reason, after you have that sorted, start to play with free form shapes if you like.
So...I know this all sounds complex but like I said the trick is in learning the feel and look and I can't teach you that from here...practice, practice, practice! Don't be disheartened and trust me, the rewards are worth the effort!