Just joined. After years of frustration baking dense, dull bread, I had a breakthrough recently and now am committed to getting better. Hope to learn a lot here.
Happy New Year to all.
I'm on the other side of the pond - way up north, but visit Chicago often. Great city. There are other Chicago folks here at TFL. You might be interested in their amateur bread baking group:
You are a newbie in the enviable position of starting nearly from scratch to learn bread baking. This skill can be learned slowly and steadily from experts at a school, where people go to become professionals. At such a place classes are taught with a combination of book learning from texts (NOT bread cookbooks; they're quite different) in combination with practical in-the-kitchen exercises. To get the essentials of baking under your belt takes a year if not more.
You can do something like this on your own at home if you learn the basics using a textbook, following it carefully from beginning to end doing the exercises as you go. I recommend DiMuzio's Bread Baking for starters. It's short, clear and concise, intended for beginners. You may be interested, as some are, in a more complete text such as Hamelman's Bread, which just came out in its second edition. When I started learning bread baking over 40 years ago I would have found Hamelman's far too complicated. Maybe you wouldn't. I strongly suggest that you stay away from ordinary bread cook books until you've worked your way through a text.
Whatever route you choose, remember this, the sooner you pick an expert and learn the basics from him/her, the sooner you'll be able to figure out whether comments written here at TFL make good sense or not. A text will do that for you.
In addition, so much of what you need to know comes from watching the choreography of dough manipulation. Take some time as soon as possible to watch all the videos you can find on this website. In that way, you'll know what's there so that when the time comes you can go back to it.
Finally, you might consider seeing if there's someone nearby who's got lots of bread baking experience who would let you watch him/her at work. Send in a note to TFL about where you live and make a connection. Baker's love to teach.
Welcome to TFL from a fellow Windy City girl! You're gona love it here. Take photos of your bakes and be sure to keep a baking journal. That way a year from now you'll be happily surprised at your progress. What kinds of bread are you baking and what was the breakthrough? Glad you came aboard.