Beginner needs help with dough stickiness.
Four weeks ago I started baking bread at home, aiming to make French bread from a recipe in the Fannie Farmer's Cookbook, and Rustic bread using preferment from 2 recipes I found online (one of them was copied from this site, the one in your front page.)
At first I tried all 3 recipes starting the kneading in my KitchenAid mixer and ending it by hand, and I added flour to keep the dough from sticking to my hands. I used bread flour and proofed the yeast to make sure it was active, and I followed the instructions carefully, but the results were not good: the bread was too dense, it didn't rise in the oven, and the air bubbles were very small and uniform.
Then I found another recipe for rustic bread with preferment very similar to the others I had, which described the dough in the mixer as "clearing the sides but sticking to the bottom of the bowl". This made a dough too sticky to knead by hand, so I didn't. The bread (a round loaf) came out perfect, but not more than 3 inches high, because the dough is so fluid that after I shape it, while it rises for the last time it also spreads outwards.
I tried again all of my recipes with sticky dough, and all come out tasting the way they should and with the right texture and look, but they are all too flat (not much higher than unintended ciabattas). I figured that my first attempts failed because the dough didn't have enough water (I didn't add more flour than just the neccesary to keep the dough from sticking to my hands).
Can someone help me figure out what I'm doing wrong and how to make a great round loaf that rises to the height shown in the pictures (a good 5-6 inches)?