Dough to me is like riding a bicycle, once you have mastered the technique - doesn't matter how long it has been since you made it. I used to purchase books on making bread and struggled with how to do it, but I figured out a simple formula for making dough that works consistently.
First off, I take any recipe and I proof my yeast. What this means is that you want to make sure that what you need to help make the dough rise IS going to make the dough rise. No heating the milk in the pan, then this, then that stuff. I put my milk and sugar into a glass measuring cup and place them in the microwave to get the milk warm. The reason I always put the sugar in with the milk is that the yeast needs food to grow and the sugar is just that - the food. This also allows for the warming of the milk to help dissolve the sugar in my mind. I take the milk out and if for some reason I have overheated the milk, I let it rest until when I stick my small finger into it - it is warm. It is ONLY at this time that I put in my yeast - generally 2 1/2 tsp equals one packet in my world. A little more, a little less isn't going to kill anyone.
I whisk the mixture together to incorporate it and I walk away for a couple minutes. A watched pot never boils. After a couple minutes when I come around again, I should have a foam beginning to build on the top of my milk mixture. This means we are ready to go on the rest. If you do not have this, you need new yeast.
My next step with anything I am making is that I put all of the ingredients MINUS the flour into the bowl. THEN I add the flour, BUT ONLY 3/4 of the flour the recipe calls for - NO MORE. I place the dough hook onto my mixer and turn it on low to medium depending on what I am making. Then, I watch. You want to begin to see that the mixture is coming together. Patience here my friend, don't try to rush it along by putting it on high. Be thankful that you aren't having to do this by hand. Grab a cocktail and take a sip while you let the mixer do the work for you. After about a minute, maybe two you will see it forming together - creating a mass so to speak.
Look into the bottom of the bowl at this point and see if it is sticking. If it is, take 1/4 to 1/2 cup flour and put it in the bowl. Watch again until this flour gets incorporated fully. Look into the bottom of your bowl again for sticking, or is it coming clean? If not, add that scant amount of flour again and repeat.
Once you see that it is no longer sticking to the bottom of the bowl, let the dough hook do its' work for another minute or two then turn it off.
NOTE: The amount of flour you use today will vary from the amount of flour you use in two months, where you live or what brand you use. Getting to know this method will be the key to your success in making dough
Remove the dough hook and the bowl from the mixer. I remove the dough from the bowl and butter the inside of the bowl, then roll the dough around to get it buttered on all sides. I cover the bowl and place into an oven. I then set the oven to 200 degrees and set my timer for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes I turn the oven off and set the timer for one hour.
After that hour, I remove the dough from the cozy oven it has been rising in. I then place it into the desired form I need and allow it to rise for another 30 minutes until I am ready to bake it off.
I will include my grandmother's bread recipe here for you to try. Please try it out and let me know. Front to end, this usually takes me about ten minutes of actual work time as long as I have all my ingredients laid out (mise en place) and ready to go.
Another suggestion, I always, always, always (did I say always?) use a whisk to sift my flour for any recipe. This means taking your whisk and plunging it into the flour and moving it around to lighten it and incorporate air. This means you don't over flour your recipe. You can always add more, but trying to fix a dense or heavy recipe is not easy.
My grandmother's bread recipe
5 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar (1/2 cup for sweet rolls & breads)
2 tsp. salt
5 tsp. yeast
1 cup water
1 cup milk (regular or buttermilk)
1/2 cup unsalted butter or margerine
1 egg, beaten
For loaves - Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30-45 minutes. Start checking at 30 minutes. Remove from oven, let sit in pans for five minutes, then remove and place on wire rack to cool.