Making bread is a lot different from making most things. There's not much to it, but the process does take a lot of time. It's probably better to make bread when you have something else to do, too.
To give you an idea of what I mean, this was what happened as I made bread tonight:
-I mixed the yeast in with the sugar and water to prime. Then I went to go get laundry.
-I mixed the dough, kneaded it, and covered it for the first rise. Then I made dinner for tonight.
-I cut the dough in half, kneaded it a bit more, and covered it for the final rise. Then I ate dinner, cleaned up a bit, folded laundry, and put laundry away.
-I put the two loaves into the oven, and then went and wrote the first chunk of Basic Bread: part one.
-Finally, I pulled the bread out of the oven, took pictures, and finished part one.
As I mentioned in Part One, the basic science involves yeast reproducing in a pile of dough, which is made of flour and water, yeast, and whatever else you feel like adding in. Sourdough, which is a good traditional way of making bread, starts with something called sourdough starter (or a "mother"), which is basically a container of a flour and water mixture, with active yeast growing in the mix. The basic sourdough recipe calls for flour, water, a little bit of salt, and some sourdough starter. (which, again, is basically just flour and water, with live yeast growing in it.) Kneading the dough helps form gluten, which is the elastic substance that allows bread to rise, as it swells up due to the gases produced internally.
After that, it gets covered, and left alone for about 20 minutes, for its initial rise. Put more simply, you give the yeast time to reproduce within the dough. One yeast cell splits into 2 yeast cells, into 4, and so on. The three main products of this reproductive process are carbon dioxide (CO2), alcohol, and more yeast cells. In bread, there's not enough alcohol produced to notice, and it bakes off anyway when the bread goes into the oven. But as the yeast cells multiply in an exponential fashion, and each of them is giving off more and more CO2, the dough begins to grow larger, resulting in gas pockets like these ones, which were produced during the initial 20 minute rise of tonight's loaves.
After the initial rise, the dough is cut in half (for 2 loaves) and then each lump is kneaded a little bit more, before being shaped into a ball, or loaf-shaped lump. The dough gets covered again, and left to rise for a certain amount of time, usually specified in the recipe. Some recipes call for the dough to sit in the refrigerator for a few hours, to help slow the process down and bring out more flavor. Other breads are given an hour or two for the final rise, before going into the oven.
Keep the yeast warm and fed, and it will do what it does in its own time. All you have to do is wait.