I am a recreational baker. I bake MAYBE once a month at most, and usually just for fun or out of boredom. I attempt bread most often (and usually fail - its too dense, too tough and dry) though sometimes I see a great cake recipe on SE or elsewhere and try it, and usually fail. My last cake was so dense it was more like a mochi texture. It is frustrating. The only things that come out well are cookies.
I follow recipes to the letter. I guess it could be my oven, or my Chicago humid climate, or just being born under a bad sign. I believe it is my flour, but I am confused with all the different kinds...quick-rise, all purpose, bread, pastry, etc. I don't have the shelf space for giant bags of all these different flours. I keep a bag of all-purpose flour in my pantry (store brand, if it matters) and I have tried some substitutions that I read about online to make it more suitable for what I'm baking (adding baking powder, etc).
I just want to bake a firm, crusty bread with a soft interior and a fluffy, cake-like cake. What should I be changing, and what flour should I switch to or always make sure to have around? Is there hope or am I just a bake-wreck?