I've tried a couple different kinds of basic bread recipes (both active dry and instant yeast) and no matter how closely to the letter I follow the recipe, I can't seem to get the dough to rise in the time suggested in the recipe. It takes so much longer and I fear the longer rise time makes changes the taste of the bread (and serves as an I convenience to my timing, though I guess that's slightly less important). I'm starting to wonder if my room temperature might be slowing down the rise time? My house this time of year is usually mid to high 70's and I will try to put the dough in sunlight if it's shining that day.
Any thoughts on what I'm doing wrong and how I can help my dough rise quicker?
Edit: Ok, after attempting the suggestions in the answer below, I still cannot get my bread to rise. This is an oatmeal sandwich loaf which I was able to get a great 1st rise (doubled in bulk after 2 hours sitting in the sun), but the second is taking longer. After 2 hours, this is the best I got:
Not to mention that I suck at kneading because I can never get the dough smooth. These both have visible folds on the top which will inevitably burn in the oven... When I leave the dough for the 1st rise, I spray the top with oil to hold in the moisture and cover with a lint-free linen. But when I split the dough and press the gases out, the top is always a bit dried out and slightly hardened. This makes forming it into loaves difficult and leaves this fold on top. I am told that handling it too much after the first rise is not good and will make the 2nd rise take that much longer. Maybe I'm wrong a out that?
Warm equipment, super warm day today (80+ degrees and super sunny), I did use sugar and butter and allowed for a longer rise. This recipe called for 1tbs instant yeast and I even threw in an extra 1/4tbs for good measure. I made sure the salt and yeast were not mixed in together. But I just can't seem to make my breads light and fluffy. They are always small and dense. What gives? I'm so frustrated :(