Proof the yeast by putting the yeast in the 1 cup of warm water. Check the temperature of the water first by checking it with a thermometer. I use a candy thermometer. Hotter than 110º, you will kill the yeast. Lower than 105º and the yeast doesn't grow much. You want the yeast to be nice and bubbly, so let it sit for about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, measure the salt in a mixing bowl. I like ceramic; the dough doesn't rise enough for me in a metal mixing bowl (it seems to be too cold).
Add flour. Add yeast mixture and enough water to mix so that all the flour sticks together.
Knead for 10-12 minutes on a floured surface, by hand, turning and folding well. When dough is ready it will be elastic-y and will not stick to the counter much.
Pull all sides of the dough into the center, making a big ball. This stretches the gluten and makes a higher loaf. Put the dough in the bowl with the smooth side on top.
Put back in bowl to rise with damp cloth over the top for 1 hour.
Take dough out of the bowl, and flatten it to about 2 inches tall. Separate dough with dough cutter into 4 equal parts for 4 rounds, or 8 parts for longer loaves (or a combination).
Take each section and pull the edges into the middle all the way around to make a ball. This stretching is important; you will see some bubbles pop. Put the smooth side up as you set each ball on the counter. Cover all the sections with the damp cloth and let sit for 10 minutes.
Wash your bowl.
Spray 2 cookie sheets with Pam; I use airbake sheets.
Shape loaves: Flatten loaves again to about 1 inch thick (just flatten---do not stretch the dough out, just flatten it). Fold one side of the circle of dough to the almost the other side so you have a smile. Then flatten again. Fold both sides in, overlapping, so that the dough is folded in thirds. Flatten again.
For round loaves, pull edges in to the center like before, working all the way around the dough. Grab dough together at center to make a "foot" so that the loaf is sticking together. Turn dough over and gently "round" so that the middle is not sunken.
Put loaves on the cookie sheets to rise again.
(For long loaves, instead of pulling the edges to the center (after folding), you will roll and stretch the loaf to be as long as you would like.)
Cover loaves on the cookie sheets with the damp cloth and let rise about 40 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat oven to 400º so that it is ready to go at the end of the second rising.
Put a pan (I use the broiler pan) of water on the bottom shelf. This will steam the bread and give it a nice crust.
When second rising is done, take a serrated knife and quickly and lightly slash the loaves.
This helps the loaves rise more in the oven.
If the loaves deflate when you slash them, they rose too long on the second rising. They will still cook, but watch next time so that you will get a higher loaf.
If you have an egg, you can mix an egg with a little water and lightly brush the loaves all over using a pastry brush with the egg wash. If you do not have an egg, the crust will be less crunchy, but will still be tasty.
Put loaves in the oven and cook until a nice browned top is there. Better to have them a little darker than you think they should be, or they will be doughy.
Take loaves out of the oven. After a couple minutes, turn loaves over on the cookie sheets so the bottoms can dry (or else they stay wet on bottom, even after an hour).
I buy all of the ingredients to make this (except for the water) at Sam's Club, in bulk. The bread flour comes in a 25lb bag. The yeast comes in 2 1lb bags, and is much cheaper than buying tiny yeast packets. The Kosher salt comes in a 3lb box and is half the price of buying it anywhere else. This entire recipe costs me around $1 to make, which means that each loaf is 25 cents.