I got into bread baking the way I got into most of my hobbies — it started with a book. Specifically, the Tartine Bread Book, with its luscious photos. But I was too scared to bake Tartine bread, it seemed too complicated, so I started with the easiest bread, no-knead bread. Here’s a great demo of the technique, and all the proportions are fine, but this will produce a fairly boring-tasting bread. Why not liven it up and swap out some (or all!) of the water with beer? Or add olives? Or beer, gruyere, leeks, and pancetta? At first I baked these in a $25 stoneware pot from CostCo. Then in a multi-hundred-buck Le Creuset dutch oven. Then in a $50 cast iron combo cooker. The last one worked best!
Finally I worked up the nerve to go full on and develop my own sourdough starter. I started with a Tartine 50/50 (half AP flour, half wheat flour) starter, and had mixed success. I turned to the magic box of the internet which knows all things, and found Francis-Olive’s incredible blog, and her surefire rye starter method. Wow. That was a life changer.
In fact it was such a life changer that I went crazy and had a bunch of different starters going at once, and was baking two and three times a week, two or four loaves at a time, and even a hardcore bread lover who gets super into making fresh butter and fresh jam to go along with the fresh bread can only eat so much!
Finally I had to consider killing my starters just to stop myself from going insane. I had long believe that my starters were somehow capturing some kind of magical yeasty terroir — sourdough chez moi! But I figured I could always resuscitate it. Happily, one of my favorite baking blogs, Joe Pastry, recently settled my mind on the issue, with a few posts that reassured me that I wasn’t losing a special treasure.
So after all of that, if somebody is new to baking and asks me where to start, I’d suggest one of the first two methods — they yield manageable amounts of bread with manageable amounts of effort, and you can figure out pretty quickly whether the results are worth it to you — either consistently or on an occasional basis.