I followed the directions in JOY of Cooking for White Bread to the letter -- even took temperatures of water I put the yeast in. And I got flat, ugly loaves. The dough wasn't holding together from the start... Any thoughts about where I went wrong?
those are indeed ugly loaves! possibly your yeast was tired or expired?
Did you proof the yeast to see if it was accurate? What kind of flour did you use?
What do the ingredient amounts in your recipe say? It should be 1 cup water and 6 to 6 1/2 cups flour. There was an error in the first printing of the 2006 edition that was subsequently fixed in the third printing. If you do have the corrected version of the recipe, it should work (we've tested it). If you have an early printing, check out the errata on the Joy of Cooking website. We're so sorry it didn't work out, whatever the reason!
Here's a link to the errata. It hasn't been completely updated, but this is a good start: http://www.thejoykitchen.com/sites/default/files/errata16.pdf
Was it warm enough in the kitchen? Did the bread rise as it should have? If it isn't kneaded long enough, the gluten will not develop and even tho the yeast is ok, the bread will be flat. If the yeast dies because of some untoward event or is tired, the bread will not rise. But homemad bread after you make it a dozen or so times is the easiest thing in the world and makes your kitchen smell like heaven. Because few people make it at home, your family and friends will be amazed! My mom, the original Tiger Mom, baked bread at least twice a week all during my childhood... alas, I am not a bread baking Tiger Mom... there was a time when the kids were small and I was home more that I made two great loaves about once a week. One was Martha Rose shulman's New Mixed grain Bread and the other was Judith Olney's heavily adapted recipe for two Raisin Loaves from one batch of bread dough. My kids are still nostalgic, maybe I should get out my mixing bowl this weekend. Thanks for asking your question and being brave enough to venture into yeast bread.