This question has been asked a lot lately, so perhaps a short post on that topic is in order.
Bread can most certainly be made(successfully, even!) without a stand mixer. I’ve done it that way quite a lot, especially when I’m making four loaves at a time. My mixer isn’t really large enough to accommodate four loaves worth of dough, and so I find it to be really annoying to try to use the it for large quantities.
You’ll need to change two things when you’re doing this by hand instead of in the mixer:
1) You need to use slightly cooler liquids and dissolve the yeast in those liquids.
Most of the recipes I post instruct you to combine the dry ingredients and then add hot liquids that are about 120 degrees. If you’re mixing by hand, you’ll only want the liquids to be 100-110 degrees. You should take a bit of the warm liquid(1/4 cup or so) and dissolve the yeast in that liquid first, and then you can proceed with the recipe.
For instance, if you were making the french bread by hand, you would dissolve the yeast in a bit of the water and then add it to the dry ingredients along with the rest of the warm water.
2) You need to knead the dough longer by hand.
I mostly use the mixer to shorten the kneading time…the mixer stretches the gluten, which means that you don’t need to work so hard at developing it by hand. So, unless you have an incredibly powerful mixing arm, hand mixed dough will need a longer kneading time.
To check if the dough has been sufficiently kneaded, give it a quick poke with one finger. If the indentation bounces back quickly, you’re done kneading. If it’s slow to fill in, though, you need to carry on with the kneading for a little while longer.
All that said, I do highly recommend investing in a Kitchen-Aid stand mixer if you plan to do a lot of baking. A stand mixer isn’t cheap, but I think it’s one of the most useful kitchen appliances a baker can own. I use it for cookies, cakes, frosting, beating egg whites, whipping cream, and of course, making bread dough. Of course you can make all those things by hand…people have been doing it for centuries. The stand mixer just makes the process a lot easier. And since the Kitchen Aid multi-tasks pretty well(unlike a bread machine), I think it’s a good use of money and counter space.
p.s. You most definitely do NOT need a stand mixer to make most non-yeast breads, i.e. biscuits, pancakes, muffins. In fact, it’s better to mix those sorts of doughs and batters by hand in order to avoid turning out tough baked goods. I’ll talk more about that when I finally get around to that gluten post I’ve been promising. 😉