1. Use the minimum amount of yeast possible.
Now I use 2T of yeast instead of 2T + 2 t for two loaves. I have been known to fudge up the amount of yeast to try to speed things along. Now I stick with 2 T.
2. Knead as little as possible.
I now knead for just 6 to 8 minutes. I also add as much flour as I can before kneading. I used to add about 5 1/2 cups flour and then another cup or more at the end to form the ball. Now I add 6 or more cups before kneading (as much as I can without making the mixer knock or the motor strain) and then add just a bit more flour at the end to form the dough ball.
3. A slow rise is better.
I used to often put my dough in a warm oven to speed along the first and/ or second rises. Rushing the rising process, which I was often guilty of (see above), is not a good idea.
4. To form the dough into a loaf/ log, flatten dough into 5" by 8" rectangle, then start at one end and roll up into a log.
Pinch the end to seal it and place pinched end down in your greased loaf pan. This is also how Cook's Illustrated thinks you should form a loaf. I'd discounted this method before thinking it wouldn't make much difference, or would result in more air pockets and problems. I'm not sure why I thought I was smarter than Cook's Illustrated, but I definitely knew I wasn't smarter than Peter Reinhart and Cook's Illustrated, so I finally tried forming my loaves this way. I used to just sort of stretch and roll a ball of dough into a log shaped.
I'm excited to try some of the actual recipes in Reinhart's book! Incidentally, I checked out from the library (more than once) Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads. It is a serious tome. The introductory chapters were long intimidating and I could never quite make my way through them. This slim beauty is much more user-friendly and I think once I get the knack of the recipes, this technique will replace my current method of making artisan bread (based on the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day books).
Note that I have added these changes and updates to my last bread recipe post as well.
My Favorite Cookbooks
Top 10 Reasons to Make Your Own Bread
100% Whole Wheat Honey Bread (Recipe Update)
Lazy Person's Guide to Homemade Bread (bread machine recipe)
Healthy Homemade Snack: Whole Grain "Cookies"
Friday Night Pizza