I know for actual bread I'll have to have to follow a bread recipe but I'm wondering how close I can get.
Your question is a contradiction in itself, or, from a different perspective, there is no way to say how close you can get.
A recipe for bread (be it classic bread, tortilla or soda bread) will always contain the ingredients, their ratio, and the process needed to make it. And you can be sure that the simplest process has always been codified in a recipe. Sure, there are recipes which get very specific effects by using baroque techniques, but you can be sure that, out of all possible combinations of ingredients and ratios and processes, millions of bakers before you have roughly charted out those which lead to a tasty end product, especially on the easier end of the combination space.
From that follows that you have four ways of working:
- Every time you bake, try a completely random combination (no matter what happened last time you baked). Then, most of the time, you will end up with something not tasty. Rarely, you will happen upon something tasty. But next time, you will throw your dice again, to try a completely different combination, which likely won't be tasty.
- The above sounds quite stupid, doesn't it? Instead, you might be tempted to keep track of your successes and misfortunes, and only try combinations similar to what has worked well before, refining as you go. You will still be making bad experiences at the beginning, but after dozens to hundreds of attempts, you will likely converge on a good way of baking - you will have (re-)invented a recipe that's good enough for you.
- alternatively, you might try the first few dozens of times until you find something that is acceptable for you in taste, and continue replicating it. Maybe a replication won't be possible the first time, but with a few more tries, you will arrive at a recipe that you don't want to improve, and continue to make it.
- Note that the second option will take a long time of determined, repeated baking before you see results. And the results are unlikely to be earth-shatteringly new. You would save yourself a ton of work if you would just take a recipe and follow it, and will get an equivalent or even better result without the lengthy discovery phase. Alternatively, the third option gives you a shorter discovery phase, but still longer than starting out with a recipe. Also, as an inventor, it is unlikely that you will discover the easiest way to getting a given result, since successful recipes have usually undergone an evolutionary process that favors the recipes which lie on the optimal trade-off line between complexity and taste, while you will almost certainly stumble on something that is below that trade-off line. So, if you keep using the recipe you invented, it is almost certain that you can achive either better results with comparable complexity or the same results with less complexity, by just using the right recorded recipe.
Even if we take your question literally, "how close can I get" - you can bet that any recipe that was worth baking again has been recorded, espeially the easiest ones. So, if you try to use something that is simpler than any findable recipe, you will, by definition, arrive at something most people don't want to eat. Alternatively, if you continue trying out combinations until you arrive at something edible, it will be just as complicated as written recipes.
There are valid reasons to go through the whole process of invention. One is for the sheer fun of playing in the kitchen, without caring about the result. Or you could use reinventing the wheel as an effective learning technique, if you want to devote yourself to become a master craftsperson of baking. But if you want the easiest possible way of getting homemade bread worth eating, you are on the wrong track.