Makes 2 loaves.
2 cups warm water (warm, not hot)
1 packet yeast
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (approximately)
In a small bowl, place about 1/2 cup of the warm water, 1 teaspoon of the sugar, and the packet of yeast. Let it sit for about 10 minutes to activate...it will begin foaming a little.
In a large bowl combine salt, remaining sugar, remaining water, vegetable oil, and the yeast mixture. Add in 3 cups of the flour, and mix together with your hand, scraping the sides of bowl to incorporate all the flour. The mixture will be sticky, but will hold together somewhat. Cover the bowl with a tea towel, and let sit for about 20 minutes. *
After the 20 minutes, spread a little flour out on the counter. Pour the dough onto the floured counter. Add a cup of flour to the dough and knead for a few minutes. (Kneading is repeatedly pushing dough firmly away from you with the heals of your hands and then folding dough over on itself...pushing away, folding...pushing away, folding.) Add more flour a little at a time while continuing kneading until dough is smooth and pliable. (It may end up being a little less than or a little more than 5 cups total.) Place back in the bowl. Cover with tea towel, and set in a warm place for 30 to 45 minutes, or till approximately double in size.
Punch down risen dough. Divide into 2 equal parts. Form into loaves and place into 2 loaf pans. Brush top with oil (or place a little oil in your hand and gently rub across top of loaves). Cover with tea towel and let rise in a warm place for 30 to 45 minutes, or until it rises and fills pans. (Top photo above shows them ready to go in the oven.) Place in a preheated 350° F oven for 30 to 40 minutes until golden brown.
Lay a towel on the counter, and turn hot loaves out onto towel. Rub the tops of each loaf with a little butter. Try to resist slicing until the loaves have cooled somewhat. When completely cool, place in an air tight container or plastic bag.
*If raisin bread is desired, plumped raisins can be added to the dough after the initial 20 minutes of rest, before kneading and adding the final 2 cups of flour.